Prioritisation research
Exploratory research on how to do the most good

Want more context on this profile? Explore a map of all our profiles →​

Why work on prioritisation research?

The reality of our limitations – of time, money and ability – means we can’t do everything we’d like to do to improve the world. Despite good intentions, there are vast differences in the impact we expect different actions to have in improving the world. There is a huge opportunity cost to just picking an endeavour (including your thesis topic!) just because it seems to be net-positive. These differences between the good and the better or best are so great, and our strategies for navigating them so underdeveloped, that improving our understanding of how to prioritise is hugely important. 

Applying techniques from economics, maths and social science, prioritisation researchers seek insights that will inform people and organisations on how best to direct their efforts in order to do the most good. There are a couple of different ways to approach this.

Foundational prioritisation research explores high-level issues such as whether we can predictably affect the long-term future, how to think about the indirect effects of our efforts to improve the world, what different value systems say about what it means to do good, and crucial considerations such as animal sentience. 

Cause prioritisation research looks more closely at which causes we should focus on given our foundational understanding of what it means to do good – for example, cause prioritisation research might involve evaluating whether it seems more pressing to work on climate change reduction or preventing great power conflict, or how promising mental health interventions seem.

We also include the category ‘understanding progress and change’ within prioritisation research. These research directions generally focus on understanding how change occurs so that we can better understand what strategies will effect change, which could be useful across a range of causes. This could involve understanding what makes social movements more effective, how to increase the progress of research and how changes in our values today may affect the future.

There is currently a dearth of prioritisation research. Such research has a lot of potential leverage: an insight gained could influence the allocation of billions of dollars and the areas to which many great minds are applied. 

Next steps

Some research agendas including questions relevant to prioritisation research are:

Explore our research direction profiles below for many more questions.

Apply for our coaching for personalised guidance on getting started in this area and to be connected with researchers who can help you refine your ideas. 

You can also join our community if you’re interested in connecting with other students specifically.

See our funding database for some potential sources of funding in this area.

  • Sign up for our newsletter to hear about opportunities such as funding, internships and research roles.


This introduction was last updated 13/06/2023. Thanks to Will Fenning for originally writing this introduction. Learn more about how we create our profiles.

Explore recommended research directions in this category​

Search for profiles that are tailored specifically to your degree discipline using the menu below.

If you are interested in a profile that isn’t listed under your discipline, we still encourage you to explore it if you think you could make progress in this direction. You can also explore all our recommended directions organised by theme.

Subscribe to the Topic Discovery Digest

Subscribe to our Topic Discovery Digest to find thesis topics, tools and resources that can help you significantly improve the world.

Where next?

Keep exploring our other services and content
We use cookies to enhance your experience. By continuing to visit this site you agree to our use of cookies. More info