EA Israel Strategy 2020-21

by GidonKadosh, sella18 min read26th Sep 20204 comments

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Context

This is the first time we are publishing EA Israel's in-depth strategy. This document will be updated over time, as our opinions change, and its most up-to-date version can be found here.

This post is a copy of the document's current version, and we will publish a new version to the forum once a year. In order to help keep track of the updates we make to this document, we will log significant changes in this document.

The contents of this document are important to the way we operate, and we are sincerely looking for feedback. For this purpose, we added questions we are particularly interested in feedback on at the end of each section. If you have feedback on any of those (or anything else), please comment on this forum post. For anonymous feedback, please use this form. You can also contact us at effectivealtruismisrael@gmail.com.

Summary for community builders

Throughout this document, we share links to different docs we work with, which might help other community builders:

We also cover a couple of nontrivial opinions we hold on community building:

1. Background & current status

The EA Israel group exists from Q4 2018.

We divide its members into four categories, which as of Sep 26, 2020 consist of:

  • Board: Consists of 7 highly engaged members who serve as a decision-making board for EA Israel and meet monthly.
  • Contributors: Currently consists of about 18 additional members, all of which take an active part in EA Israel or EA’s international community. Meets monthly for a synchronization meeting, and monthly for a social meeting.
  • Participants (& being onboarded): About 22 additional members are highly involved in activities such as reading groups, or recently requested to volunteer at the community.
  • Followers: The outer circle of our community consists of ~900 (+40/month) Facebook followers, ~650 monthly website visitors, and 350 registered readers of our newsletter.

2. Goals & activities

In this section, we define a broad scope of goals for EA Israel. Please note that in the next section we demonstrate how we prioritize these goals.

Main goal

Our main, high-level goal is to maximize our long-term impact as a community. Although this might seem like a trivial point for EAs, deliberately putting this definition in the focus of our group accounts for how we prioritize the secondary goals listed below.

An important aspect of our viewpoint is that we don’t see EA Israel as a separate organization from the rest of the movement. Through a multiplayer perspective, we should allocate additional value to courses of action in which we have a comparative advantage. In this sense, advocating for EA in Israel is easier for us than for other parts of the community.
This is our main motive for focusing on community building specifically in Israel, and why on the other hand we don’t see our scope limited to Israel given opportunities that are promising enough.

Secondary goals

These are instrumental goals that outline our top strategies and focus areas aimed at achieving our main goal of maximal impact.

  • EA Community and Network
    • EA Israel community - Increase the number of members, contributors and individuals who espouse EA values. This goal also includes investment in community infrastructure.
    • Relationship with the global community - Increase the number of individuals involved with the global EA community (EAGs, GWWC, EA forum, working in EA organisations, etc.)
    • Improve best practices for local groups - We want to help local EA communities organize more easily, and allow other local groups (especially new ones) to duplicate our model and efforts. This doesn’t mean we believe our approach is optimal, and we actively seek feedback to refine our approach over time.
  • Incubate EA Projects
    Serve as an incubator for new EA projects to grow in, and provide them with resources, network, advice, and so on. If and when projects become large enough, they graduate from EA Israel into their own entities. The broad types of projects we are currently pursuing are:
    • EA Knowledge Projects
      Conduct EA research and work on the aggregation, synchronization, and accessibility of EA research and community knowledge.
    • Fundraising Projects for effective charities (not necessarily in Israel - further explanations for this stance can be found in our donation guide, currently only in Hebrew).
    • Advocacy Projects
      Encourage individuals and other entities to act upon EA principles. More specifically, we want to influence:
      • Nonprofit sector - Increase the effectiveness of donations among Israeli and Jewish communities, and the culture of cost-effectiveness measurement within Israeli charities. Our focus is on increasing the effectiveness of donations through transparency and prioritization, not advocating for an increase in the amount of donations.
      • Academia - Increasing the extent to which impact considerations are taken into account among Israeli researchers in the choice of research topics.
      • Career choices - Advocating for more people to take EA considerations into account when making career-related decisions.
      • Experimenting with audiences - We’re interested in exploring specific audiences that will be especially receptive to EA ideas. Might influencing entrepreneurs have an effect on their management decisions and future ventures that these individuals will undertake? Can we influence young politicians? Are there professions where EA concepts would have an especially large positive impact and would be easily accepted?

