Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus

I’m posting to share information about Leverage Research, a non-profit research organisation founded in 2011 that was historically involved in EA. In particular, I wanted to share a summary of their history and their new focus following a major restructure.

My main goals for this post are to:

  1. Establish me as a contact person for Leverage

  2. Give readers a better understanding of Leverage in the past and an update on their new focus

  3. Clarify and improve the relationship between Leverage and the EA community

I hope to achieve this by writing three main sections:

  1. About me
    Briefly covering my role at Leverage, why I’m the person posting this and my relationship to the EA community

  2. What is Leverage?
    Aiming to give readers a basic understanding of what Leverage was doing in the past and their plans for the future, including a little bit about our relationship with Paradigm Academy.

  3. Leverage and EA: Our mistakes and what to expect from Leverage moving forward
    Clarifying Leverage’s relationship to the EA community, addressing some concerns and setting out what the EA community can expect from us moving forward. I wrote this section for a narrower audience of people who’ve interacted with Leverage in the past and have more context on our past relationship with EA.

Many thanks to everyone who has provided feedback or otherwise helped me in bringing together this post.

1. About me

My name is Larissa Hesketh-Rowe. I recently accepted a job at Leverage Research. I’m currently supporting Leverage with their external communications, although longer-term I expect to take on responsibility for their Research Fellows Program.

I’ve also been an active member of the EA community for many years. I started as a volunteer, group leader, and Giving What We Can member. More recently, I worked at the Centre for Effective Altruism, first in communications and community roles and later as the CEO, running the organisation in 2018. While I no longer work at an EA organisation, I still consider myself a member of the EA community, and I plan to continue to be actively engaged in supporting EA through things like volunteering as a mentor in the Women and Non-Binary Altruism Mentorship (Wanbam) programme and fulfilling my Giving What We Can pledge.

My involvement in EA means I’m in a good position to explain to the EA community what Leverage is doing and clarify Leverage’s relationship to EA. While I don’t expect Leverage to have much direct involvement in EA, both groups are working to improve the world, so I am personally motivated to improve communication between them.

If you ever want to reach out to Leverage for any reason or have any questions, you can reach out to me at larissa@leverageresearch.org.

2. What is Leverage?

Leverage has been a complicated project with a number of different components. In the past, Leverage was essentially a small community experimenting with how to conduct useful early stage research, studying cause prioritisation and social sciences and running ad-hoc world improvement projects.

One way we’re hoping to make Leverage more intelligible externally is that Geoff Anders (the founder and ED of Leverage) has just started writing an essay series about Leverage’s history. The first post is now up, which includes a list of the essays you can expect to see go up over the coming months. It’s likely Geoff will edit the posts as he gets feedback. The series will explain some of the research avenues Leverage covered and the projects they worked on. Since we wrote most of our content for the internal Leverage community, it’s a long project to work out what to prioritise sharing and how to do that. In this post, I’m merely trying to help readers understand what Leverage was doing rather than share past content.

2.1. “Leverage 1.0” vs “Leverage 2.0”

In the past, the name “Leverage” has been used broadly, not just referring to Leverage the organisation but also nearby groups with which they coordinated. To make this easier to follow, I’ll make the distinction between “Leverage 1.0” and “Leverage 2.0”. I’m using Leverage 1.0 to refer to Leverage from 2011 to 2019, including other organisations that developed out of Leverage such as Paradigm Academy. I’ll use Leverage 2.0 to refer to just the organisation Leverage Research and its staff from the summer of this year onwards. Leverage 2.0 is what we will mean by Leverage moving forward.

2.2. Some ways of understanding Leverage 2011 − 2019 (“Leverage 1.0”):

Below I have attempted to distil nearly nine years of history into its core components. My summary will end up being an oversimplification but hopefully a useful one.

