The GiveWell Blog

Response to concerns about GiveWell’s spillovers analysis

Last week, we published an updated analysis on “spillover” effects of GiveDirectly‘s cash transfer program: i.e., effects that cash transfers may have on people who don’t receive cash transfers but who live nearby those who do receive cash transfers.1For more context on this topic, see our May 2018 blog post. We concluded: “[O]ur best guess is that negative or positive spillover effects of cash are minimal on net.” (More)

Economist Berk Özler posted a series of tweets expressing concern over GiveWell’s research process for this report. We understood his major questions to be:

  1. Why did GiveWell publish its analysis on spillover effects before a key study it relied on was public? Is this consistent with GiveWell’s commitment to transparency? Has GiveWell done this in other cases?
  2. Why did GiveWell place little weight on some papers in its analysis of spillover effects?
  3. Why did GiveWell’s analysis of spillovers focus on effects on consumption? Does this imply that GiveWell does not value effects on other outcomes?

These questions apply to GiveWell’s research process generally, not just our spillovers analysis, so the discussion below addresses topics such as:

  • When do our recommendations rely on private information, and why?
  • How do we decide on which evidence to review in our analyses of charities’ impact?
  • How do we decide which outcomes to include in our cost-effectiveness analyses?

Finally, this feedback led us to realize a communication mistake we made: our initial report did not communicate as clearly as it should have that we were specifically estimating spillovers of GiveDirectly’s current program, not commenting on spillovers of cash transfers in general. We will now revise the report to clarify this.

Note: It may be difficult to follow some of the details of this post without having read our report on the spillover effects of GiveDirectly’s cash transfers.

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Announcing Zusha! as a standout charity

We’ve added the Georgetown University Initiative on Innovation, Development, and Evaluation (gui2de)’s Zusha! Road Safety Campaign (from here on, “Zusha!”) as a standout charity; see our full review here. Standout charities do not meet all of our criteria to be a GiveWell top charity, but we believe they stand out from the vast majority of organizations we have considered. See more information about our standout charities here.

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New research on cash transfers

Summary

  • There has been a good deal of discussion recently about new research on the effects of cash transfers, beginning with a post by economist Berk Özler on the World Bank’s Development Impact blog. We have not yet fully reviewed the new research, but wanted to provide a preliminary update for our followers about our plans for reviewing this research and how it might affect our views of cash transfers, a program implemented by one of our top charities, GiveDirectly.
  • In brief, the new research suggests that cash transfers may be less effective than we previously believed in two ways. First, cash transfers may have substantial negative effects on non-recipients who live near recipients (“negative spillovers”). Second, the benefits of cash transfers may fade quickly.
  • We plan to reassess the cash transfer evidence base and provide our updated conclusions in the next several months (by November 2018 at the latest). One reason that we do not plan to provide a comprehensive update sooner is that we expect upcoming midline results from GiveDirectly’s “general equilibrium” study, a large and high-quality study explicitly designed to estimate spillover effects, will play a major role in our conclusions. Results from this study are expected to be released in the next few months.
  • Our best guess is that we will reduce our estimate of the cost-effectiveness of cash transfers to some extent, but will likely continue to recommend GiveDirectly. However, major updates to our current views, either in the negative or positive direction, seem possible.

More detail below.

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How GiveWell and mainstream policymakers compare the “good” achieved by different programs

In a previous blog post, we described how we use cost-effectiveness analyses when deciding which charities to recommend to donors.

Today, we published a report that discusses how GiveWell and other actors, such as governments and global health organizations, approach one of the most subjective and uncertain inputs into cost-effectiveness analyses: how to morally value different good outcomes.

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GiveWell’s progress in 2015

This post reviews and evaluates last year’s progress on our traditional work of finding and recommending evidence-based, thoroughly vetted charities that serve the global poor. It has two parts. First, we look back at the plans we laid out in early 2015 and compare our progress against them, providing details on some of the most…

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