The GiveWell Blog

June 2017 open thread

Our goal with hosting quarterly open threads is to give blog readers an opportunity to publicly raise comments or questions about GiveWell or related topics (in the comments section below). As always, you’re also welcome to email us at info@givewell.org or to request a call with GiveWell staff if you have feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

You can view our March 2017 open thread here.

Comments

  • Austen Forrester on June 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm said:

    Has GiveWell examined charities that promote or develop social emotional learning programs in primary schools? These programs are the closest thing I’ve found to generate cheap or free QALYs. There are commercial SEL programs that cost very little, especially if implemented by a large school board, and the social and economic returns are huge. There are already groups advocating for more SEL, with one big one (CASEL.org) in the US, so while the potential for SEL to improve society in a variety of ways is huge, I’m not sure how to cost-effectively promote it, especially in LMIC. Thanks!

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on June 16, 2017 at 2:15 pm said:

    Hi Austen,

    We haven’t looked into SEL programs, although we’re interested in early childhood psychosocial stimulation as a potential priority program. Our initial assessment of the latter was promising, although we have not completed an in-depth review.

  • Arun on June 19, 2017 at 5:35 am said:

    Will a higher-resolution version of the GiveWell CEA Walkthrough video be released?

    See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpUioQ2sfUE

  • Catherine on June 19, 2017 at 12:14 pm said:

    Hi Arun,

    You might be able to view the video at a higher resolution by adjusting the settings on YouTube. If you go to “Settings” (the gear icon) in the lower righthand corner of the video and select “Quality,” you can adjust the quality of the video from standard resolution to high resolution. We also recommend watching the video in “Full screen” mode. Please let us know if the video continues to appear at a low resolution after making those changes. Thank you!

  • Austen Forrester on June 19, 2017 at 4:48 pm said:

    Hi Catherine,

    By early childhood psychosocial stimulation, are you referring to preventing neglect (ie. Romanian institutions or parents that don’t hug their kids)? What kind of interventions were you considering? Hasn’t it been difficult for foreigners to prevent neglect of children and adults in institutions in Eastern Europe, given the apathy by the government and public?

  • Catherine on June 19, 2017 at 6:10 pm said:

    Hi Austen,

    We haven’t focused on Eastern Europe as part of this research. Some of the programs we’ve looked into involve trained health aides or community leaders visiting households and conducting play demonstrations and language learnings with books and songs. These visits are targeted at mothers as well as children.

    You may be interested in this set of conversation notes that we published as part of our investigation into early childhood stimulation programs.

  • Jonas on June 20, 2017 at 8:58 am said:

    Will GiveWell look into peace and security, or more specifically the prevention of armed conflict and violence? There are some high-quality RCTs that suggest that some interventions are effective. This approach is very neglected in the effective altruism (EA) community, and it might plausibly be very cost-effective if we consider long-term effects on psychological wellbeing and economic growth (not just number of deaths averted, which seem rather low).

    GiveWell and the EA movement have a strong health focus. There are lots of good reasons for focusing on health, and maybe the goal of GiveWell/EA is not to find all the best charities/programs but only some of them such that there’s enough RFMF for the GiveWell/EA community as a whole. However, I’m skeptical of this perspective because:

    1) There has been hardly any analysis of other program areas (e.g. so far I haven’t seen any kind of back-of-the-envelope analysis focusing on peace and security, nor any kind of “fact post” on the EA forum, nor anything similar),

    2) there might be a lot of additional funding available for such alternative approaches (by donors who tend to be more skeptical of GiveWell’s health focus, or by donors whose funds are restricted in some way),

    3) it would demonstrate to the outside world that GiveWell and EAs are really doing their homework instead of being easily satisfied with some easy-to-measure approaches, and this might accelerate EA movement growth and strengthen its impact and credibility in society at large (which could also increase total funding for top charities).

    Open Phil wrote a bit about aid in fragile contexts, but as they put it, it’s a “very limited investigation”:
    http://www.openphilanthropy.org/research/cause-reports/fragile-states

    Two interesting RCTs:
    http://www.poverty-action.org/study/peace-education-rural-liberia
    http://www.poverty-action.org/study/ex-combatant-reintegration-liberia

    A similar comment I left on the EA forum:
    http://effective-altruism.com/ea/19e/effective_altruism_is_selfrecommending/au0

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on June 21, 2017 at 8:20 pm said:

    Hi Jonas,

    Thanks for your comment. One of our major goals this year is intervention prioritization, in which we’re trying to more comprehensively consider promising interventions whether or not they initially seem like programs that a GiveWell top charity might implement. So, thanks for sharing these RCTs. We plan to look more closely at them and have added them to our list of research for review.

    However, our current intuition is that it is unlikely we’ll find this area promising.

    There are a few reasons why we guess that might be the case for the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) intervention evaluated in one of the RCTs you linked to:

    – We would guess that the external validity of dispute-resolution or conflict prevention interventions will be particularly low. With a malaria net, for example, we can reasonably assume that it will have a similar effect in one location as another; with interventions related to the prevention of conflict and violence, our expectation is that context will play a larger role in the outcome.

    – The unintended consequences of these interventions could be quite negative. For example, the RCT you shared notes increases in extrajudicial punishment following ADR workshops.

    – We don’t expect the cost-effectiveness to be better than other interventions that are hard to quantify, such as policy interventions, or that don’t quite fit our traditional criteria, such as health systems strengthening. Intuitively, ADR seems like it may require fairly skilled worker to invest a lot of time in resolution for fairly small groups of people. Combined with the possibility that the external validity of this intervention being low—which would thus make scaling difficult—our guess is that we should make investigating this a lower priority than the types of interventions mentioned above.

    The RCT on ex-combatant reintegration that you shared initially seems more promising as an income-increasing intervention that is targeted at a particular subgroup (ex-combatants). We’re not sure how much we should expect programs like cash transfers and agricultural training to have particularly large impacts on certain subgroups, but it’s plausible that is the case. We have heard that a focus of ongoing research on cash transfers is to identify which subgroups are most cost-effective to give to. We do not know if further research is planned for evaluating effects on ex-combatants specifically.

    The above just represents our current intuitions. We do plan to look more closely at these interventions in the future and we’ve added both of these RCTs and this area to our list of interventions to consider.

    In addition, are there any other peacebuilding approaches you’d point to that seem plausibly evidence-backed and cost-effective?

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