Since deciding to join the Leverage (2.0) team, I have been trying to develop my own understanding of Leverage 1.0. In doing so, I’ve come to the view that the best way to understand Leverage 1.0 (2011 − 2019) is as a combination of:

  1. an experiment in building an effective early stage research community

  2. a cause prioritisation research collaboration

  3. an organisation focused on understanding ideas, individuals and society

  4. a general world improvement project

Much like early members of the EA community, the original Leverage team members were troubled by the many problems in the world: global poverty, totalitarianism, the threat of nuclear war. For humanity to be able to make progress on such issues, Leverage believed humanity first needs to understand a lot more about the world. In particular, they thought it was essential to understand better how to conduct high-quality research, what problems in the world are most important to focus on, and how people, institutions, and societies shape the world. Leverage Research was founded to contribute to that understanding.

2.2.1. Leverage as an experiment in building an effective early stage research community

The first challenge was to create a research collaboration that was capable of making progress across a wide scope of potential research avenues.

To try and create a productive research team, Leverage hired and collaborated with people with a wide range of different backgrounds, viewpoints, and credentials and gave them the freedom to investigate whatever seemed appropriate and interesting to them. They explored different ways of conducting research, studied various research traditions, and tried out different debate and discussion formats to help people learn from each other.

Leverage took an experimental approach to setting up the team structure such that in many ways, it can make more sense to think of Leverage 1.0 as a research community than a research organisation. While hiring someone and providing them a salary was one way to coordinate with someone on research, they also had lots of more informal collaborations with visiting and external researchers.

Leverage was also run in a reasonably decentralised way. In the early days, researchers were given a lot of autonomy over their research. Later new researchers joined existing teams, but these teams still developed organically around the research avenues on which people wanted to collaborate. All of this means that Leverage didn’t have what you might think of as a traditional hierarchy with management centrally directing the research. Instead, the team shared broadly overlapping viewpoints and plans, and the support and advice of the team leaders provided guidance.

2.2.2. Leverage as a cause prioritisation research collaboration

As well as understanding how best to conduct research, Leverage also had to determine what was most important to study if you wanted to improve the world. One can, therefore, also understand Leverage as a cause prioritisation research project.

To tackle the broad scope of potential research avenues, Leverage conducted extremely open-ended research, following numerous research paths to their natural endpoint. A research avenue might reach its natural endpoint if you decided it was too hard to be worth continuing, too dangerous to continue, or you generated proof of possibility.

If a research path was too hard, it could be substituted for a more manageable problem or deprioritised altogether. If you generated proof of possibility, you could either continue devoting more time to that avenue or not, depending on what open research avenues seemed to be the most promising.

From the outside, Leverage’s research was understandably confusing because they were prioritising moving through a wide range of research areas as efficiently as possible rather than communicating the results to others. This approach was designed to allow them to cover more ground with their research and narrow in quickly on areas that seemed the most promising.

If you want to read more about the various research avenues Leverage 1.0 explored, keep an eye on Geoff’s website for essays covering these.

2.2.3. Leverage as an organisation focused on understanding ideas, individuals and society

Geoff had a particular interest in psychology, sociology and philosophy as a means to understanding people, societies, and how our understanding of the world has progressed. As Leverage made progress down various research avenues, their work in these areas looked particularly promising.

In psychology, they continued to develop a model of the human mind, and the structure of individual beliefs called Connection Theory (CT) and developed various introspection techniques and processes for overcoming different types of mental blocks. In sociology, they studied group dynamics, past civilisations and institutions. Leverage also learned a lot about abstract methodological research, studied the history of science and built up knowledge about how to conduct early stage research. This latter area, in particular, contributed a lot to the work we are now doing on early stage science (the study of how scientific progress happens in fields without well-developed scientific research programs). More on this in section 2.4 on Leverage Research today.

2.2.4. Leverage as a general world improvement project

Finally, much like the EA community, Leverage did not just want to conduct research from their armchairs, they wanted to put it into practice. Leverage’s sister company Paradigm Academy, for example, developed out of a desire to put some of their findings in psychology into practice by training individuals. Paradigm provides training to individuals and incubates startups.

They also wanted to meet like-minded people and were excited about growing the number of people contributing to pressing problems in the world today. As the Leverage community ended up developing around the same time as EA, Leverage did some work to support the EA community in the early days before there were more centralised movement-building efforts. For example, Leverage set up THINK, an early EA local group building project and they ran some of the first EA conferences (e.g. the 2013 and 2014 EA Summits) before handing these over to the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA).