List of current activities

We maintain a list of activities, which includes activities we currently run, activities that are ready for launch but are waiting for an interested volunteer to lead, and activities that require more thought before they can be launched. You are welcome to glance at it before continuing with this document. It might offer additional context for the rest of the document.

The list is hosted on Airtable, and also includes an activity update form, which we ask the contributors to fill once a month before our contributor meetings.

Why we set broad goals

We believe that in certain contexts, defining a broad set of goals can be better than exclusively focusing on the top priority goals. This is particularly relevant when utilizing willingness of volunteers to participate, as opposed to allocating funding or executive attention. This may be unintuitive in an EA context, where we often think of a fixed set of resources that we want to allocate optimally to maximize outcome. However, we claim that in the context of assigning projects to volunteers (especially new ones), the mindset of identifying opportunities is more fitting than that of prioritizing fixed resources.

We have two reasons for this stance:

  • Fitting individual motivations: When someone considers becoming active in a community, the option of joining an activity that highly suits their skills / career goals / interests might be the difference between eventually taking part in this group or not.
    This doesn’t mean we support any sort of activity, but rather that we are supportive of a broad range of activities that are associated with our secondary goals.
  • Diversity: The types of personalities we attract are correlated with the activities we offer. For instance, focusing only on EA discussion groups would mostly attract the kind of individuals who see this as an activity they want to spend their free time on. However, not all promising potential EAs fall under this category (and many individuals wouldn’t want to be socially associated with a community that centers around discussions). If, on the other hand, we offer newcomers to pursue more diverse goals such as community building, affecting the nonprofit sector, or influencing academia, we can attract individuals with more diverse skills that approach the ideas of EA from different angles.

Why we invest in direct-work projects

Pretty much all local EA communities invest resources in community building (by definition), yet there are vastly differing views about whether local EA communities should invest in performing direct-work projects (or, alternatively, leave all direct work to dedicated EA organizations and encourage community members to join such organizations).

At the initial stages of EA Israel, we explicitly chose to focus on community building and not engage in direct work. However, we received frequent feedback that people want something to do, and that they get the sense that we’re “only talking”. We believe there is a strong cultural effect at play, where Israelis tend to be very action-driven (“Tachles” attitude), though other contexts may also play a part, such as the framing of our community as a national group (specifically in comparison with the framing of a university group which has a more intellectual context).

Following are some key points regarding how we filter and prioritize direct-work projects today:

  • In general, local communities have a comparative advantage in doing community-building work, relative to other EA organizations
  • Direct-work projects in Israel, which is a fairly small country and isolated from other countries in the region, often have an additional limitation on their scale and impact. There are, of course, several exceptions to this limitation:
    • Projects with global influence (such as projects which assist the global EA community or non-geography-specific research)
    • Projects which could also be launched by other local groups if proven impactful. Much of the value of such work comes from being a testing ground for other groups. See one such example.
    • Fundraising projects for effective charities.
  • That being said, we believe a large portion of the value of projects that are directly associated with the local community, is their indirect value for community building. It seems to us that the following considerations are often underappreciated when evaluating a direct-work project:
    • Career value for volunteers: We value a project more if a volunteer is interested in it due to their career ambitions, and this project might help them with their career plans (for instance, with policy-oriented projects for volunteers who are interested in policymaking). This is particularly true if the project helps them with skill-building in an EA-relevant domain.
    • Appeal to members: Interesting projects can help bring promising members into the community. Even in cases where their motivations might not be entirely aligned with EA at first, such projects help them learn about EA, and provide motivation to learn for the sake of the project.
    • Promising entry points: If a project is likely to provide a member with gradual entry into the community, this project doesn’t need to have the most expected (direct) impact of all available projects. We believe that a gradual entry into the EA community can better prepare people to do more good over their lifetime, even if initially they do less impactful work.
    • Increased diversity: Value of attracting new types of personalities, when the project appeals specifically to new types of personalities or communities that are underrepresented in our group (as explained in the previous section).
    • Reputation building: Some projects build our reputation as a meaningful organization. For instance, we are about to launch an academic EA course in one of Israel’s top universities, which has a large positive influence on the way we are perceived by organizations we want to cooperate with (mostly within the nonprofit sector and academia), and by potential community members. We believe this is a valuable instrumental goal, as long as it’s pursued in moderation.

