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80,000 Hours present a formal framework for selecting cause areas that provides an estimate of the value of an area by breaking it into slightly easier-to-estimate pieces.

In particular, building on the original ITN framework, they ask three questions about each potential focus area:

  1. Importance: What is the scale of the problem in the area? If all problems in the area could be solved, how much better would the world be?
  2. Tractability: How solvable is the problem in this area?
  3. Neglectedness: How neglected is the area?

They assume that the rough value of work in this field is equal to the product of these three factors. To make calculation simpler, they provide guidelines for scoring these three factors on a log scale. The total effectiveness is then given as the sum of the scores.

Accurately estimating the scores for these three factors is difficult, since there is often uncertainty about them. For this reason, 80,000 Hours urges caution in interpreting the results of this framework.

Further reading

80,000 Hours. 2016a. How to compare global problems in terms of potential for impact.
Original presentation of their framework. Note that they use ‘scale’ instead of ‘importance’ and ‘solvability’ instead of ‘tractability’.

80,000 Hours. 2016b. A list of all our profiles on global problems.
A set of applications of the framework.

Dickens, Michael. 2016. Evaluation frameworks, or when importance / neglectedness / tractability doesn't apply.
A criticism of this framework.