2.3. Conducting research not sharing research

Notably, Leverage’s focus was never particularly on sharing research externally. Sometimes this was because it was a quick exploration of a particular avenue or seemed dangerous to share. Often though it was a time trade-off. It takes time to communicate your research well, and this is especially challenging when your research uses unusual methodology or starting assumptions. Geoff will talk more about this in his essay series, and I discuss it a bit further in section 3.2.2: Communication about our work.

2.4. Leverage organisational restructure

By the summer of 2019, Leverage’s primary research areas were mostly functioning as distinct teams. As I have mentioned, Leverage was decentralised in terms of management structure, and the various teams acted autonomously, mostly independent of any overarching management structure. As Leverage grew, they came up against more and more challenges in coordinating across those teams.

For a variety of reasons, it had begun to seem as though much greater central coordination was necessary at Leverage, which would mean more centralised management guiding the teams’ activities. However, the different groups at Leverage had already developed their own team cultures, identities, and plans. Many of the existing staff had initially joined to conduct research under a very open-ended research mandate, so the move to becoming an organisation with more central direction was not appealing to everyone.

For these reasons, after much reflection, the research collaboration that had been Leverage Research (“Leverage 1.0”) was formally disbanded earlier this year and reformed into a research institute focused on early stage science research, including early stage psychology.

Many of the different teams then formally split out to become organisations that are independently funded and run.

2.5. Leverage Research today (“Leverage 2.0”): an early stage science research institute

Following the restructure, Leverage Research (“Leverage 2.0”) stopped focusing on cause prioritisation research and, while creating a productive research environment is still important to us as a research institute, this is no longer a focus of study. Leverage’s more general world improvement projects are either handled by separate organisations (e.g. training at Paradigm Academy) or no longer relevant to their current work (e.g. the past work on EA movement building. More on this in the section below about Leverage’s relationship to the EA community).

Moving forward, Leverage Research will focus on early stage science research. Our new mission is to support scientific progress by educating people about early stage science, funding promising research projects, and conducting own early stage research, particularly in the social sciences. If you’d like to know more about our work on early stage science, check out this page of our website.

This new direction will entail our researchers engaging with academia, having our work reviewed externally, and connecting with other individuals and institutions involved in early stage science. For this reason, Leverage is now working on publishing more of our work, increasing our public engagement, and we have just released a beta version of our website.

Leverage 2.0 in this form and with this focus is still new, so I expect things to shift a bit as we continue to develop our new strategy and research agenda. We’re still working out what of our past content is relevant to our current work to write up and how to share our other content.

Since I’m conscious of making this post too long for readers, if you have any questions about anything I’ve not touched on here, please comment on this post and check out our website for future updates.

2.6. Leverage Research (Leverage 2.0) and Paradigm Academy

Of the various organisations that either had been part of Leverage 1.0, Geoff Anders now runs only Paradigm Academy and Leverage Research. The others are now all run independently so I’m afraid I can’t speak for them. Since I sometimes work with Paradigm staff and we share a management team, if you have questions about Paradigm I may be able to answer them here but the best person to speak to about Paradigm is Mindy McTeigue (mindy@paradigmacademy.com).

Over the years, Leverage has, at many points, considered having Paradigm Academy run much more independently. However, there continues to be overlap, especially since the restructure, where Paradigm is well-positioned to provide operations support as part of their incubation programme, Paradigm’s training benefits from Leverage’s psychology research and Leverage staff benefit from Paradigm training. I, therefore, expect this overlap to continue. Currently, Leverage contracts Paradigm to run their operations while we look for our own operations manager. We also contract some of their trainers to provide training to Leverage staff. Of the team, Geoff Anders and Mindy McTeigue work at both organisations. Mindy joins Geoff at Leverage (previously she worked at Paradigm) since being promoted to Chief Operating Officer, supporting Geoff in management. You can see the current Leverage team on our team page.

