Effective Altruism London Strategy 2019

by DavidNash9 min read22nd Aug 201910 comments

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This was written at the start of the year but I thought it may be worth sharing on the forum for other community organisers to see the thinking behind our plans


This post outlines a rough strategy for EA London in 2019, it has been informed by conversations with people involved in EA community building and many of the links in this document. This is quite specific to London and may not be as relevant to other local EA groups.

Vision

Our vision is an optimal world. This is purposefully nonspecific. There are many different factors to make the future as good as possible, many of which aren’t currently understood. We aim to help the world become more able to collectively work on problems. - This is similar to the vision of CEA


Mission

For 2019 our focus will be to:

"Coordinate and support people in London interested in effective altruism"

What do we mean by this?

  • “focus” - 80% or more of our activity
  • “Coordinate” - help connect people to each other/ideas/resources in a way that adds value
  • “support” - providing resources, feedback, knowledge
  • “people in London interested in effective altruism” - people for whom doing good is a goal in their life, who are open to changing their focus - including at the level of causes/careers and who are already aware of effective altruism

We arrived at this focus by considering the following factors:

  • Importance - If EAL continues this focus, it could be impactful in the long-run helping coordinate EA projects, cause networks and career networks in London
  • Neglectedness - This focus addresses a current bottleneck in the global EA community as we see it - improved allocation of talent within the community towards global issues
  • Tractability - EAL has had some success in this area (see impact report from 2017).
  • Comparative advantage -
    • In Person - Face-to-face support is plausibly more effective than online support at sustaining/increasing altruistic motivation, trust and connections
    • London - London is home to many organisations working on EA related causes, it is also a place that many people pass through each year from EA groups around the world
    • The EA community in London - Our community is of sufficient size to make mass outreach by Effective Altruism London staff a less effective strategy than individual outreach through supporting community members to start EA networks in their existing workplace/school/communities
    • Effective Altruism London - We have established the administrative and legal infrastructure to financially support people who want to dedicate a large amount of time to developing the EA community in London
  • David’s skills. The strategy takes into account the strengths, weaknesses and skills of our current staff, David Nash.

Strategy

The above focus will guide our decision-making over the course of the next year. We are focusing on coordination but here are some examples of options we aren’t pursuing.


Areas we are not focusing on

  • Raising awareness of EA
    • This has been done better by other EA orgs and word of mouth
    • At the moment there is a growing and sizeable EA community in London with a good understanding of effective altruism without active awareness raising by EAL
  • Increasing attendance at events
    • There are quite a few people that don't go to any events but do read a lot of EA material and contribute via their work or in other ways
    • Prioritising attendance can limit the amount of attention given to different demographics, including busy professionals, academics and people heavily involved in other communities
  • Increasing individuals capabilities
    • Individual capability is usually gained whilst working/studying, self study or from specialist training rather than one off talks and workshops
  • Fundraising
    • Past attempts by other EA groups have usually raised small amounts
  • Outreach to HNW/influential people
    • There are other organisations with more experience of this activity and would be better placed (Founders Pledge/Effective Giving)
  • Pushing individuals to increase their dedication
    • It seems hard to predict who will increase their giving or shift causes/careers and that directly trying to influence this can lead to push back
    • It may make more sense to provide information and a supportive community for people who want to do these things but not to actively attempt to increase individuals dedication
    • Gentle nudging may be more appropriate than strong pushes

Area we are focusing on - Coordination

In 2017 we caused a number of career changes and new projects, and much of what we did to cause this was facilitating networking. We put people considering moving out of teaching in touch with one another, connected people to high-impact job opportunities, ran events for people in policy, directed people to CEA. 80,000 Hours talk more about the benefits of coordination here.

In 2018 there are more case studies of people being connected to others via the EAL network, leading to people feeling more comfortable with their levels of giving, giving more or shifting cause areas. There are also people who heard about job opportunities and received advice on entering careers in the civil service, software, finance and research.

