with Spencer Greenberg
the podcast about ideas that matter

Episode 076: How to measure impact, and why we may have all been doing it wrong (with Michael Plant)

October 25, 2021

Researchers in the Effective Altruism movement often view their work through a utilitarian lens, so why haven't they traditionally paid much attention to the psychological research into subjective wellbeing (i.e., people's self-reported levels of happiness, life satisfaction, feelings of purpose and meaning in life, etc.)? Are such subjective measures reliable and accurate? Or rather, which such measures are the most reliable and accurate? What are the pros and cons of using QALYs and DALYs to quantify wellbeing? Why is there sometimes a disconnect between the projected level of subjective wellbeing of a health condition and its actual level (e.g., some people can learn to manage and cope with "major" diseases, but some people with "minor" conditions like depression or anxiety might be in a constant state of agony)? What are some new and promising approaches to quantifying wellbeing? The EA movement typically uses the criteria of scale, neglectedness, and tractability for prioritizing cause areas; is that framework still relevant and useful? How do those criteria apply on a personal level? And how do those criteria taken together differ conceptually from cost-effectiveness? How effective are psychological interventions at improving subjective wellbeing? How well do such interventions work in different cultures? How can subjective wellbeing measures be improved? How can philosophers help us do good better?

Michael Plant is the Founder and Director of the Happier Lives Institute, a non-profit research institute that searches for the most cost-effective ways to increase global well-being. Michael is also a Research Fellow at the Wellbeing Research Centre, Oxford. He has a PhD in Philosophy from Oxford, and his thesis, entitled Doing Good Badly? Philosophical Issues Related to Effective Altruism, was supervised by Peter Singer and Hilary Greaves.

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