Paradigm currently continues to provide individual training and startup incubation. Once more of the groundwork has been laid for Leverage to focus on its new mission, Geoff and Mindy will likely focus more on updating Paradigm’s website and communicating about their work.

3. Our mistakes and what to expect moving forward

Hopefully, my last section has helped people understand the basics of what Leverage was and will be. In this next section, I’d like to talk about some questions and concerns that people in the EA community have brought up about Leverage starting with some brief context.

The mistakes discussed here are from Leverage 1.0. While I work at Leverage and have written this on their behalf, I’ve been authorised to speak on behalf of Paradigm here too, to make the same commitments moving forward for Leverage and Paradigm. I’ll often refer to the team as “we” instead of “they” as I have so far when describing Leverage in the past when I was not involved. I chose to write this way because I’m conveying apologies from the entire team that I will be helping to ensure we keep these commitments moving forward, so this section feels to me like a team effort. Apologies if this becomes confusing.

I don’t expect this section to put an end to all disagreements or settle all concerns. If you’re working on something that’s both important and highly uncertain, there are bound to be disagreements, and some amount of this seems healthy for broadening your perspective and challenging one another to do better. However, we think the EA community is doing important work, and so we don’t want to jeopardise that.

3.1 Leverage and the EA community

Leverage 1.0 started up around the same time as the EA community did, and shared similar motivations; a deep commitment to improving the world and a belief that through careful reasoning, we can do more good. In the past, we supported the growth of the EA community and were involved in EA movement-building projects.

And yet, Leverage has, as a friend recently described it, often seemed like “a bit of a square peg in a round hole in the EA community”. Leverage 1.0 started from different ideas and assumptions. While Leverage is made up of individuals with different views, in general Leverage has much more baseline scepticism of mainstream institutions than I’ve generally found in the EA community; we don’t prioritise Bayesian reasoning when trying to improve our thinking or tend to use quantitative models as often; we place much more weight on the importance of understanding individual psychology, group dynamics and global incentives and power structures. And, although improving scientific progress is the kind of high-risk, high-reward bet some EAs do prioritise, Leverage’s plan for it looks very different.

In an ideal world, neighbouring groups like this might have spurred each other on and been a way to productively challenging each others’ ideas. But in our not-so-ideal reality, real-life interactions can be messy, and even well-intentioned communication sometimes fails.

Since centralising in Leverage 2.0, we’ve been thinking about our plans and realising we need to do a lot more to communicate our work and engage with external groups effectively. In reflecting on this, we ended up thinking a lot more about the mistakes we made in the past.

Leverage, therefore, wants to apologise for instances where we’ve caused damage, lay out some of the mistakes we have made and set out what neighbouring projects can expect from us moving forward.

We also want to make clear our relationship to the EA community today. While historically we were involved in EA movement-building among our other world improvement projects, and we continue to support any communities trying to make the world better, the EA community is not part of our current focus. This means that while our work may be of interest to some people here, we may work with people in the EA community, and we are broadly supportive of the work the EA community is doing, neither Leverage nor Paradigm is directly involved in trying to build or promote EA. I expect staff that are also part of the EA community (such as myself) will continue to be interested in supporting EA projects in our spare time, but this won’t be a focus for Leverage or Paradigm as organisations.

3.2 Concerns about Leverage and what to expect from us moving forward

The main mistakes Leverage has made with regards to our relationship to the EA community, which I will try to address are:

  1. our approach to coordination with other organisations,

  2. how we communicate about our work,

  3. our attitude toward PR and reputation

  4. some of our interpersonal interactions with individuals.

There’s also the question of how to assess Leverage’s impact, which I will discuss in the final part of this section.

3.2.1. Coordination with other organisations

In the early days, Leverage 1.0 had very different views on PR and movement-building from others in the EA community. Leverage staff were excited to get more people involved in figuring out how to understand the world and donating to pressing problems in global development. While the opinions of individual Leverage members differed in many ways, it would be fair to say that as a group, we tended to think concerns about branding and risks arising from growing the movement too quickly were overblown. These differences meant Leverage had early strategic disagreements with organisations in the EA community and our coordination attempts were often clumsy and naive.

