Promoting effective altruism

Note that this page has been superseded by our problem profile about promoting effective altruism.

What is this cause?

Promoting effective altruism means activities which expand the capabilities of those trying to do good in a cause-neutral, evidence-based and outcome-orientated way. Interventions within this area include advocacy of key ideas in effective altruism and network-building. Some organisations in this cause include GiveWell, the Centre for Effective Altruism (our parent charity), the Copenhagen Consensus, Leverage Research, the donation pledge organisations (Giving What We Can, The Life You Can Save , the Giving Pledge) and ourselves. More broadly, you could also include organisations with an effectiveness-minded approach, like the Gates Foundation and Evidence Action.

How is it different from global priorities research?

Global priorities research is working out which opportunities have the most impact, while promoting effective altruism is building capacity to act on this research. In practice, both need to be carried out at the same time, and many organisations engage in a mixture of both.

Why do we think it’s high-priority?

Promoting effective altruism is effective because it’s a flexible multiplier on the next most high-priority cause. It’s important because we expect the most high-priority areas to change a great deal, so it’s good to build up general capabilities to take the best opportunities as they are discovered. Moreover, in the recent past, investing in promoting effective altruism has resulted in significantly more resources being invested in the most high-priority areas, than investing in them directly. For instance, for every US$1 invested in GiveWell and Giving What We Can, more than $7 have been moved to high-priority interventions. We think it’s highly important also because it’s a brand new area with high potential, so we expect further work to have high value of information.

Promoting effective altruism seems uncrowded, because it’s a new cause so there appear to be lots of good opportunities within it which haven’t been taken yet. It seems tractable because there are definite advocacy opportunities, which have worked in the past and whose success can be measured, e.g. encouraging people to take the GWWC pledge. More direct evidence for effectiveness comes from the strong success to date of many of the projects in the area, like GiveWell.

One important weakness of this cause is that, as with most advocacy projects, it’s difficult to be confident that the interventions which have worked in the past will continue working into the future. This lowers tractability. There are also reasons effective altruism might fail to be a good project – see here for some ideas.

Again, there’s reason for us to be biased. 80,000 Hours is involved in promoting effective altruism, so it’s in our interests to say this is a high-priority cause. However, our prioritisation of promoting effective altruism is no accident. Our aim is to work on the most high-priority causes in the world. We set up 80,000 Hours precisely because we think promoting effective altruism is a high-priority cause, so it’s no surprise we rank it highly. The greater risk is in the future: we’re likely to be biased towards continuing to believe prioritisation research is high-priority because we’re already working on it (an instance of the ‘sunk cost bias’) despite new evidence potentially suggesting otherwise. We’ll attempt to guard against this risk.

See all our resources on promoting effective altruism.