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Michael_Wiebe comments on 5 Types of Systems Change Causes with the Potential for Exceptionally High Impact (post 3/3) - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Michael_Wiebe 22 October 2017 06:20:47PM 2 points [-]

In general, a cause needs to score high on each of impact, tractability, and neglectedness to be worthwhile. Getting two out of three is no better than zero out of three. You've listed causes with high impact, but they're generally not tractable. For example, changing the political system is highly intractable.

Overall, I think that EA has already incorporated the key insights from systems change, and there's no need to distinguish it as being separate from EA.

Comment author: e19brendan 23 October 2017 04:44:25PM 5 points [-]

This is an interesting point, though I wonder whether EAs have the right attitude about tractability. Tractability and neglectedness tend to be inversely related, and the relationship is imperfect - I think EAs can make reasonable bets about when society as a whole overly neglects low-tractability problems, making it worthwhile to disrupt complacency. Sea-changes are apparent even in recent history, say in treating HIV in sub-saharan Africa - something that many argued was impossible, unfeasible, and too costly. A similar transformation is apparent in TB care, especially in the treatment of drug resistant tuberculosis. Although these may not be priority areas for EAs, the global health community has majorly updated over the last 20 years about how tractable they are and at what cost these interventions could effectively improve people's lives. I think it's worth learning from these lessons.

Comment author: oliverbramford 23 October 2017 03:54:28PM *  0 points [-]

System change causes are inherently complex and thus often appear highly intractable initially. However, with detailed systems analysis a set of viable (and perhaps novel) approaches may (sometimes) be identified, which are much more tractable than expected.

For example, the system of animal agriculture and animal product consumption is pretty complex, but ACE have done a great job to identify charities that are working very effectively on different aspects of that system (cultured meat, advocacy to corporates, promoting veganism, etc.).

Analysing a complex system in detail sheds new light on what's broken and why, and can highlight novel and neglected solutions (e.g. cultured meat) that make changing the system far more tractable.


changing the political system is highly intractable

The political systems is very complex, but we don't yet know how tractable it is. We are currently researching this at EA Geneva/Geneva Macro Labs. If we find a political systems change strategy that is even moderately tractable, I suspect it would be worth pursuing due to the magnitude of the likely flow through effects. If we change the political system to better prioritise policies, this would make changing many other important systems (economic, defence, education, etc.) way more tractable.

Comment author: Michael_Wiebe 23 October 2017 04:37:06PM 0 points [-]

For example, the system of animal agriculture and animal product consumption is pretty complex, but ACE have done a great job

But they didn't use complex systems theory, did they? They just used the regular EA framework of impact/tractability/neglectedness.