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Positly wants to accelerate social science research and have a greater impact within the EA community… and you can help

Have you ever wanted to conduct online human subject research? Have you ever wished academics and startups were better at providing tools to improve our health, decision making and wellbeing? Have you wanted to understand how it is that we think and how we change our minds? Have you ever tried to conduct a study and realised how hard it is to get quality data? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, then we hope you’ll read ahead to learn how you can help us in our efforts to make conducting research easier and more impactful.

If you’ve been in the Effective Altruism community over the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard Spencer Greenberg (e.g. on the 80,000 Hours or Rationally Speaking podcasts, EAG talks, etc.) mention the types of online research that he and the Spark Wave team are doing in the areas of depression, anxiety & stress, decision making & reasoning, cognitive psychology, habit formation, and product idea validation (to mention just a few).

You may have thought, “I wish it was easier to conduct this kind of impactful research.” If this sounds like you, then you’re in luck. We’ve spent the last year refining and extending our tool (Positly) to help researchers recruit and manage relevant study participants. Now we’re opening it up to external researchers while we continue to improve and transform this platform to make a big difference.

Our mission at Positly is to dramatically improve the speed, quality and affordability of social science, product, and human subject research.

Early feedback from our amazing beta testers has been validating that we’re on track towards that goal. Here are just a few things they’ve said:

  • “I had to run a dozen small online experiments in a few months to finish my dissertation. With Positly, each study took less than 5 minutes to launch and I always got my data on the same day.” – Daniel Greene, doctoral candidate, Stanford University Graduate School of Education

  • "I loved using Positly. It made my multi-stage study way easier and saved me several hours of fiddly busywork. I would definitely recommend it to anyone doing online research!" – Eric Gastfriend, CEO of DynamiCare Health, Founder of the Harvard University Effective Altruism Student Group and Philanthropy Advisory Fellowship

  • “Positly is a wonderful tool to recruit participants for online studies in an efficient way. It is easier to use than the alternatives and offers all the features I need.” Lucius Caviola, PhD student at Oxford University, Co-founder of Effective Altruism Foundation

At Spark Wave, we use Positly constantly in our own work too. For instance in building the MindEase and UpLift apps as well as the ClearerThinking.org decision-making programs.

  • "It's simple, elegant, fast, and a game-changer for social science. I've had three hundred responses in less than an hour. My days of hunting for participants are over - now I won't use anything else." – Peter Brietbart, CEO, MindEase

  • “I get quality results incredibly fast. It's both simple to use and highly customizable. I rave about it to everyone I know conducting research.”  – Aislinn, Product Manager, UpLift

While we think that Positly can benefit people in many disciplines across the globe, at this stage we are especially interested in helping the EA community. Our team is focused on using quality data and solid reasoning to make decisions so that we could deepen our understanding of psychology through rapid, high quality research studies. This is something that aligns very well with the EA community. We’ve already worked with many people in the EA community and we want to keep expanding our collaboration.

Right now we want to help EA organisations conduct research, help EA founders build successful companies (by conducting high quality research studies on their target markets), and help individual researchers focus on their core work instead of fussing around with recruiting and managing participants.

Use cases for Positly

Here’s a few example of use cases relevant to Effective Altruism that we’d love to see (and some we already collaborated on):

  • Modelling human values (e.g. understanding the relative weights of future lives, different species etc)

  • Marketing and communications (e.g. communicating cause areas and EA convincingly, pre-testing blog posts or videos for movement building – all with high fidelity)

  • Social science studies (e.g. mental health interventions, improving decision making, behavioural economics choice architecture, cognitive psychology tools)

  • Consumer acceptance/market testing (e.g. clean/plant-based meat products, effective donation platforms)

  • Policy research (e.g. asking people about their values around employment and meaning when facing increasing automation/intelligence explosion)

  • User experience testing (e.g. launching new apps or websites)

As we've mentioned, we're constantly using Positly for our own studies. Here are a few of the many, many we've run:

  • Figuring out people's intrinsic values

  • Helping people sleep better (with a new intervention)

  • Helping people better achieve their goals (using a range of proven techniques)

  • Helping people better form good habits (using techniques that actually work to help people succeed at forming new daily habits)

  • Naming our companies and choosing our pricing models

  • Carrying out user testing

  • Figuring out product-market fit

We also believe that quite a few of the very big and important problems that the world faces are problems that better social science technology may be able to help with, such as how we help people to...