We think we then later took too adversarial an approach in disagreements with neighbouring organisations. For instance, Leverage leadership concluded that other organisations were not going to prioritise EA movement-building adequately. Instead of engaging in dialogue about the differences, Leverage took unilateral action to try to build the EA movement, running conferences and allying with pro-movement growth EAs.

Sometimes unilateral action is necessary to tackle entrenched powers and incentives that are unresponsive to concerns, but this should not be taken lightly. It’s important to seriously consider all the potential consequences and take such action only as a last resort when you have exhausted other options. While Leverage tried to weigh the consequences of our planned activities and assess the realistic chances of coordination with other organisations, we’ve concluded that we should have continued to reach out and try to engage in collaboration and dialogue, even though earlier attempts at this failed.

Moving forward, EA organisations can expect both Leverage and Paradigm to:

  1. Not run EA movement-building projects. Working directly on growing EA, is not our comparative advantage nor any longer part of our focus

  2. Reach out earlier if we end up planning initiatives that might impact the EA community and engage more in dialogue over strategic disagreements

  3. Where the EA community would find this helpful, do more to support their work. For example, connecting individuals we meet to the EA community and providing resources and training if requested by members of the EA community. We wouldn’t expect to do this under an EA brand, we’d just be supporting projects we thought were good for the world.

  4. Be more responsive to concerns from EA community members or organisational leaders. We’ve received a range of feedback over the years. Some of this feedback was not always constructive or was hard to engage in dialogue around (e.g. anonymous posters). However, we realise that we could have worked harder to bridge misunderstandings and work out which feedback was constructive so that we could incorporate that.

If there are further suggestions people have here, please feel free to add them in the comments or to email me (larissa@leverageresearch.org ).

3.2.2. Communication about our work

We know that it hasn’t been easy to understand Leverage’s work in the past. Communication about Leverage has often been sporadic, hard for external audiences to understand, and access to our materials restricted, leading Leverage to be shrouded in mystery. This confusion then contributes to conversations being less productive and our impact being less clear.

As I mentioned in the history of Leverage, there was a trade-off in time spent conducting research versus time spent communicating it. As we didn’t invest time early on in communicating about our work effectively, it only became harder over time as we built up our models and ontologies. While often this was the right trade-off for Leverage 1.0 where the focus was advancing our ideas, sometimes it wasn’t and in either case, this makes the job of communicating our work moving forward challenging[1].

We also made more general communications errors. In particular, we often made promises to provide further updates on various topics on particular time frames but then rarely posted the promised updates at all, let alone by the stated deadline. In my experience, this is a common communications mistake but an easily avoidable one[2].

The main communication improvements people can expect from Leverage Research moving forward are:

  1. Clear information about who we are and what we do on our website, including information about our work and a team page

  2. New research related to psychology and early stage science to be shared on the Leverage website moving forward

  3. Some of our content relating to training techniques and self-improvement to be available on the Paradigm Academy website (although likely not until next year)

  4. Content that doesn’t fit under either organisation to be shared as part of Geoff’s essay series on the history of Leverage or published by individuals.

  5. More small events hosted by our staff in the Bay that give people who are interested in our work the opportunity to meet us and ask questions

  6. A responsive point person to whom you can direct inquiries about Leverage’s work (me!)

  7. We will seek to communicate more accurately and clearly about our future work and updates, including our uncertainty. If people are interested in particular updates they can reach out to me[2].

We expect it’s unlikely that much of our increased external communication will be in EA channels (like the EA Forum) as much of it may not be directly relevant to EA, but we will share research through our own channels for those who are interested.

Paradigm Academy is not currently focused on external communication as much as Leverage is, so I don’t have updates on their communication plans. If you have questions about Paradigm, please contact Mindy.

3.2.3. PR and reputation

Leverage 1.0 has historically undervalued reputation and PR and instead focused more single-mindedly on the achievement of its goals. This contributed to our lack of focus on communicating about our work which, in turn, damaged our reputation in the EA community.

