This is a free idea that I am not currently working on making happen. If you are interested in trying to make it happen, I highly encourage you to undertake further investigations.
Bottom-Line Up Front
As the number of universities with EA student groups grows, EA should develop a wider variety of standardized activities that such groups can run. Reading groups and fellowships are great, but probably less exciting than ideal. Competitive, student-friendly academic activities (e.g., debate, quiz bowls, STEM olympiads, hackathons, moot courts) are often a fun activity for people interested in a particular area.
Thus the idea for Grantmaking Bowl: A collaborative competition wherein EA student groups are asked to analyze a common set of EA granting case studies across several cause areas (which could be based on real grants considered by major orgs) in front of judges with significant EA experience. This would hopefully have several key benefits:
- It'd be fun.
- It'd be a great way for EA students to bond both within their schools and across schools (at competitions).
- It'd be a well-structured way for students to dig into a variety of core and peripheral cause areas.
- It'd develop a skillset (grant analysis and recommendation) that is useful in EA.
- It could help grantmakers and other EA orgs spot promising talent.
- It could recruit more EAs as a result of the above.
Reflecting on my experience as a university student and EA chapter lead, I think a lot about what types of events and activities that EA student groups can run. I think EA student groups are in a hard place: it's hard for students to have a direct impact, beyond perhaps a lucky few that can land a research assistant job or something similar and trying to recruit pledgers for effective charities.
On the other hand, the main structured and portable activity I hear about student groups running nowadays is something like a fellowship or introductory course to some core EA ideas. To be clear, I don't think Grantmaking Bowl can or should replace these things. But I think we ought to have more activities for student groups to host, especially ones that are a bit more fun-shaped than fellowships and introductory courses.
Grantmaking Bowl is an in-person collaborative competition to recognize EA students who do an excellent job analyzing a set of reality-inspired grant propositions that major EA funders could face, presented in case study format. To break this down:
- Grantmaking Bowl would be a collaborative competition, much in the spirit of Ethics Bowl. While ultimately a competition in the sense of producing some ordinal ranking of participating teams, the emphasis (as created by scoring criteria and event format) would not be on zero-sum competition with other teams, but rather the demonstration of excellence at core grantmaking skills.
- The central task that competitors would be evaluated on is their excellence at in the process of applying EA styles of reasoning and evaluation to the grant candidate cases studies.
Why compete on grantmaking (as opposed to, e.g., career choice or public policy) recommendations? Several reasons:
- Grantmaking tradeoffs are much more legible to students than career choice. Career choice depends much more heavily on personal fit, and is harder to make discrete decisions about.
- Public policy debate is already a thing.
- Since money is basically useful for arbitrary tasks (including facilitating career choices and public policies), it is the most open-ended (and therefore versatile and adaptive) domain for competition.
- Grantmaking has historical significance to EA, with effective charity choice being one of the earliest and easiest to understand examples EA. Thus, getting newbies to think a lot about grantmaking gets them up-to-speed on the history of EA.
- Some orgs use hypothetical grantmaking as a way to evaluate applicants.
I've intentionally left unspecified many important variables of Grantmaking Bowl. I list some of these variables and possible values for them below. These variables should probably be iteratively explored to advance the goals of Grantmaking Bowl.
The competition could either be prepared or extemporaneous. In the extemporaneous, participants would be given their case study/ies the day of the competition, given some number of hours to make an analysis, then present the same day. For prepared presentations, students could be given a packet of case studies and be expected to present about (some randomly chosen subset of?) them on competition day.
Participants could be expected to master a variety of cause areas, or self-select into cause areas that interest them.
Open- versus Closed-Ended
Participants could be asked to pitch a grant that they develop, or comment on some case studies prepared by the Bowl coordinators (as in Ethics Bowl).
Team versus individual
Participants could present individually or as a team.
Presentations could be purely oral, or incorporate slideshow and prose formats.
EAs with grantmaking experience could judge.
To avoid excessive adversarial-ness, the competition could be structured to incentivize participants to seek to maximize some total score, rather than the probability that they "beat" any particular opponent. That is, you could avoid adversarialness by not having any head-to-head parts of the competition.
An obvious thing to do would be to give the winner(s) precatory rights to pots of EA money! This would hopefully both increase the fun and be a good way to select who can allocate EA money, since by supposition the winners of Grantmaking Bowl have been selected for good grantmaking skills.