Possible feedback for this section: (1) Do you disagree with our openness for a broad scope of activities? (2) Do you think that we shouldn’t distinguish between volunteering and management resources? (3) Do you think that more diverse activities on offer doesn’t lead to a more diverse community? (4) Do you find any of these goals irrelevant for an EA local group? (5) Should we encourage our volunteers to work on projects for building the global community? (6) Do you disagree with the goals of influencing the nonprofit sector or academia? (7) Do you think we shouldn’t evaluate each project separately, but rather have a general approach of focusing only on community building?

3. Current Focus

Our biggest current bottlenecks are management resources and funding. This section describes how we prioritize and allocate these resources.

Emphasis on highly-engaged individuals

Since we founded the group two years ago, we encountered a vast interest in EA, with about a hundred participants in most of our events. So far we’ve been approached by 3-6 individuals per month who want to become more involved. But still we don’t have a sufficient number of highly-engaged members who can mentor others or lead activities that would get newcomers into deeper engagement circles. For this reason, we deliberately put more emphasis on the onboarding of members who are more likely to have the ability and capacity to lead projects, and we invest much less in our outreach efforts.

Emphasis on the success rates of our onboarding process

When we first began formulating our onboarding process, we realized we had low rates of success. Most of the individuals who approached us didn’t follow through with activities they showed initial interest in or with learning about EA. Low success rates lead not only to a loss of potential members, but also to a waste of the effort invested in them.

We break down failed cases into three main categories:

  1. Individuals who don’t relate to EA concepts enough to participate and are unlikely to change their disposition.
  2. Individuals who don’t relate to EA concepts due to misconceptions about them or about the community, such as believing it consists only of individuals of a narrow type (e.g. quantitative professions).
  3. Innate difficulty of individuals to commit to new activities, even when they truly want to participate.

How we tackle each of these cases:

If we judge that an individual belongs to category (1), we prioritize our efforts elsewhere.

Most of our attempts at reducing category (2) failures are done by attempting to improve our branding and online material, and less so on an individual basis. You can find our branding strategy below.

To address category (3), we emphasize the following:

  • Our highest-priority onboarding programs include several reading groups, a fellowship program, and an academic course (to be launched in October 2020). They are all activities where a single highly-engaged member can onboard several members at once, and they include the individual in a framework and social group that keeps them engaged.
  • Making our volunteering opportunities clear and concrete: We want to provide concrete volunteering opportunities, alongside clear statements of their value and their requirements. We do so by creating clear instructions and checklists, and setting up the software/documents/forms needed for each project.
  • Onboarding process: We put a lot of effort into continuously improving the structure of our onboarding process. We describe our current onboarding process in this document.

Emphasis on our ability to scale

Our group is growing quickly, and the management resources required by our board members is growing respectively. We’re taking steps to upgrade our community infrastructure in order to support larger scales:

  • In order to keep track of the people who make contact with EA Israel through different types of requests (such as requests to join a reading group, requests for consultation, volunteering at EA Israel, etc.), we are launching a CRM we created on Airtable (and will soon be able to publish its template). Its main purpose is supporting our onboarding process.
  • Gidon Kadosh received a part-time community building grant, which was critical for our availability to scale our activities and properly define our strategy.
  • We worked on a new website and on our branding as preparation for greater exposure levels.
  • We are in the final stages of founding a legal nonprofit.

Emphasis on handling donations properly

We are about to receive our first large donation from a private donor, who approached us a few months ago. We have put a strong emphasis on utilizing these funds towards activities that are concrete, measurable and do not require high operational complexity. This will allow us to validate our ability to handle such funds, gain experience, and identify where we need to improve - with less risk of underutilizing the donation.

Our plans for allocating this donation:

Our full funding request can be found here.

Possible feedback for this section: (1) Should we be focusing on other things? (2) Any ideas on how we can onboard more highly-engaged members that will lead community building activities? (2) Any other way to improve the success rates of our onboarding process? (3) Please give feedback on the onboarding process document! (4) Are there other actions we should be taking to prepare for a larger scale? (5) Should we have different parameters for how we choose projects for funding? (6) Should we choose other projects for funding?