The EA community has had a great deal of success with things like bringing in large funders and working with governments and other institutions. This success has been critical to spreading EA ideas, improving policy, tackling diseases and saving animals from factory farms. Much of this success is attributable to the ways the EA community has carefully managed its reputation. We think that the EA community is doing incredibly important work, and we don’t want to jeopardise that.

While we now better understand the considerations other EA organisations had when we first disagreed about movement-building strategy, our primary focus is research. Our research focus (early stage science) often involves working with ideas and theories that are untested, unusual and misunderstood in the mainstream.

There’s a delicate line to walk here. The world has significant problems, and it may require revolutionary new ideas to solve those problems. Entertaining unusual perspectives and exploring neglected areas is vital to generating new ideas and often requires a unique culture. But this can also lead to missing crucial conventional wisdom, putting off potential allies and can be an easy excuse for poor communication.

Given this tension and because we support the work that EA is doing, we will do more to ensure that the way we’re perceived doesn’t negatively impact the EA community. In particular, Leverage and Paradigm will:

  1. Be more open to feedback on ways we might be adversely affecting the EA community

  2. Actively seek more advice on our PR and communicate with EA organisations earlier where we think our work might impact other groups

  3. Collaborate with EA organisations if we want to do things like present more controversial ideas at EA events and take more seriously how anyone participating in an EA space might be taken by others to represent EA in some way regardless of whether or not they are an EA organisation.

3.2.4. Interpersonal interactions

I know some individuals have had interactions with some members of staff at Leverage in the past where they’ve felt dismissed, put down or uncomfortable. Where this has been the case, it has understandably coloured some people’s impression of Leverage as a whole, and we want to apologise for negative experiences people have had.

The kinds of concerns I’ve heard most frequently include:

  1. People feeling like we were judging them on whether or not they were worthy of collaborating with, or feeling like we were assessing them on whether or not they would be useful instead of caring about them as a person

  2. Leverage staff asking weird and probing questions which might feel particularly unsafe in contexts like interviews or when discussing psychology research

  3. Leverage staff being overconfident when presenting their ideas

  4. Leverage staff being dismissive of other people’s plans, projects or ideas

  5. Leverage staff generally being weird.

Firstly, we want to apologise for any interactions people have had with Leverage 1.0 staff that have made them feel uncomfortable, judged, looked down on or for times people thought we were treating them as instrumental. We do not see people this way nor want to make them feel like that. A big part of our work is about understanding people, caring about their problems and supporting their growth as individuals. We want to help people in developing their ideas and their projects, not just because the world needs more people working together to do good, but also because we genuinely care about people.

Moving forward, we want to do a much better job of explaining our ideas and giving a much more accurate impression of how uncertain we are. I can’t promise you won’t end up discussing weird ideas when interacting with us, but we want this to be engaging, not off-putting. Feel free to give us feedback directly when talking to us in the future or, if you prefer, you can email me (larissa@leverageresearch.org) or fill in this form with feedback or concerns.

To wrap up this section, I will share a couple of thoughts that relate to some of the concerns I’ve heard. I don’t want to make excuses for people being unfriendly or making others feel bad in interactions, but this might help people understand Leverage better.

One of the additional adverse effects of our poor public communication is that when Leverage staff have interacted with people, they often didn’t understand our work and had a lot of questions and concerns about it. While this was understandable, I think it sometimes led staff to feel attacked which I suspect, in some cases, they handled poorly, becoming defensive and perhaps even withdrawing from engaging with people in neighbouring communities. If you don’t build up relationships and discuss updates to your thinking inferential distance builds up, and it becomes easy to see some distant, amorphous organisation rather than a collection of people.

I think Leverage also struggles with the same challenge the EA community faces when it comes to managing both truth-seeking and individual wellbeing. On the whole, I believe leaders in the EA community do a great job of challenging seemingly mistaken ideas with curiosity and kindness. I’m sure we at Leverage can do better on this dimension.