Whilst there is also value from increasing the size of the network of people in London, as there are more chances that relevant connections are possible, it may not make sense to prioritise growth alone. If there are more people in a network but they have less interest in EA ideas, it makes it harder to make connections that members will value. A community that is seen as less valuable to individuals or provides more overall value but less value per interaction can become unhealthy over time, and would be unable to retain people who have busy lives but lots to offer when there is a way to get involved. When connections are made, we want them to be value added connections that improve individuals decisions and maintain their trust in EA London. There is more about networks in this post.

An example of this problem happening is when we had EA Socials in 2017 with 70+ attendees, and quite a few were newer people, many who had little interest in either altruism or effectiveness (or both). This meant long term members and new people who were very interested in EA found it was harder to make connections they valued and would be less likely to come back for a second event or be as open to EA ideas they saw online.

The monthly newsletters are another example, these are a way of connecting people to ideas and resources. If the average quality of these links goes down, people are more likely to unsubscribe completely. Getting emails every week or links that make people regret clicking them (click-bait) might increase certain metrics, but reduce trust people have in EAL as a community that provides them value when they interact.

This suggests the following basic theory of change:

Connecting people interested in EA to people, ideas and resources that provide value

→ Increases the chance people find and choose more impactful careers/donations

→ More good gets done


Activities

Our focus means that we will put less effort into outreaching EA, immediate altruistic behaviour change/donations and upskilling of individuals

We expect to do less or not at all:

  • Tabling at fairs
  • Larger public events
  • Workshops on improving abilities
  • Pledge drives
  • Mass media
  • Retreats
  • Talks/workshops at other groups and organisations
  • Influencing HNW individuals
  • Influencing policy/civil service

Under our focus, strategy and theory of change we are considering:

Meta

  • Read EA relevant materials to inform strategy and to pass on relevant updates to the community
  • Connecting with other EA group organisers and potential organisers from around the world to swap advice and learn more about the global EA landscape
  • Maintain website, Facebook page and groups

Community-wide

  • Monthly newsletters to connect community members to relevant job opportunities, research and events in London
  • 1-1 career discussions, connecting people to mentors and research
  • Initiating and running small events for specific career/cause interest groups, mainly for connections between individuals
  • Socials - continue existing monthly socials as well as helping individuals to create their own social events
  • Supporting existing London-based EA organisations, sub-groups and events with marketing, feedback, connections
    • e.g. EA Global; Founders Pledge; Finance; High Impact Policy Engine; Future Generations APPG; Effective Animal Altruism London; student groups; SHIC, 80,000 Hours, Charity Entrepreneurship, Let’s Fund, software for good
  • Proactively building connections between EA related communities and organisations
  • Maintain directory of community members (to facilitate better matchmaking of people to each other)
  • Building a vibrant and cohesive community
    • e.g. supporting flat sharing and co-working; being mindful of the demographics of our community; ensuring we are welcoming
  • Running vibrant, healthy, welcoming events
    • We should observe how events are being run, who comes, how high quality the conversation is, how welcoming the event is, how diverse the event is, etc. There may be a risk of sub-groups running unhealthy events that people find off-putting
  • Reaching out to people who indicate a level of interest in EA, e.g. join the FB group, LinkedIn or Mailchimp, as well as people that are members of EA groups on FB and live in London, or used to be in an EA student group at university

What we will be measuring

Case studies

We believe that our actions and support so far have led to a broad array of new projects and life changes (2017) by members of our community, as well as a deeper understanding of effective community building for staff and volunteers. We want to improve our tracking, analysis and communication of these case studies and expect that at the end of the year this will form a significant proportion of the evidence of our impact.

Success could look like people shifting into careers they think are more impactful, making connections with others in their field and also in other areas. People continuing to donate money and reflect on the best places to donate. People using their networks and influence to help improve the world. Also for people who don't turn up to events regularly to feel like they are part of a community.


