Effective Altruism or Action is defined as an approach to making a difference that takes into account the ability to actually make progress on or accomplish a particular goal, and in turn have a significant impact and measurable benefits (2016). It also discusses the importance of evaluating what issues are most worth donating to and working towards. In this context, effectiveness holds a broad definition but is highlighted by this vox article as an attempt to use “evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible”. Another important point of Effective Altruism, is its emphasis on issues that although important and solvable, may be underrepresented in discourse. Vox’s Future Perfect series highlights stories about problems that they feel fit into this category of being “big and neglected” and in many cases offer effective solutions.
In class we discussed how Effective Altruism is considered in terms of three criteria: Scale of the issue (or impact of the issue), if the issue has been neglected, and the solvability of the issue. Although this may seem oversimplified in a chaotic time of dread, this aims to quantify and assess the various options of suffering in order to make a sizable difference on the global scales. With this definition, our classes performed a role-play exercise where different groups highlighted a specific piece of this definition to determine how to approach this issue of the scale of impact and quality of that impact. The class was divided into three groups:
- Effectiveness was most important when considering impact,
- effective altruism neglects how we act,
- and engagement is the most effective form of action.
Goals from each group presented an interesting connection when considering what is important for an action to be an effective action. Group 1 argued that there is a sense of urgency to global issues relating to suffering which cannot forgo an engagement process. This also hints at issues of scales as the effectiveness point of view is central to maximizing scale. The second group considers effective action in the reality of the context of human activity, claiming that effective altruism claims people want to make the greatest impact and will stop at nothing to favor doing something over doing nothing. Although factually true and worth discussing this perspective lacks solutions. Group 3 took the stance that engagement with the people suffering and communication with these groups allows a more holistic approach to alleviating suffering. Each group presents an insight into the complexity of effective action and can be evaluated under the following case study of practiced engagement which paints an alternative picture than the singular categorization of each of these views.
Effective Action & Healthy Democracy
After debating these views we came to a consensus that Engagement and Effectiveness are important aspects that are observable in our partnership with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Healthy Democracy. The organization seeks to improve the democratic process by increasing education and involvement of citizens in the political process. The biggest program they have for this is their Citizens Initiative Review (CIR). CIR brings together a “randomly selected and representative panel of voters together to fairly and thoroughly evaluate ballot measures and give voters information they can trust”. The discussion is then summarized on the ballot measure, to present the best reasons to vote for or against a measure or bill, so that voters are presented with unbiased information to assist them in the process of deciding how to vote.
This process reveals the success of impactful change through emphasizing engagement and effectiveness together. The panelist only concerns themselves with the ‘hot topics’ of that policy decision for the ballot measures which they feel are important for voters. Healthy Democracy does not have the resources to do this for every political issue, so they need to make decisions about the most important topics for voters. This embodies effective action as it compares what the panelists feel are the most urgent and necessary topics to address. In addition to the way they implement effective altruism in their actions, Healthy Democracy also works really hard to practice effective engagement. The CIR, is just one of many ways that Healthy Democracy engages with Oregonians. They also have programs like Community Oregon or Citizens Juries that engage citizens in different ways. A really important part of engagement that is exemplified in Healthy Democracy’s programs, is considering our perception of knowledge. By randomly selecting people in a way that still considers representation, they end up including a variety of people with different life experiences and political perspectives is their programs. This is an important part of effectively engaging with those who are directly involved, but also with the larger community overall, and creates outcomes that are representative of a multitude of interests so that they can best serve Oregonians.