Improving policy-making: a research agenda

Improving policy-making: a research agenda

How to understand and approach policy-making as an outside actor? How to improve policy-making such that decisions rely more on evidence and reason while taking behavioral and institutional realities into account? We are writing a research agenda that provides research and implementation directions on these questions. The research agenda is divided in three sub-sections.

The heterogeneity of evidence-based policy-making

The heterogeneity of evidence-based policy-making

Evidence-based policy-making (EBPM) is an ideal difficult to achieve. Widely cited barriers are many. They include actors' cognitive limitations, lack of time, different definitions of evidence and limited attention spans; the role of framing strategies, focusing events, and policy networks; as well as incompatibility between the supply of and demand for evidence. Most of them directly boil down to political behavior of different types of actors - not solely policymakers. We disassemble EBPM down to the actor level and explore the heterogeneity of the use and misuse of evidence. Through this literature review, we found that actors' types, and other characteristics such as their goals, play an important role. We recommend the proponents of evidence-based policy-making to adopt a pragmatic approach, rely on immersed training strategies, revise their assumption that researchers must also be knowledge brokers, and foster the inclusion of epistemic communities in policy-making.

Applications of prioritization in public policy-making

Applications of prioritization in public policy-making

The topical focus of policy-making depends on agenda-setting processes; meaning the process of problems and solutions entering the policy-making process where they are defined, debated, and then prioritized through the combination of various forces such as power, political interests, funding, shared discourse, external events, and media coverage.

In contrast to agenda-setting, 'priority-setting' has been employed as a method to prioritize problems and solutions more systematically in the sector of health policy. This approach comes close to the prioritization models that are advocated within the Effective Altruism community. They include the Scale-Solvability-Neglect (SSN) and the expected value (EV) frameworks. Generally, they serve as broad heuristics to guide one's decision-making in the allocation of limited resources.

This paper tries to push the envelope by analyzing how these two frameworks would apply to policy-making in general, across contexts, sectors and institutions.

November 2018 - Monthly Review: Community, Optimization, and Research

November 2018 - Monthly Review: Community, Optimization, and Research

Output in November

  • Themed meetup on 'global states of consciousness' with Michael Schartner (2nd)

  • Advanced EA workshop (10th)

  • Themed meetup on 'existential risk reduction: the missing SDG?' with Oliver Bramford (12th)

  • Intro workshop on 'Meditation & Action' together with Ressource Mindfulness (17th)

  • Introduction to EA workshop (24th)

  • Themed meetup on 'unconditional basic income research' with Cameron Schmidt (30th)

  • Submitted our conceptual agent based model of policy-making to the Journal of Complexity, Governance and Networks

  • Set up an event page on the website

  • Set up a 'donate' function on the website (via Stripe)-The student group at UniGe now has doubled in its core member size (6), partly due to our support

  • 12 career coachings

An agent-based model of policy-making: disaggregation and conceptualization

An agent-based model of policy-making: disaggregation and conceptualization

Policy-making exhibits nonlinear patterns which emerge from the interaction of heterogeneous bounded-rational actors. How to understand such complexity with both clarity and parsimony? We disaggregate policy-making into different parts to develop a conceptual agent-based model. We define agents with attributes, cognitive rules, and strategies drawing from the literature on public policy, sociology, and behavioral psychology. We present a set of parameters that constrain agent adaptation, such as environmental variables; policy processes; and network structures. We use bit-strings to encode information and the fundamentals of evolutionary biology to conceptualize learning and adaptation mechanisms. We present a set of hypothetical results for illustration purposes. This disaggregation and conceptualization serves as the groundwork to formalize, implement, and simulate the current understanding of policy-making. Among other applications, the model is designed to inject dynamism into static theory; shed light on how individual behavior self-organizes and scales to the group and the institutional levels; and conduct evaluative research in data-scarce contexts.

October 2018 - monthly review: workshops, writing, EA global

October 2018 - monthly review: workshops, writing, EA global


  • A three pager on policy work with lots of links to further documents we're developing

  • A post on complexity science for social sciences

  • EA Global London conference: presentation of our current work & lots of meetings to develop policy work

  • Attended & contributed to the EAE’s intro to seminar at UniGe

  • Meetup on "The pleasure to give - the warm glow effect" with Emma Tieffenbach

  • Intro workshop @ IHEID

  • Intro workshop @ C4SI

  • Meetup on "Predictive computing and the Bayesian brain" with Luigi Acerbi

  • Career seminar @ EPFL to help get their group started

  • Lots of career coaching sessions & community meetings, plus followups

An Introduction to Complexity Science for Social Sciences

An Introduction to Complexity Science for Social Sciences

In both social sciences and policy-making, researchers and practitioners tackle multifaceted phenomena. Examples are (armed) conflicts, migration, the emergence of populism, the automation of professions, financial crises, international trade, or social integration. Efforts in research and practice have led to various approaches and processes to analyse these phenomena and make decisions under uncertainty.

I argue that the toolbox used to tackle these real-world problems could benefit a lot from the growing field of complexity science, i.e. the study of complex systems in the physical, biological, and social worlds. I believe complexity science is a vital tool that yields a more honest and granular understanding of social phenomena. Complexity science is not revolutionary, it is the middle-ground between the assemblage of (a) insights and methods from many scientific disciplines and (b) the dilution of disciplinary boundaries.

September 2018 - monthly review: a month of retreats

September 2018 - monthly review: a month of retreats


  • Supported the launch of EA Lausanne - if you're in Lausanne, join them!

  • We finished setting up our career coaching program - apply here!

  • We put out a new version of our website to be more representative of the work we have been getting ourselves into and the services we offer.

  • Applied to an EA grant for our policy work

  • We supported the student group at the University of Geneva to successfully launch their semester (with 16 new participants at their own intro seminar!).

  • We ran a first Jefferson Dinner with active professionals our community to discuss how to best support them in their support for EA (as a result, we are setting up a simple networking platform to help make more valuable connections).

  • We published an article on EA community building strategy based on our current model of the global network.

  • Themed meetup on cause prioritization on Monday 17th September

  • Konrad ran a session on cause prioritization at the EACH retreat and a session on our community funnel at the DACH EA retreat

  • Max gave two talks on complexity science and improving policy-making at the EACH retreat

Here's why you should consider going to an EA Global conference

Here's why you should consider going to an EA Global conference

My main motivation behind writing this is to help you consider whether going to an Effective Altruism Global (EAG) conference this year is worth it. After having doubted the value, I was convinced otherwise at EAGx Oxford 2016. Therefore, I’m sharing my personal highlights from that weekend to attempt to demonstrate that these conferences are among the most valuable events *anyone* can attend because they have great content, a unique framework and exceptional attendees.