4. Vision

In this chapter, we discuss our vision for EA Israel in a few years from now. We break our vision down into concrete objectives, and specify metrics for keeping track of our progress on these objectives.

Our vision: A well-structured organization that coordinates a strong community and a few central large-scale projects, and produces significant impact.

  1. well-structured organization:
    1. Has clear and structured organizational processes.
    2. Actively works on mitigating our top risks.
      • Metrics: A dedicated survey (among our board members and several participants) about how we handle our top risks, which should be launched yearly just before our yearly risk review.
    3. Provides significant support for EA projects (networking, funding, mentoring, volunteering, etc.).
      • Metrics: Concrete metrics for each project, and documentation of the support we provided each project.
        In addition, help the foundation of at least 2 EA organizations until 2024.
    4. Has a transparent, successful management board that the community is satisfied with.
      • Metrics: Surveys about satisfaction from the community management, about the stability of the board, and considering the overall success through other metrics..
    5. Runs a successful onboarding process, measured by a high ratio between individuals who started the process, and those who eventually become highly engaged and aligned with EA.
  2. The Community:
    1. Diverse in demographics and skills. As an intermediate step, we strive to have a significant representation of different demographic groups, in order to help newcomers of each demographic group feel more welcomed.
    2. EA-aligned (even at the expense of the size of the group)
      • Metrics: We aim for at least 25% of our contributors circle to be highly proficient with EA, and at least 50% moderately proficient with EA. We are still looking into ways to evaluate proficiency with EA.
    3. Part of the global EA community
      • Metrics: we will measure the amount of GWWC pledges, EAG attendances, people who collaborate with EAs abroad, and people working at EA orgs. We also intend to survey for donations.
  3. Few central large-scale projects

Eventually, we want to be certain enough about specific impactful project opportunities we have as a group, and focus our management and funding resources specifically on those.

These projects can be focused on either community building, EA knowledge, fundraising or advocacy, as described in our secondary goals.

      • We don’t have a definite metric for this objective. Instead, we will keep investigating through our current projects what unique opportunities we have.
  1. Overall impact
    We intend to evaluate each of our activities separately in order to evaluate our overall impact and spot which activities are more promising than others.

Disclosure: So far we weren’t as good at measurement as we wish we would be, and as we are publishing this strategy document we are also implementing the means of measurement described in this section.

Possible feedback for this section: (1) We welcome any suggestions for metrics! (2) Should we also be measuring our work by community size, although this doesn’t reflect quality? And if so, do you have any idea of how to measure quality in this sense? (3) Do you have any good way of measuring proficiency in EA concepts?

5. Branding strategy & audiences

We think of “branding strategy” as an answer to the question “How do we want EA Israel to be perceived?”.

Our current answer to this question:

  • What individuals think we do: We want the actual meaning of our community to be very clear. We convey three central pillars of EA to newcomers:
    1. When you do good, strive to maximize.
    2. Use evidence and reason to find out how to do so.
    3. When speaking about the community, we add: Have the audacity to translate these insights into action.
  • To what extent individuals relate to EA Israel: We try to influence this by defining the personality traits of EA Israel and expressing them in each encounter with our audiences. For instance, we use them each time we write or design something under the name EA Israel. We continuously refine these traits, and here is our current list:

Branding goal

We aspire that the overwhelming majority of individuals who identify with EA’s concepts will identify with our brand. This is far from trivial, because:

  • A newcomer who has never encountered EA before and is about to check out any of our online assets (website / Facebook group / newsletter / etc.) does not intend to spend a couple of hours before making a judgement of whether they’re interested in EA or not. Instead, they probably intend to spend just a couple of minutes before making a quick judgement.
  • Obviously no newcomer will comprehend EA’s ideas or what EA Israel is about with complete fidelity by the first couple of minutes, and yet this comprehension is critical for their decision to continue reading and/or taking action.
  • Newcomers’ initial comprehension does not necessarily correlate with how well they will identify with EA concepts once they understand them better.
    For instance, a newcomer might think the EA community is not relevant to them (say because we only discuss career choices and they only intend to donate, or the other way around), or might not be aware of certain ideas that can change their perspective (say tested interventions vs. speculative interventions, or scope insensitivity).

