The Happier Lives Institute is a nonprofit research organisation searching for the most effective methods to improve global well-being. Mental health is a major determinant of subjective well-being, and mental disorders constitute a significant proportion of the global burden of disease.
Our Mental Health Programme Evaluation Project (MHPEP) aims to identify the best giving opportunities for donors who wish to improve the lives of people experiencing mental health problems. By making these recommendations on our website and communicating with donors, we aim to move funding to highly impactful organisations and ultimately increase well-being around the world.
The following information is aimed at nonprofits who may be eligible for our evaluation process. If you are interested in learning more about earlier stages and wider goals of the project, please see this page.
Why should you participate in our evaluation project?
The potential to access new sources of funding
If we recommend the programme your organisation runs, we will publish a research report and recommendation on our website. We are part of the effective altruism community, which moves over $100 million each year to global health actors through organisations like GiveWell, The Life You Can Save, and Effective Altruism Funds. At this stage, we are uncertain about the exact amount of additional funding that will flow to programmes as a result of our recommendations. However, after surveying key stakeholders, we tentatively expect to direct tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to our recommended programmes within a year of publishing our results. We are committed to making our own work impactful by communicating our recommendations to potential donors, but we cannot provide any guarantee of additional funding.
Understand your organisation’s impact
We see our evaluation process as a dialogue in which HLI and your organisation can learn from each other. We believe every organisation that participates will have the chance to learn about ways of becoming more impactful. HLI is excited to learn about the implementation of mental health interventions within your local context. Furthermore, our hope is that by highlighting effective mental health nonprofits, our evaluations will be useful to other organisations and will strengthen the global mental health community.
Our eligibility criteria
To be considered for a recommendation, a programme must meet the following three criteria. We define our terminology (“programme”, “intervention”, etc.) below.
1. Ability to accept donations
The programme must be run by a nonprofit that can accept donations independently, since HLI is not a grant-making body and we cannot process donations ourselves. If an organisation carries out a range of interventions, it may be required to direct donations to a specific programme.
2. Intervention type
In the first stage of our evaluation process, we screened programmes listed on the Mental Health Innovation Network and asked experts in global mental health for specific recommendations. Our screening criteria included: whether the intervention is targeted at depression, anxiety or stress disorders in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs); whether a controlled trial has been conducted on the programme; and an initial evaluation of cost-effectiveness. You can read more about the first round of our evaluation here.
From this, we have produced a list of priority programmes. We are focusing on organisations that implement one of these programmes, but will consider similar programmes if they fit the screening criteria mentioned above. The priority programmes are:
We are not evaluating research projects at this time.
3. Funding gap
We will recommend programmes that can effectively spend donations that come about from our recommendation. In the first stage of an evaluation, we will ask about your funding gap and plans for spending (see more below).
If you are unsure about your eligibility, please do not hesitate to reach out to email@example.com.
Our evaluation criteria
When evaluating a programme, we assess how much benefit would result from our recommendation and a given donation. To make this judgement, we consider the following five criteria:
1. Cost-effectiveness analysis. According to formal calculations, how much does the intervention improve mental health per dollar donated? How uncertain is that estimate?
2. Strength of evidence. How much evidence is there about this type of intervention, and about this particular programme? How robust are the findings? How generalisable are they to current and future versions of the programme?
3. Organisational strength. How well does the organisation monitor and evaluate its own activities? How good is its track record? How much expertise and experience does the team have? How transparent is it about successes, failures, and future plans?
4. Scalability. How scalable is the programme? Aside from money, what are the main barriers to growth?
5. Wider effects. There may be other factors not already considered in the previous four criteria. For example, what effect might the programme have on the beneficiaries' families and communities? Could it theoretically integrate with other institutions, such as the national health system, and how would our recommendation affect that process? Does it generate evidence that can inform the activities of other programmes?
Our evaluation process
Below we lay out our expectations for the evaluation process. The process could change and there is some flexibility to accommodate your organisation’s plans.
1A - initial call
We will have a 1-2 hour call with representatives of your organisation to get to know each other. We will also discuss whether your programme meets our eligibility criteria, which includes an initial discussion about your funding gap. To get a sense of this, we will ask for ways in which your organisation would hypothetically spend $10,000, $100,000, and $1,000,000 of additional funding. This is also your space for asking any questions you might have about our evaluation process.
1B - document review
We will ask for a selection of documents:
We would like the evaluation process to be as easy as possible for you. Rather than asking you to produce reports specifically for our evaluation, we are happy to see existing documentation.
1C - follow-up calls
Following the document review, we expect to have one or two further calls to clarify any uncertainties. At this point, if we believe that we are likely to recommend your programme, then we will proceed to Stage 2. If, however, we form the view that we are unlikely to recommend the programme at this point in time, we will end the evaluation process.
The evaluation in Stage 2 will be in greater depth. We may ask for further documents, and we expect to have 2-4 more calls with representatives from your programme. At the end of Stage 2, we will make a decision about whether to recommend your programme on our website.
We expect to publish a list of recommended programmes on our website in early/mid 2021, accompanied by our analyses. We expect to review our recommendations in the future and we reserve the right to change our recommended programmes if further information comes to light which changes our initial assessment.
How much information will be published?
We will only publish evaluations of programmes we decide to recommend. This will include candid discussion of the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses. You must be willing to provide HLI with the relevant information and, potentially, to have most of it shared on our website. We will only publish your documents with explicit permission and will exercise high levels of discretion in order to prevent disclosure of sensitive information.
What if a programme disagrees with HLI’s analysis?
We are determined to make our analysis as fair and accurate as possible. Programmes will be encouraged to provide feedback throughout the process, and will be given the opportunity to publish a comment alongside our final evaluation. A programme can opt out of the process at any point, in which case we would include a brief note that this occurred.
Why is HLI evaluating mental health programmes?
This project is part of our wider goal to identify effective methods for increasing happiness around the world. Mental health is a major determinant of an individual’s happiness (World Happiness Report, 2017), so we believe this is a promising avenue to research. You can read more about our motivation for the project here.
A note on terminology
Below are some key terms, defined as we used them in our documents.
The distinction between these concepts is fuzzy, and sometimes the same name is used for more than one entity. For example, “The Friendship Bench” is the name of an organisation, the original programme in Zimbabwe, and (as we use it) an intervention (problem solving therapy method delivered using a task-shifting approach) that is now being implemented by several programmes around the world. We will always try to make it clear which we are referring to.
We plan to recommend programmes rather than organisations. However, if an organisation implements only one programme, or if we believe all of its programmes are equally deserving of recommendation, the difference may be inconsequential. We also take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the implementing organisation when evaluating programmes, as explained above.