Other metrics

We also will attempt to track the following metrics to inform strategy

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10 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:14 PM
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Nice document overall, makes a lot of sense. A few small (slightly nit-picky) comments:

Our vision is an optimal world.

This slogan feels a bit off to me. Most EA activities are aimed towards avoiding clearly bad things; the idea of aiming for any specific conception of utopia doesn't seem to me to represent that very well. There's a lot of disagreement over what sort of worlds would be optimal, or whether that concept even makes sense.

People for whom doing good is a goal in their life, who are open to changing their focus

I'm not sure either of these things is a crucial characteristic of the people you should be targeting. Consider someone working in an EA cause area who's not open to changing their focus, and who joined that area solely out of personal interest, but who nevertheless is interested in EA ideas and contributes a lot of useful things to the community (career guidance, support, etc).

We also will attempt to track the following metrics to inform strategy...

While I'm sure you'll have a holistic approach towards these metrics, they all fall into the broad bucket of "do more standard EA things". I have some concerns that this leads to people overfitting to ingroup incentives. So I'd suggest also prioritising something like "promoting the general competence and skills of group members". For example, there are a bunch of EA London people currently working in government. If they informally gave each other advice and mentorship and advanced to more senior roles more rapidly, that would be pretty valuable, but not show up in any of the metrics you mention.

Just want to second Richard's point about the vision feeling 'off'. Having an ambitious vision makes sense and I'm somewhat more sympathetic about CEA having this vision but the scope seems disproportionate to the organisation. I would have expected the vision to at least be limited in scope to what can be achieved in London.

Relatedly, we've occasionally tried to think of better alternatives to "optimal world" language on CEA's website. I even tried some timed/targeted brainstorming, and nothing much came out of it. If anyone has suggestions for language that is a bit less utopian but still keeps the "get the best things done" idea, I'd love to hear them!

I agree with everything you said, I guess those three points aren't things that I think about often but might make sense to update the document to better reflect that.

Interesting reading your strategy, particularly what you aren't focusing on. The one part I'd be somewhat skeptical of is decreasing upskilling. People, particularly the people that we want to join our community, want to grow and improve. It's important to be realistic about how much someone can upskill in a limited amount of time, but these kinds of events seem like a key draw.

It's not that I don't want people to upskill, it's that I think it's best done by people who have experience in that area, whether that is via a course or workshop.

In terms of getting people to meet in person, I agree that certain talks/workshops/themes can help attract different people, but the best outcomes from that aren't usually what people learn, but the connections they make, and designing a workshop just to drive attendance may not be the most efficient way of getting people to attend.

Do “software for good” have a online presence? Hadn’t heard of them and would be interested to read more. Thanks!

There is a Facebook group and a small page on the website.

Thanks for the post! Good to see what other EA groups are up to and I generally like your network-centric and self-organizing approach to community building. Empowering people to engage in meaningful projects seems like a good way to keep people aligned and engaged in the long-term.

I have two questions:

  1. To me the plan reads a little bit like "let's do more of what works" is that a fair characterization? Do you maybe also have some more concrete plans to "take EA London to the next level" or do you think that innovation is not needed at the moment?

  2. Just a selfish request... I would be really curious to get your perspective/feedback on our plans for community building in Germany [1]. It seems like you are further along on a similar trajectory looking for a network-centric and self-organizing approach to community building. While we are on a national level and obviously much more distributed than EA London, I think a lot of things carry over. Would also be happy to schedule a call at some point if that's more convenient :)

1: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/9sCvoRupwK9xdiSPw/announcing-plans-for-a-german-effective-altruism-network

1. Most of my time will be spent doing similar things to last year, although I've only been working full time for 9 months. I think innovation, at least for me, happens over time rather than as a one off process, with ideas being formed and then being tested to see what people like. One recent example is the community spotlight, which was an idea a few weeks ago and now has become a regular post.

In terms of taking EA to the next level, there isn't a plan to grow or hire more people but rather coordinate and support nascent organisations in London that can start doing other work and grow independently.

2. I will have a look