Therefore, we should use our branding tools in such ways that newcomers’ perception of EA and EA Israel will attract as much of those who would identify with EA concepts if they spent a couple of hours reading about EA.

For this reason, we aim to communicate only EA core concepts. For instance, we try not to communicate that our community is suitable only for analytic individuals, which can be easily communicated by having a plain academic-like design style. We believe this focus is important for avoiding misconceptions, engaging more potential EAs, and encouraging diversity.

Avoiding common misconceptions

We want to avoid perceptions of the EA community as being focused exclusively on one domain, cause area or ethical framework, such as AI Risk, GiveWell charities, philosophy, utilitarianism, etc.
For example, something as simple as having the latest Facebook posts and upcoming event focus on Biorisk may result in a biased view of EA for individuals who scroll on our page at that time. To avoid that, we strive to:

Pragmatically focus on diversity

Lack of diversity (both demographic and intellectual) is already a significant, self-reinforcing problem in the EA community (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Our primary method for tackling this is by making sure that our image attracts the type of audiences we aim for. For instance, if we look like a community of mathematicians and philosophers, we will mostly attract more mathematicians and philosophers. We do this by:

  • Always keeping our personality traits (described above) and target audiences (described in the next section) in mind.
  • Adhering to our design guidelines, which are based on vivid colors and appeal to a wide variety of tastes, in contrast to common color schemes used in EA context.
  • Making an effort that people representing the community (e.g. board members) would have diverse backgrounds.

Another method we use is focusing our outreach efforts on audiences with backgrounds we’re missing, such an Israeli community of women in Hitech.

Emphasizing our community value

We want newcomers to quickly recognize the value they can receive from participating in the community:

  • Connect with other people who want to do as much good as they can.
  • Learn practical tools and frameworks for how to do so.
  • Receive assistance with resources, mentoring, networking, and finding unique opportunities to do good.

Defining audiences

We define “audiences” in the context of community strategy as the type of individuals who are the intended recipients of our communications (such as Facebook post or website page).

We believe that clarifying the definition of these audiences is highly important because it shapes our decision-making process regarding:

  • The types of content that we translate or create.
  • How and where we advertise certain activities (such as invitations to reading groups, events, our career guidance service).
  • Which reading materials we send to newcomers.
  • The style of writing on our website and social networks activity.
  • The onboarding experience we design.

Another reason for this importance is that even without audience definitions, we are still biased by the mental model each of us has for the audiences we’re addressing. Instead, we want our volunteer writers to intentionally define their audiences.

We define each audience using the following dimensions:

  • Engagement with the community: None, follower, participant, contributor (as defined in the concentric circles model).
  • Proficiency in EA: None, low, medium, high.
  • Relevance and likelihood to be interested in EA

We also hold a list of “typical communities”, in which we expect to find many potential EAs, and target them for collaborations or for advertising our activities. Examples of such communities are alumni of university excellence programs, debate communities, groups for EA-relevant professional domains.
We compiled this list of typical communities by considering the following attributes:

  • Audience of our advocacy projects: In a career crossroad (mostly before/after degree), researchers, nonprofit workers, entrepreneurs.
  • Areas of interest: Climate change, animal welfare, AI safety, biosecurity, global health, philosophy, entrepreneurship, tech for social purposes.

Possible feedback for this section: (1) Do you think we’re putting too much emphasis on the way we are perceived publicly (vs. investing in personal connections)? (2) Any feedback on our brand personality traits? (3) Are we tackling the problem of diversity correctly? (4) Should the community value of “Learn practical tools and frameworks” receive such emphasis, or do you think EA is more about asking the right questions than providing concrete prioritization and measurement tools? (5) Do you disagree with how we define audiences? (6) Do you disagree with how we define “typical communities”?

6. Risks

In order to assess the risks EA Israel is involved with, once a year we:

  1. Conduct a brief Pre-mortem exercise in order to detect new types of risks.
  2. Review the state of risks we have mentioned previously, in order to modify our current risk-mitigating solutions.

Our currently most significant risks are:

  • Splitting our resources between too many activities.
  • Facing a major scandal (politically charged or controversial project, legal issues, or partner with people who are a part of a major scandal)
  • Ending up being over-bureaucratic and overly careful.
  • Losing leadership members as they move to other personal projects.

