The GiveWell Blog

GiveWell’s progress on research in 2016

This is the first of four posts that form our annual review and plan for the following year. This post reviews and evaluates last year’s progress on our work of finding and recommending evidence-based, thoroughly vetted charities that serve the global poor. The following three posts will cover our plans for GiveWell’s research in 2017, GiveWell’s progress and plans as an organization and metrics on our influence on donations in 2016.


We feel that 2016 was a highly successful year for GiveWell’s research. We accomplished or made significant progress on all of our top priorities and accomplished some of the goals we didn’t know if we would have time for. Our research output was greater than in any past year. We added three new top charities and two new standout charities. We made important progress on building the pipeline of future GiveWell top charities through our work on GiveWell Incubation Grants. The research team’s staff capacity has continued to increase and we expect output to continue to grow.

More subjectively, we feel that the quality of our research has continued to improve. Of particular note are our improved understanding of room for more funding for insecticide-treated nets and of the evidence for deworming.

We compare our annual output for 2012-2016 in this spreadsheet.

Our progress in 2016 relative to our plans

In early 2016, we laid out our goals for research in 2016. Below we discuss each goal in two of the categories we set out last year, “top priorities” and “other research we will undertake if we have the time to do so,” and what progress we made on each.

“Top priorities”

Supporting the development of potential future GiveWell top charities: making grants to organizations that could become top charity contenders in the future or supporting research that could lead to more organizations that are a strong fit with our criteria. […]

We investigated and recommended that Good Ventures make grants to five early stage projects: No Lean Season (migration assistance), New Incentives (conditional cash transfers), Zusha! (road safety), Charity Science: Health (immunizations), and Results for Development (childhood pneumonia treatment). We have published grant descriptions for most of these grants; three are forthcoming. We have also begun working closely with IDinsight to partner with charities that work on priority programs to strengthen their monitoring and evaluation to increase the chances that the charities meet our criteria in the future.

Considering additional funding for insecticide-treated nets [beyond the Against Malaria Foundation] […]

We spent relatively little time on this priority because (a) the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) succeeded in signing agreements for several major distributions early in the year, increasing our estimate of its ability to absorb additional funds; and (b) our initial conversations with large funders of nets seemed unlikely to result in a top charity recommendation. At the end of the year, we found that the Against Malaria Foundation was able to absorb considerably more funding than we directed to it. This was in part due to Good Ventures’s shift away from continued growth in funding for GiveWell top charities. Separately, we also gained a stronger understanding of the size and nature of funding gaps for nets globally through country case studies and conversations to understand the global funding landscape.

Intervention prioritization: quick investigations on a large number of interventions with the goal of finding more priority programs. […]

This was a major priority for us and we made some progress, but not as much as we wanted to. The main things we did were (a) quick reviews (3-10 hours spent reviewing the evidence base) for ~30 programs, which ultimately led us to prioritize seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) and recommend Malaria Consortium’s work on SMC; (b) publishing three “interim intervention reports” (on SMC, integrated community case management, and severe acute malnutrition) which have provided a template for mid-level assessments and enabled more staff to produce such reports in 2017 (one of which, on Sayana Press, has been published); and (c) writing a full intervention assessment of voluntary male medical circumcision, which is now one of our priority programs.

Current top charities: continuing to follow our current top charities and trying to answer our highest priority unanswered questions about these groups. […]

We answered our most important questions about the top charities we recommended in 2015. In particular, we had stronger answers at the end of the year on AMF’s progress at signing agreements, the quality of AMF’s monitoring, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative’s past spending and financial position, and had an overall much stronger understanding of Deworm the World Initiative, particularly its work in Kenya.

However, we feel that we spent too much time on this work in 2016. Three staff spent the majority of their time on top charity updates and, while following the progress and plans of our top charities is a crucial piece of GiveWell’s work, the value we got from this work felt out of proportion with the time spent. In 2017, we plan to have a single staff member do most of this work and expect it to take a half to two-thirds of a full-time job. Three other staff will spend a small portion of their time, totaling approximately the equivalent of one full-time job, on this work.

