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persis comments on Announcing the 2017 donor lottery - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: persis 16 December 2017 03:14:14AM 2 points [-]

Interesting! Some questions from the explanation on the website:

But choosing which advisors to rely on is also difficult, and it may be the case that there is no relevant expert who you believe captures all the considerations.

It's not clear to me how a donor lottery would capture all the considerations. Can you elaborate?

In expectation, each donor is granting the same amount of money to their preferred charities as they would have if they had donated directly.

Does this presume that (some) donors already know where they prefer to donate, rather than offsetting time spent on additional research with a larger donation pool?

However, for the donor that wins, the larger pot of money makes it worthwhile to spend more time and energy researching where the money should go. It also creates an economy of scale for the other individual donors in the lottery, as only one person is required to do the research...

Is there an expectation (or requirement) that the winning donor provides a write-up of their research and reasoning for their selected charity?

Comment author: SamDeere 16 December 2017 07:43:24AM *  3 points [-]

It's not clear to me how a donor lottery would capture all the considerations. Can you elaborate?

In this case, you haven't found an advisor who you trust to take into account all the things you consider to be relevant. So, instead of relying on a third-party advisor, you do the research yourself. As research is costly for any given individual to undertake, it may not make sense for you to do this with a smaller donations, but with the larger pot, if you win, you've got more incentive to undertake whatever research you feel is necessary (i.e. that 'captures the relevant considerations').

Does this presume that (some) donors already know where they prefer to donate, rather than offsetting time spent on additional research with a larger donation pool?

It's just meant to illustrate that the value of the amount that you would be able to grant to a preferred organization is the same in expectation whether you participate in the lottery or donate directly. The lottery then may generate additional upside, potentially increasing the effectiveness of your donation if you do more research, and also giving you access to different funding opportunities (providing seed funding for an organization, donating to organizations that have a minimum donation threshold etc)

Is there an expectation (or requirement) that the winning donor provides a write-up of their research and reasoning for their selected charity?

[updated — see more in the discussion below]

We think that it's in the spirit of the lottery that someone who does useful research that would be of interest to other donors should publish it (or give permission for CEA to publish their grant recommendation). Also, if they convince others to donate then they'll be causing additional grants to go to their preferred organization(s). We'll strongly encourage winners to do so, however, in the interests of keeping the barriers to entry low, we haven't made it a hard requirement.

Comment author: Owen_Cotton-Barratt 16 December 2017 10:28:50PM 6 points [-]

We think that it's in the spirit of the lottery that someone who does useful research that would be of interest to other donors should publish it (or give permission for CEA to publish their grant recommendation). Also, if they convince others to donate then they'll be causing additional grants to go to their preferred organization(s). We'll strongly encourage winners to do so, however, in the interests of keeping the barriers to entry low, we haven't made it a hard requirement.

Seems like even strong social pressure might be enough to be a significant barrier to entry. I feel excited about entering a donor lottery, and would feel less excited if I thought I'd feel accountable if I won (I might still enter, but it seems like a significant cost).

Would an attitude of "we think it's great if you want to share (and we could help you with communication) but there's no social obligation" capture the benefits? That's pretty close to what you were saying already, but the different tone might be helpful for some people.

Comment author: SamDeere 17 December 2017 08:57:01AM 2 points [-]

I'm certainly happy with that. I think it's important to point out the positive externalities to the community/other donors if people make interesting research findings, especially if there's a relatively high likelihood that people will be investing time and energy into the research. When responding I had in mind that this could be a very minimalistic thing (e.g. the name of the recipient and possibly a couple of sentences explaining the thinking behind the decision), but on reflection I think the words 'write-up of their research and reasoning' in the OP imply something much more substantial. In either case, I agree that it'd be bad for this to feel like a cost that stopped people entering, so I'm endorsing your phrasing, and I'll edit my previous message to point this out.

Comment author: persis 22 December 2017 02:37:51AM *  1 point [-]

I think the words 'write-up of their research and reasoning' in the OP imply something much more substantial.

Yes, you're right. I was thinking of a more detailed and substantial post on why the winner selected their charity / charities. Although it wouldn't have to be onerous, I expect one or two paragraphs with accomanying links to research would be good enough.

In either case, I agree that it'd be bad for this to feel like a cost that stopped people entering, so I'm endorsing your phrasing, and I'll edit my previous message to point this out.

While I agree that deterring people from entering because of social pressure is not a good outcome, I'm not entirely sure I agree that the conclusion is that there's no expectation for the winner to share their reasoning. I place more value on the upsides of transparency than the potential downside of feeling social pressure, and I wonder if there isn't another way to alleviate the social pressure while still maintaining something like a "low bar" expectation for the winner to share their findings.

For example, CEA could share the winner's reasoning anonymously.

Comment author: Paul_Christiano 22 December 2017 04:58:47AM *  2 points [-]

What are the biggest upsides of transparency?

The actual value of the information produced seems modest.

Comment author: persis 24 December 2017 10:06:26AM 1 point [-]

What are the biggest upsides of transparency?

Two specific upsides that come to mind:

  1. If the winner chooses to use the opportunity to research a novel or speculative cause area, intervention or charity which they might not otherwise have thought worth their time. I could see a lot of learning value in this.

  2. If the winner's incentive to enter the lottery is purely because it's a lottery and with a large enough contribution to the pool they like their odds at being able to influence more money towards their preferred charity. This would be contrary to the expected reason for entering i.e. to research impactful donation opportunities. I'm not sure if this is likely to happen, or if it even matters if some participants are incentivised to behave like this, but I'd be curious to learn if it happened.

A generic upside to transparency is just general learning value from research, which I agree might be modest. Although that also depends on variables like: how thorough the winner's research is, whether they rely on popular findings in EA or branch out, how informed the readers are, etc.