You can find our full risk assessment, along with solutions for each risk, in this document.

Possible feedback for this section: You’re more than welcome to comment directly on our risk assessment document!

7. Location-specific considerations

In this section we will describe several key features of community building that are specific to EA Israel.

Opportunities

  • We seem to receive relatively high interest compared to how long the group exists. We presume that this might be because of Israeli mentality (or at least of certain subcultures within it) that resonates with many of EA’s ideas.
  • However, EA is virtually unknown in Israel. Though we have begun creating a core community, it is exceedingly rare to find individuals who have ever heard of EA, including in the nonprofit sector and government. This accounts for the high potential of community building
  • Israeli charities receive high amounts of donations regularly, especially from Jewish communities around the world. In 2018, 45 billion dollars were invested in Israeli charities (including foreign donations, local donations, and government funding). However, cost-effectiveness research is almost non-existent in Israel.
  • Israel is a strong hub for research in several high-impact fields, including clean meat, artificial intelligence, behavioral psychology and renewable energy.
  • Israel is a strong hub for tech startups, considered to be one of the world’s strongest hubs outside the US.
  • The current core and contributor groups have a strong connection network in the technological, political, and startup scene in Israel. We attribute this to Israel’s small size (leading to fewer degrees of separation between our members and people in positions of power).
  • We gain several advantages from being a national group (working in the scope of the whole country, as opposed to university/city groups).
    • Being a national group gives the group a certain legitimacy to address audiences (and communities) that work nationwide, without being limited to the scope of a specific university/city - for instance, offering career guidance to all Israelis, making collaborations with Israel’s animal right communities, and so on.
      We don’t think this is a real limitation to university/city groups (as there is no real reason that a university group won’t collaborate with a nationwide community), but rather a difference in the type of activities we tend to engage in, based on our conversations with other groups.

Disadvantages

  • The vast majority of our volunteers are busy with very demanding jobs.
    • Solution: Continuously develop promising future leaders.
  • While it seems that many Israelis very easily identify with many EA principles, a majority of them struggle to accept universality and have national preferences.
    • Solution: Be attentive to this, have well-thought public materials on this matter on our website (e.g. explain why and how evidence on Israeli charities is lacking, why the most promising opportunities to help other people are likely to be in poor countries, how most profound moral theories encourage universality, that we nevertheless don’t claim to have answers on what’s morally right, and invite anyone to start a conversation on this).
      This is currently reflected in our donation guide - currently only in Hebrew.
    • Second solution: While accepting local preferences when derived from conscious moral preferences, we should not compromise on accepting these notions when their source is fixation and lack of self-criticism.
  • Disadvantages of being a national group
    • Involves higher risks, as we claim the area where other groups could rise.
    • Although we want to eventually create sub-groups under EA Israel once we reach a sufficient scale, bad national management could ruin the impact of all sub-groups or might end up being too controlling and not allow those groups to be independent enough.
    • Geographical distances between members. This disadvantage is relatively less severe in Israel as it is a small country (most citizens of Israel are within a two hour drive of each other).

Possible feedback for this section: (1) Any additional advantages/disadvantages of national groups? (2) Are any of our advantages/disadvantages invalid in your opinion, or not significant enough to be mentioned? (3) Do you disagree with our approach to Israelis’ local preferences?

8. Uncertainties and crucial considerations

As explained at the beginning of this document, critical questions are mentioned at the end of each section. If you believe there is a missing critical question, this would be of great value to us. We welcome any sort of feedback, thank you!

We intend to make changes to this document as we make progress. Therefore, once a year we will create a new forum post referring to this document, note all significant changes, and copy all unresolved comments from the old forum post of the previous year.

Possible feedback for this section: Do you have feedback on the way we collect feedback? Do you have feedback on the way we collect feedback on the way we collect feedback?


Note: Throughout this document, the term “Israeli” refers to all individuals and organizations within the country of Israel, and is not a reference to ethnicity, culture, or political viewpoints.

Thanks to Edo Arad, Nadav Brandes, Asaf Ifergan, and Shay Ben Moshe for their valuable comments and feedback on this version.

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