New evidence on deworming and bednets. The next round of follow up on a key deworming study is expected to be available later this year and could make a big difference to our view of deworming. We’re also looking more into the degree to which insecticide resistance may be reducing the impact of bednets. […]

We completed an evidence review on the impact of insecticide resistance on malaria control. David Roodman, Senior Advisor at the Open Philanthropy Project spent several months revisiting the evidence for deworming and summarizing his findings in two blog posts.

We wrote last year that we expected to see a new round of follow-up data on a key deworming study that could significantly affect our view of deworming. We have seen preliminary results and hope to get more complete results later this year and write about them at that time. We also decided to recommend a ~$1 million grant to support a more intensive 20-year follow-up to the Worms at Work study (writeup forthcoming).

“Other research we will undertake if we have the time to do so”

Micronutrient fortification charities. […]

We completed interim reviews of Food Fortification Initiative and Project Healthy Children and added them to our list of standout charities.

Neglected tropical disease (NTD) charities [and…] other organizations – if organizations apply for a recommendation and seem sufficiently promising, we will aim to review them.

Perhaps the most important development in 2016 came out of two secondary goals for 2016: continuing investigations of deworming programs (which led to recommending Sightsavers and the END Fund for their work on deworming) and continuing to be open to applications from charities (which led to recommending Malaria Consortium for its work on seasonal malaria chemoprevention).

At the same time, in the past few years, we have been surprised by how little interest there has been from charities in applying for a GiveWell recommendation. We have come to believe that charities may have misconceptions about our process or lack the information about whether they would be a fit for our criteria, and that this could be improved by us reaching out to more promising organizations and taking the time to understand the reasons why they have not applied in the past. We discuss what we are doing this year on charity outreach in the next post in this series.

Surgery charities. We have had several conversations with organizations that work on cataract surgery and we may reach out to organizations that work on obstetric fistula surgery. […]

In addition to the conversations with organizations that work on on cataract, we also spoke to several groups that work on obstetric fistula. We have not identified a group we would like to invite to apply. This work is now moving ahead primarily through our engagement with IDinsight to work with charities to strengthen their monitoring and evaluation.

Publishing research we largely completed in 2015: updates on standout charities (GAIN, IGN, and Living Goods), interim reviews of charities we began investigating in 2015 (Sightsavers, END Fund, and Project Healthy Children), and intervention reports (folic acid fortification, surgery for cataracts, trachoma and fistula, measles immunization campaigns, mass drug administration for lymphatic filariasis, and “Targeting the Ultra Poor”).

We made some progress on this goal. We published updates on standout charities (GAIN, Iodine Global Network, and Living Goods), reviews of charities we began investigating in 2015 (Sightsavers, the END Fund, and Project Healthy Children), and one of the intervention reports we hoped to publish in 2016 (cataract surgery). We did not publish the other intervention reports we hoped to (folic acid fortification, surgery for trachoma and fistula, measles immunization campaigns, mass drug administration for lymphatic filariasis, and “Targeting the Ultra Poor”).

Other work

Compared to previous years, we made a lot of progress on improving the usability of and getting staff engagement with our cost-effectiveness model. We designated a staff member, currently Chris Smith, to work on this close to full-time. Chris re-formatted the file to make it easier for staff and others to input uncertain and subjective values, integrated the seasonal malaria chemoprevention analysis into the model, and restructured the bed nets model to take into account country-level variation in malaria rates.


  • Chris on March 28, 2017 at 2:12 pm said:

    Great review, looking forward to the next sections!

  • Kathy Haley on March 28, 2017 at 11:41 pm said:

    I emailed GiveWell of Lakeland Fl and asked a simple question, do the board of directors get a salary? and if so what is it? I have not received an answer. I also have a question about those on the board that are estate Atty’s pushing GiveWell as a great charity to help with donors taxes. I find this an overreach of a board member and client. Givewell appears to be transparent but misleading in the financial area. I will continue my own investigation of GiveWell with or without your support. My conclusion is if there is nothing to hide then I should get some answers to basic questions. Thank you in advance. KH

  • Vipul Naik on March 29, 2017 at 7:15 pm said:

    Kathy, I think you are confusing this with a different GiveWell. The GiveWell you seem to be talking about is (GiveWell Community Foundation) which is completely distinct from and independent of the organization behind the website you are commenting on.

    Disclaimer: I am not a representative of or otherwise affiliated with either GiveWell.

New Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *