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Re: [givewell] Re: Trying to make more use of qualitative evidence

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  • Holden Karnofsky
    I have mixed feelings about this idea. On one hand, I definitely want to know which charities the most experienced people recommend. On the other hand, I feel
    Message 1 of 8 , Jul 17, 2009
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      I have mixed feelings about this idea.

      On one hand, I definitely want to know which charities the most experienced people recommend.

      On the other hand, I feel it's important that people be clear about why they support some charities as opposed to others.  Otherwise, relying on their opinions could lead to an unhealthy dynamic in which the amount raised by a charity has to do with "who they know" rather than with what they're accomplishing.  No matter how much experience a person has, when I don't see them explicitly putting forth their case, I don't know how much of the recommendation has to do with a careful consideration of impact vs. other factors like family/personal connections.  (I'm also unable to gauge how intelligently they're considering impact, what information they're factoring in, what unspoken judgment calls and personal values are factored in and how they accord with my own, etc.)

      In my opinion, Prof. Blattman's recommendation isn't explicitly answering the questions I feel need to be answered - not explicitly putting forth the case that I would need to have confidence - and so it largely comes down to trust.  Many people, including Lee, might trust Prof. Blattman's conclusion, but I don't know enough about him to do so (the fact that he has experience, alone, is not sufficient for me).

      Bottom line - I think that knowing where the experienced people stand is very valuable, but that they should be encouraged to be clear about why they make the recommendations they do, and not just about whom they're recommending.

      On Wed, Jul 15, 2009 at 8:23 AM, Lee Crawfurd (MoFEP) <lee.crawfurd@...> wrote:

      It would be great to have some kind of social-networking system which could harness the power of reputation.

      Chris Blattman is a blogging development professor with oodles of field experience, so when he suggests a charity   ( http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/chrisblattman/~3/J2hdIcvi_Hc/just-in-case-you-really-want-to-do-some.html )    I'm putting my hand in my pocket straight away, and I pretty rarely give to charity. But it would be great to have some kind of interactive forum in which individuals who might be passing through the area could upload their own comments; this would increase the accountability of recommendations - people would be putting that reputation on the line. 

      2009/5/22 Holden Karnofsky <Holden@...>

      Thanks for the feedback.

      We're leaning toward an incremental approach.  First step would be to identify the charities where a visit would be most worth doing.  At that point we would invite anyone who cared to to submit photos, video, and comments, but we wouldn't sit back and wait for it – we would do visits ourselves and hopefully come back with a better sense of what we're looking for and a better sense of who else could help add to our knowledge base (and how).  From there we might more actively push others (locals?  Students?  Aid workers?  Donors?  No need to decide this yet) to participate.  If we were getting loads of useful data, we would then think about how to process/display it more systematically.

      This would all start post 7/1 (except perhaps the "making a list" part), so it would be unlikely to become a major info source in the short term.

      On Thu, May 21, 2009 at 8:44 PM, Phil Steinmeyer <psteinmeyer@...> wrote:

      In general, I like Holden's idea. 
      Key questions are:
      1) To what extent can "did it happen" be readily verified on the ground?  i.e. In what percentage of cases would this be important?
      2) How difficult are such visits?  Effort, time, cost...  How cooperative would charities be?
      Finding a local to report, more cheaply, SEEMS (at first blush) like a good idea, but on further reflection, there are some problems:
      Is our goal to find someone with a donor mindset and experience to report on the charity activities?  If so, the likelihood that we would find many donors with ready access to rural Africa or Asia or Latin America seems low.
      We might have better luck finding either Western NGO workers or local residents close to the action.
      But there are problems with each of these.  I suspect that in a given area, the community of Western NGO workers is generally small and somewhat tight, which would interfere with the ability/willingness of an NGO worker to be brutally honest in reporting on the activities of others.
      As for locals, they would probably be much harder to find.  If charities are working in areas where folks earn a dollar or two a day, how many of those locals are going to have internet access, English fluency, and be reachable by someone in, say, New York?  Even if we did find such folks, I foresee possible conflicts and simply communication gaps in trying to get the kind of information that I think Holden is talking about.
      That said, finding locals would certainly be nice, but I wouldn't want to see TOO much effort put in that direction if it early efforts didn't seem fruitful.
      A few years ago, when I was first ramping up my charitable giving, I had vague thoughts of traveling to Africa or other poor areas to get a feel for charity activities and the general dynamics of poor nations from the ground level.  I have not followed through with it, and haven't really thought about it recently.  Still, I like the concept, and would at least consider doing something like this personally in the right scenario.

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