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It seems relatively uncontroversial within EA-grantmaking that field building (and the building of societal pressure groups?) is an effective strategy to induce long-run changes.

E.g. a resource frequently referenced in discussions is Teles's "The Rise of the Conversative Legal Movement" as an existence proof for a very large long-run impact of philanthropic money. 

I am curious whether anyone has done systematic work on using this and other evidence to (1) estimate expected effects (2) base rates of success or (3) anything else of that sort that would inform how we can think about the average (a) tractability and (b) impact of such efforts?

Luke Muehlhauser's work on early-movement growth and field-building comes closest, reviewing historical case studies and generally giving the impression that intentional movement / field acceleration is (a) possible, (b) not rocket science (things one would expect to work do work), and (c) can be quite meaningful (playing a major role in shaping and/or accelerating fields). But it doesn't offer much in terms of relative tractability or effectiveness vis-a-vis other interventions, such as funding existing think tanks to do Beltway-style policy advocacy or other surgical interventions that we do a lot of.

Broadly, I am trying to understand how to compare funding such work to more surgical interventions, so I am interested both in absolute estimates but also relative comparisons.




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https://www.socialchangelab.org/ might have some relevant insights here. They've done some work on which factors matter most for protest movements. Though I'm not sure what they're currently working on, or if they have any relevant quantitative estimates and comparisons with other interventions.

Thanks, good shout!

From what I've seen, their work does not quite fit what I am looking for -- they are not comparative and they are also more narrowly focused on left-leaning protest movements, which is more narrow than what I am trying to get at here.

I do not know if anything like this.

I agree that "Luke Muehlhauser's work on early-movement growth and field-building comes closest." Animal Ethics' case studies are also helpful for academic fields https://www.animal-ethics.org/establishing-new-field-natural-sciences/

My impression of the academic social movement studies is that a decent chunk is interested in how movements mobilise their resources, recruit, etc, but often more from a theoretical perspective (e.g. why do people do this, given rational choice theory) rather than statistical/empirical. I don't have a comprehensive knowledge by any means though, so could be wrong.

(I generally think that if you have specific questions in mind like this, you have to either draw qualitative, indirect insights from case studies and adjacent materials, or design a systematic/comparative methodology and do the research!)

Thanks, Jamie! Indeed quite helpful to know that there's nothing obvious I am missing.

Yes, agree on the last point -- I am just surprised this has not been done as EA grant makers frequently face the decision, I think.

I think there's a relevant distinction to be made between field building (i.e., developing a new area of expertise to provide advice to decision-makers - think about the history of gerontology) and movement building (which makes me think of advocacy groups, free masons, etc.). Of course, many things lie in-between, such as neoliberals & Mont Pelerin Society.

Yeah, that's true, though in Luke's treatment both are discussed and described as roughly equal -- there's no indication given that either should be more promising on priors and, as you say, they will often overlap.

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