In­sti­tu­tional de­ci­sion-making

TagLast edit: 3 Aug 2021 16:30 UTC by EA Wiki assistant

The institutional decision-making tag is for posts related to improving the quality of decision-making in important institutions, including but not limited to governments.

Improving institutions

Institutions such as governments, companies, and charities control significant resources. One potentially effective way to do good, therefore, is to help institutions use these resources in more productive ways.

Members of the effective altruism community have employed this method extensively. For instance, they have tried to increase the attention policy-makers give to existential risk. Similarly, an important goal of effective altruist charity recommendations is to increase the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations. Within the for-profit sector, altruists have sought to shape the incentives of businesses to make them more aligned with social value, and have also tried to create social value themselves by engaging in social entrepreneurship.

Institutions can be improved in two different ways: from the outside and from the inside. Effective altruism organizations try to improve institutions from the outside by giving them advice or, in the case of charities, by evaluating them, whereas individual members of the effective altruism community may work within institutions to help them achieve their ends more effectively.

One approach to improving decisions is to set up institutional structures that are conducive to good decision-making (Thaler & Sunstein 2008, Whittlestone 2017). This way, institutions like national governments might encourage people to make better decisions (e.g. saving for retirement) or make better decisions themselves (e.g. improving health policy).


80,000 Hours rates improving institutional decision-making a “second-highest priority area”: an unusually pressing global problem ranked slightly below their four highest priority areas (80,000 Hours 2021).


80,000 Hours (2021) Our current list of the most important world problems, 80,000 Hours.

Baron, Jonathan (1988) Thinking and Deciding, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thaler, Richard H. & Cass R. Sunstein (2008) Nudge: Improving Decision about Health, Wealth, and Hapiness, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Whittlestone, Jess (2017) Improving institutional decision-making, 80,000 Hours, September.

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