LeahC

@ Oxford
32Joined Jun 2022

Bio

Current: doctoral candidate (law) / lecturer (humanitarian aid & human rights practice) / global operations advisor (nonprofits) 

Former: NSF research fellow (civil conflict management & peace science)  / US Department of State youth rep (Russia & Turkey)  / global resiliency & risk / etc.

Comments
2

A Critical Review of Open Philanthropy’s Bet On Criminal Justice Reform

Hi there - 

Thanks for your response and sorry for my lag. I can’t go into program details due to confidentiality obligations (though I’d be happy to contribute to a writeup if folks at Open Phil are interested), but I can say that I spent a lot of time in the available national and local data trying to make a quantitative EA case for the CJR program. I won’t get into that on this post, but I still think the program was worthwhile for less intuitive reasons.

On the personal comments: 

I think this post’s characterization of Chloe and OP, particularly of their motivations, is unfair. The CJR field has gotten a lot of criticism in other EA spaces for being more social justice oriented and explicitly political. Some critiques of the field are warranted (similar to critiques of ineffective humanitarian & health interventions) but I think OP avoided these traps better than many donors. The team funded bipartisan efforts and focused on building the infrastructure needed to accelerate and sustain a new movement. Incarceration in the US exploded in the ‘70s as the result of bipartisan action. The assumption that the right coalition of interests could force similarly rapid change in the opposite direction is fair, especially when analyzed against case studies of other social movements. It falls in line with a hits-based giving strategy.

Why I think the program was worthwhile: 

The strategic investments made by the CJR team set the agenda for a field that barely existed in 2015 but, by 2021, had hundreds of millions of dollars in outside commitments from major funders and sympathetic officials elected across the US. Bridgespan (a data-focused social impact consulting group incubated at Bain) has used Open Phil grantees’ work to advise foundations, philanthropists, and nonprofits across the political spectrum on their own CJR giving. I’ve met some of the folks who worked on Bridgespan’s CJR analysis. I trust their epistemics and quantitative skills. 

I don’t think we’ve seen the CJR movement through to the point where we could do a reliable postmortem on consequences. I’ve seen enough to say that OP’s team has mastered some very efficient methods for driving political will and building popular support. 

OP’s CJR work could be particularly valuable as a replicable model for other movement building efforts. If nothing else, dissecting the program from that lens could be a really productive conversation. 

Other notes 

I disagreed with the CJR team on *a lot*. But they’re good people who were working within a framework that got vetted by OP years ago. And they’re great at what they do. I don’t think speculating on internal motivations is helpful. That said, I would wholeheartedly support a postmortem focused on program outcomes. 

I came to the US scene from the UK and was very surprised by the divide (animosity) between SJ-aligned and EA-aligned work. I ended up disengaging with both for a while. I’m grateful for the wonderful Oxford folks for reminding me why I got involved in EA the first place. 

Sitting at a table full of people with very different backgrounds / skill sets / communication styles requires incredible amounts of humility on all sides. I actively seek out opportunities to learn from people who disagree with me, but I’ve missed out on some incredible learning opportunities because I failed at this.

A Critical Review of Open Philanthropy’s Bet On Criminal Justice Reform

Disclosure: I worked with Open Phil’s CJR team for ~4 months in 2020-2021 and was in touch with them for ~6 months before that. 

I’m very concerned by the way this post blends speculative personal attacks with legitimate cost effectiveness questions. 

Chloe and Jesse are competent and committed people working in a cause area that does not meet the 1000x threshold currently set by GiveWell top charities. If it were easy to cross that bar, these charities would not be the gold standard for neartermist, human-focused giving. Open Phil chose to bet on CJR as a cause area, conduct a search, and hire Chloe anyway. 

I genuinely believe policy- and politics-focused EAs could learn a lot from the CJR team’s movement building work. Their strengths in political coordination and movement strategy are underrepresented in EA. 

I bought the idea that we could synthesize knowledge from different fields and coordinate to solve the world’s most pressing problems. That won’t happen if we can’t respectfully engage with people who think or work differently from the community baseline.

We can’t significantly improve the world without asking hard questions. We can ask hard questions without dismissing others or assuming that difference implies inferiority. 

 

[I only got back on the forum to reply to this post.]