Charity Entrepreneurship’s 2020 Research Plans
Charity Entrepreneurship is a research and training program that incubates multiple high-impact charities annually. Founded in June 2018 by Joey Savoie and myself, Karolina Sarek, it builds on our experience in research and direct work on global health, animal advocacy, and other causes, including founding and incubating two GiveWell-incubated charities, Charity Science Health and Fortify Health. In this post, I summarize the results of the research we conducted in 2019 and our plans for 2020.
WHAT DID WE DO IN 2019
In 2019, we published 66 pieces of research on animal advocacy. Some examples of our work include:
Developing a method to assess the welfare of animals in different conditions, to better compare the effectiveness of interventions aiming at improving their well-being.
18 animals, to decide which farmed and wild animals are most important to focus on (supported by reports like this one on turkey welfare)
13 asks, to decide which particular welfare improvement is the most cost-effective (e.g. this. report on the ask of optimizing fish feed formulas)
4 approaches, to determine the best way to apply an ask (including corporate and government outreach, discussed in our series on corporate outreach and political change in India and Taiwan)
21 countries, to decide which are (a) overlooked and (b) disproportionately important (supported by reports like this one on China)
As a result of our research, we identified 9 promising ideas for new charities. Our top 5 recommended charities for 2019 were:
Improving water quality for farmed fish
Reducing talent gaps in the animal movement
Fortifying feed for laying hens
Researching the best institutional asks
Coordinating research in the animal movement
In 2019, our Incubation Program graduated 13 alumni, who went on to launch six new charities. Five of the new charities implement interventions highlighted as promising by our research program:
Fish Welfare Initiative - Reducing the suffering of billions of fish through targeted, scalable interventions aiming at improving water quality.
Animal Advocacy Careers - Researching career trajectories and addressing talent constraints in the animal movement.
Suvita - Harnessing the power of community-led nudges to combat vaccine-preventable diseases.
Good policies - Shaping health policy for impact at scale. Looking to improve tobacco control in neglected countries.
Policy Entrepreneurship Network - Micro-experiments in the space of health policy in low and middle-income countries.
Happier Lives Institute - Researching the most effective methods for improving global well-being.
How was this outcome accomplished, and how did these charities come into existence? Read our recent update.
RESEARCH PLANS FOR 2020
This year we are expanding our scope. We plan to research and incubate organizations in four areas: animal welfare, mental health and happiness, global health policy, and family planning.
We generated and considered ~300 ideas in each cause area. First, we spent 20 minutes evaluating each idea using four methodologies: cost-effective analysis, weighted factor model, informed consideration and expert view (an idea sort report). Then, we investigated the top ~10% of ideas for 2 hours (an idea prioritization report). Next, we selected the ~8 most promising ideas in each cause for in-depth research. Further details of the research process will be described in the next section.
MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING
Mental health directly influences happiness and can fill large gaps in both high- and low-income countries. The evidence base also looks promising despite limited historical work on determining the most cost-effective interventions. Read more about why we’ve chosen to prioritize this area. Based on our idea sort and idea prioritization report, the most promising ideas in this area seem to be:
scaling up Fortify Health
delivering guided self-help for mental illnesses
promoting happiness through positive education
tackling perinatal depression through therapy, as in the Thinking Healthy Programme
distributing antidepressants such as SSRIs
training gatekeepers to help prevent suicide
promoting access to pain relief through policy change
incentivising gratitude journaling through an app and conditional cash transfer
Farmed and wild animals are victims of huge suffering and extreme neglect. There appear to be many promising ways to massively improve animal lives. Now seems like a uniquely good time to found new animal organizations. Based on our idea sort and idea prioritization report, the most promising ideas in this area seem to be:
helping beekeepers reduce honeybee homing errors to reduce the spread of disease
addressing footpad burn and feather pecking among factory farmed birds
campaigning for more humane rodent control, through replacing glue traps with snap traps
changing food quality for farmed chickens
lobbying to introduce minimum welfare standards for imported animal products
reducing or preventing the use of antibiotics on farmed animals
improving water quality for farmed crustaceans
incentivizing for welfare improvements (e.g. through conditional cash transfers for farmers)
lobbying to eliminate human-biting mosquitoes
Family planning has a range of positive effects on health, wealth, empowerment, and more. The area looks highly promising and is growing dramatically but has not yet applied the same methodologies as other areas of global health. Read more about why we prioritize this area. Based on our idea sort and idea prioritization report, the most promising ideas in this area seem to be:
implementing a social and behavior change media campaign
providing vouchers for contraceptives to increase access
offering family planning services to women postpartum and postabortion
training community health workers to provide family planning
providing information about contraceptives through mobile channels (e.g. SMS or in-app advertising)
using outreach to deliver family planning to underserved communities
offering counseling to support women during family planning consultations
HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT POLICY
Leveraging government resources can make a significant, large-scale impact. Health policies can be evidence-based and extremely cost-effective. Based on our idea sort and idea prioritization report the most promising ideas in this area seem to be:
campaigning to introduce lead paint regulation in countries where it does not exist or is weak/unenforced
advocating for developed countries to increase their research & development on effective altruist-aligned activities (e.g. antimicrobial drug development, causes of cluster headaches)
lobbying to lower alcohol consumption (e.g. through taxes, regulation, information campaigns)
researching the most effective economic growth interventions and organizations
monitoring aid quality and advocating for better aid
running an information campaign on biofortification
encouraging the direct measurement of causes of death, to ensure government priorities are well-set and resources well-allocated
Our research process focuses on where to found new charities; as such, it differs from a research process focused on producing new knowledge. Knowing the principles of the process helps readers understand how we formed our conclusions and enables greater reasoning transparency.
Our research process incorporates elements that are well established in some fields but uncommon in others. This is partly because of the unique goals of our research (i.e. finding new areas for impactful charities to be launched) and partly because we incorporate lessons and methodologies from other fields of research, primarily global health and medical science. Below is a quick overview of some of the key elements. Iterative depth: We research the same ideas in multiple rounds of iterative depth, with each round looking at fewer ideas than the last. Our goal is to narrow down our option space from a very large number of ideas to a more workable number for deeper reports. Systematic: The goal of our research is to compare ideas for a possible charity to found. To keep comparisons consistent our methodology is uniform across all the different ideas. This results in reports that consider similar factors and questions in a similar way across different interventions. This systematic approach is commonly used in other charity evaluations and encouraged in other fields. Cluster approach: Comparing different intervention ideas is complex. We are not confident that a single methodology could narrow down the field, in part due to epistemic modesty. To increase the robustness of our conclusions, we prefer instead to look at ideas using multiple independent methodologies and see which ideas perform well on a number of them (more information here). Each methodology is commonly used in most fields of research but they are rarely combined into a single conclusion. Decision relevant: Our research is highly specialized and focused. Sometimes cross-cutting research is needed to allow comparison between different ideas, but all our research aims to be directly useful to our endline goal of getting new charities started. This level of focus on target practical outcomes is rare in the research world, but is necessary to our goal of generating more charity ideas with minimal time spent on non-charity idea related concepts. Transparency: We highly value transparency in conclusions, mistakes, reasoning, and process. Expressing reasoning transparency is crucial for informing future charity founders and others who can asses our work and provide us with feedback. We view this as key to improving our charity recommendations and processes in the long term.
STEPS OF THE RESEARCH PROCESS
Following those principles, we designed a new research process. The goal of our research is to have one to four recommended charities for each of our four cause areas in time for the 2020 Incubation Program. Each step of the process is documented on our research page, specifying its goal, characteristics, and methods. Hyperlinks offer further information about certain steps.
We will publish all reports open access on our blog to provide other researchers and organizations with useful data. We may also experiment on cross-posting our reports on the EA Forum.
If you’re interested in our work, please consider subscribing to our newsletter. If you'd like to support our work, you can donate to us here. If you would like to talk about our work, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.