Public policy-making - the set of intentions, decisions, and processes that lead to the creation, implementation and recycling of policies within governments and international organizations - takes place in a complex system (Geyer and Cairney 2015). This system is characterised by heterogeneous actors pursuing their idiosyncratic goals in an institutional context and a changing environment that rhythms the course of and affects the content of policy decisions (Geyer and Rihani 2010, Morçöl 2013, Koliba et al. 2018). Zooming in on the micro-level, one can observe policy actors’ cognitive complexity, usually conceptualised as ‘bounded- rationality’ (Simon and March 1976; Dente 2014; Hertwig and Pedersen 2015; Zahariadis and Herweg 2017). In the aggregate, policy dynamics satisfy the hallmarks of complex systems:
Output in February
A professionals' "Jefferson" dinner on "far future versus present day impact" with 14 participants
Applied rationality group launch with 12 participants from our core community
Themed meetup on the YouTube recommender system with ~25 participants
An advanced workshop with 7 participants
Launched a Global Catastrophic Risk Governance group with 5 master's students from the Graduate Institute
Career coached four people
Strategy event with EA Lausanne, successfully set up their semester's program and intro workshop
Published updated version of the Tactical Models for Improving Policy-Making on our blog
Launched our community networking database
This post presents reflections on how to improve the work of governments and international organisations. It focuses in particular on the role of institutional decision-making, as this seems to be a concrete and feasible avenue of fostering policy-makers’ impact. This post does not try to explain why one should (not) work on improving policy-making.
First of all, we propose that approaching policy-making systematically can be roughly done as follows:
Understand policy-making dynamics
Define tactics to approach policy-making
Implement techniques (e.g. calibration training) [or hyperlink to resource on website]
Evaluate impact and feed learnings back to 1-2-3
Jess Whittlestone’s post on improving institutional decision-making provides useful high-level approaches:
test and evaluate existing techniques
research alternatives techniques
fostering adoption of techniques
direct more funding to the above
… which fall under 3. and 4.
Our post complements Whittlestone’s by presenting three models that inform 2. and thus help calibrating an outside actor’s approach to improving institutional decision-making. These models come from the literature review we conducted for forthcoming publications which attempt to cover point 1. of understanding policy-making dynamics.
Output in January
[EA Forum post on tactical models to improve public policy-making](https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/bzu88GRy2jjxCQDC9/tactical-models-to-improve-institutional-decision-making)
The Good Growth Co, a project co-founded by community member Oliver Bramford, got an EA grant to support the Center for Human-aligned AI in Berkeley
Henrik Aslund, AI safety researcher at the EPFL and EA Lausanne cofounder, is leaving us to work with the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford for six months
We held our General Assembly ([minutes here](https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XIJ-A9-Oh_fn3Kl6xFx63AFhN7wyxX-a/view)) and elected a new board of directors - Prof. Dr. Samia Hurst replacing Olympe Peretz who is moving away this year
Updated this website with the "incubation", "get involved" sections and edits to other parts
Published our [event planning for the first half of 2019](http://eageneva.org/events/)
Ran an EA Switzerland meeting in Bern together with EA Lausanne, Bern, and Zurich - currently designing a common website to support smaller groups in starting out
Ran a well-received workshop for the Constructive Institute
Hosted an impressively successful "Fermi Quiz Night" as themed social at Foound
Ran the first session of our new applied rationality group with success - public sessions starting in April
Announced the launch of our Global Catastrophic Risk Governance Group on February 21st
Had promising strategy meetings with EA Lausanne, the EAE at UniGe, and a potential student initiative at the IHEID
Wrote up [our annual report for 2018 and our plans for 2019](https://drive.google.com/file/d/1eKqZCM2MuMBX_81sLRylqyXSnUz29cg-/view)
Forthcoming foundational document by Stauffer, Snoeij, Seifert, and Ammann (2019)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
A three pager on policy work with lots of links to further documents we're developing
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
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.
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
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.