  • Make better decisions

  • Have improved mental health

  • Get along better

  • Live happier and more fulfilling lives

  • Become more productive

  • Become less biased

  • Become more altruistic

  • Expand their moral circle

So… what?

If any of this sounds like the kind of work you do (or want to do), we invite you to get in touch as we’d be thrilled to help you and would love your feedback.

Even if you don’t need help with any of the above areas we would still love to hear constructive feedback. We'd greatly appreciate if you would share Positly with other researchers and research groups so we can continue to help the EA community, improve the direct and indirect impact of our work, and improve our platform.

And if you don’t have anything to offer immediately other than your general support, then we would appreciate if you could follow our progress here:

All our best,

Luke, Spencer and the Positly team


About us

  • Positly helps researchers recruit and manage relevant study participants for their research. Our goal is to dramatically improve the speed, quality and affordability of research. Read how Positly compares to other recruitment methods.

  • Spencer is the President of Positly and CEO of Spark Wave. Spencer is the founder of many companies including Spark Wave (a startup foundry that creates new software companies to help solve big problems).

  • Luke is the CEO of Positly. Luke has worked in technology and marketing across multiple industries for a decade and a half. Most recently he was on the team that founded Sendle (Australia’s first technology B-Corp and multi-award winning carbon-neutral delivery service) and saw the company through series A funding to become Australia’s top rated delivery service.

Comments (6)

Comment author: ishi 30 July 2018 05:24:48PM 0 points [-]

I agree with the listed 8 goals in last section of the article, and also think online technologies have a role in (possibly) meeting them. I am interested in this topic but more from a theoretical perspective (mathematics, data analytics, statistics and probability, psychology and economics--complexity theory).

Partly because of my interest I have participated in several of these online research studies (most recently the SWARM intelligence study conducted by a group in Australia (i think U Melbourne) which was funded by US DoD , and one from a university in New York. I found most of these online studies (which involve answering questions ) too time consuming, so many of them i dropped out of.
Hence one ends up with 'sample selection bias' problems.
This is similar to polling issues---when they only poll people who have smart phone numbers.

Hence i'm interested in how accurate these research studies are----perhaps I (and others like me) are 'outliers' (i have a smart phone but dont use it inside). Similar ideas are discussed by Heinrich in his paper W.E.I.R.D people published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences several years ago.

Comment author: adamaero  (EA Profile) 07 July 2018 02:43:59AM 2 points [-]

Seems to be a broken link for the Facebook group: "Join our Supporters/Advisors/Users private group on Facebook"

Comment author: lukefreeman  (EA Profile) 30 July 2018 08:14:29AM 0 points [-]

Sorry I seemed to miss this comment earlier 😅

Thanks for pointing it out – fixed now 😀

Comment author: Peterslattery  (EA Profile) 06 July 2018 03:47:20AM 1 point [-]

This sounds very interesting. How does it compare to alternative recruitment platforms?

Comment author: lukefreeman  (EA Profile) 06 July 2018 10:45:31PM 1 point [-]

Thanks Peter – I've written an article that explains the differences generally speaking between different approaches to recruitment: https://www.positly.com/blogs/post/comparing-positly-with-alternative-recruitment-methods

The core difference is our approach: We think a researcher’s job isn’t to figure out complex systems to find quality participants, so we provide best practice research methods directly into our tools. We allow researchers to customise their studies in many ways, but a researcher isn’t required to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on details such as preventing duplication, calculating incentives, performing quality checks or other measures. Positly does all of this (and more) right out of the box. When we design a feature, we think about the many different contexts in which the feature could be used. Then we try to get to the root of the problem that the researcher has and abstract the solution to the most universally useful feature. Finally, we ensure that the feature behaves in a way that the researcher would expect. Our development process means that all researchers on Positly benefit from a versatile tool that is customisable to their needs. As we develop and release new features, Positly can be applied in different research contexts, all while maintaining a familiar and intuitive interface – freeing time for researchers to do what they do best.

I've currently got some draft comparisons with specific other platforms which I can share with anyone who get's in touch (not posting publicly as I want to make sure they're bulletproof first when making specific comparisons to other companies).

Comment author: Allan53 06 July 2018 03:09:55AM 1 point [-]

I'm actually gearing up to do a study for my PhD including effective altruists, so this is really well-timed!