Speaking purely from my personal experience, I’ve found the Leverage and Paradigm staff to be very welcoming and empathetic. My experience of the Leverage culture is one where it feels exceptionally safe to express ideas and be wrong. This sense of safety has benefited my ability to develop my models and independent thinking. It’s also a place with a strong focus on understanding people and caring about helping them improve. I want to ensure that more people have this experience when interacting with Leverage.

Moving forward, I hope the greater focus on external engagement at Leverage 2.0 will give rise to more opportunities for people to have discussions and generally hang out with the staff at Leverage. I’ll be honest, you should still expect us to be pretty weird sometimes—but we’re also very friendly.

3.2.5. Leverage’s impact

The final concern I’ll discuss is around what impact Leverage has had and whether it has been a good use of resources. I don’t think there are mistakes Leverage has made here beyond the ones discussed above (e.g. communication). Instead, I think this is just a difficult question.

If the concern is about whether there has been rigorous cost-effectiveness analysis of Leverage’s work, the answer is no and, to be honest, I don’t think that framework makes sense for assessing this kind of research.

If the question is instead, “was Leverage 1.0 generally a good use of resources?”, my honest answer is that I don’t know.

Assessing the value of research, especially unpublished research outputs, is a complex problem. Several people in the EA community have faced this challenge when evaluating organisations like MIRI, FHI, and GPI or evaluating career opportunities in AI strategy and governance (which often involves unpublished research). My intuition is that most people without access to insider information about the research organisation or without the technical ability to assess the research should conclude that they don’t know whether a particular research organisation is a good use of resources and, where they need to make some calls, heavily defer to those who do have that information and ability. Therefore, I suspect most people should similarly conclude they don’t know if Leverage was a good use of resources, given the lack of published research or external signs of credibility.

If you did want to try and make some headway on this question in the Leverage case, my suggestion would be to try and think about:

  1. Whether or not you believe social science research into understanding people and societies seems especially crucial for world improvement

  2. The degree to which it looks as though Leverage 1.0 was successful in better understanding people and societies through its research.

From my perspective, this kind of social science research does seem both important to many plans for significantly improving the world and generally useful. However, I expect a lot of disagreements about the tractability of the area and its importance relative to other things.

When it comes to how successful Leverage 1.0 was in its research, readers can gain some information by reading Geoff’s essay series, evaluating work we publish in the future, and assessing how useful the training techniques we have developed are.

From the inside, I’m optimistic that Leverage 1.0 was a good use of resources, but with lots of uncertainty, especially around how to assess research in general. I’ve found Leverage’s introspection tools and people models to be directly useful, which makes me think their psychology work is promising. It also appears to me that they have a vast amount of high quality, internal material on understanding the mind and on methods for making progress on challenging research questions. Many of the staff I’ve interacted with at Leverage seem to have detailed models of Leverage 1.0 research areas and seem to have developed impressive skills over their time at Leverage 1.0.

For most people, I don’t think my insider view should substantially change their opinion. Instead, if assessing Leverage’s impact is of particular interest to you, I’d suggest looking for more publically-accessible signs of Leverage’s success or failure in the future and using that to inform whether Leverage’s past work was useful.

3.3 Feedback on how we’re doing

Since I will be taking the lead on Leverage’s engagement with other communities, I want to end this post by strongly encouraging readers to reach out to me if you notice ways that we can do better on any of these dimensions moving forward.

You can email me at larissa@leverageresearch.org or fill in this form.

The form asks for, but does not require, a name. In general, we do prefer non-anonymous feedback, but we are open to receiving anonymous input if it is constructive. Your feedback will provide me with information on whether or not Leverage does improve on the dimensions we’ve laid out here and will help me to work out how we can do better.

Similarly, if you have questions about anything I’ve not been able to cover here or feedback on this post, please feel free to add it in the comments.


[1] Edited in response to feedback in the comments here. Previously this sentence read:

While often this was the right trade-off for Leverage 1.0 where the focus was advancing our ideas, this makes the job of communicating our work moving forward challenging.

[2] These two additions were made after the post had been published in response to email feedback I received pointing out that I’d forgotten to mention our past promises to provide updates that we didn’t fulfil.