The GiveWell Blog

Partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts

Throughout the post, “we” refers to GiveWell and Good Ventures, who work as partners on GiveWell Labs. [Added August 27, 2014: GiveWell Labs is now known as the Open Philanthropy Project.]

We have agreed to a major partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts as part of our work on criminal justice reform. Good Ventures will provide $3 million to support and expand the work of Pew’s public safety performance project (PSPP), which aims “to advance data-driven, fiscally sound policies and practices in the criminal and juvenile justice systems that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs” through technical assistance to states, research and public education, and promotion of nontraditional alliances and collaboration around smart criminal justice policies.

We came into contact with Pew through our investigation on criminal justice reform. Our impression is that PSPP has been intensively involved in the criminal justice reform packages that have passed in over two dozen states since 2007. PSPP now seeks more funding to work in additional states, help states to cement existing reforms, explore the potential for reform at the federal level, and continue pursuing research and public education and engaging with nontraditional allies of reform.

In discussions with Pew, we have been impressed with the knowledge and thoughtfulness both of the PSPP team and of The Pew Charitable Trusts as a whole. It appears to us that Pew has worked in a substantial number of policy areas, often with concrete goals and concrete stated results over several-year time frames, and that Pew has a good deal of general capacity for assessing the opportunities in a policy space and developing a relatively systematic strategy for working within it. (This does not mean that we see eye to eye with Pew on all matters. We believe it sets policy priorities using a different value system from ours; for example, we have stronger interest in foreign aid and other issues related to developing-world poverty reduction.) More information on Pew as a whole will be forthcoming, including notes from a day-long visit in November and a potential historical case study on its work in an another area. Our current writeup includes an assessment of the track record of PSPP specifically.

We see this partnership as an important step on multiple fronts:

  • Criminal justice reform is a current focus area for us, and PSPP appears to be one of the most prominent and effective organizations working toward change on this front. Funding and following its work represents an opportunity for both impact and learning.
  • We are also interested in developing a relationship with Pew as a whole; we believe this relationship will be a valuable resource as we continue to explore policy-oriented philanthropy. Based on conversations with Pew representatives, we see supporting PSPP as one of the best ways to support Pew as a whole.
  • Finally, the process of establishing this partnership has itself been a valuable learning opportunity. With PSPP’s help, we have conducted a brief review of PSPP’s track record, which was our first attempt to assess the track record of a U.S.-policy-focused organization and taught us a fair amount about the criminal justice reform space. We have also dealt with new challenges around how to balance our goal of transparency with the goal of having maximal impact; when working on policy, there can be particular tension between these, and we have established an agreement regarding public discussion of PSPP that may serve as a guide to future grant agreements. Note that we have agreed to a review process for public updates that is likely to be time-consuming for both us and Pew, and accordingly we have agreed to limit the frequency with which we publish updates on the project.

Our full writeup has further discussion of PSPP, its track record, our cost-effectiveness estimate, and the case for (and details of) this collaboration.

Writeup on our partnership with PSPP
Note that we believe PSPP has room to productively use more than the $3 million Good Ventures will be providing. Donors interested in contributing to PSPP should contact us.