I have spoken with some effective altruism community builders at retreats, conferences as well as in other settings about us (EA Estonia’s members) watching EAG videos together. It has been surprising to hear that some community builders find it a novel idea. I thought everyone already organized events like this as it appears to be a very obvious thing to do.
Sebastian Oehm persuaded me to write about it on the EA Forum, because he thinks it might be a good idea, but hasn’t heard many other groups implementing it. My sample of community builders who have found it a novel but useful idea is small, so I’m still suspicious of the uniqueness of this activity.
However, in the hope that at least some groups haven’t tried it out, I’m writing this short post about it. I’m not claiming that we know that it’s a super useful event to organize, but I think it’s worth trying due to its very low effort.
Why organize events like these
We want to achieve a few things with events like these. First and foremost, we want to increase perceived motivation of participants to spend more time with other aspiring EAs and pursue EA-related projects. Secondly, we want to facilitate the generation of action-guiding ideas as well as understanding of important ideas related to doing good, in general. Thirdly, we want to put out events like this to facilitate that something useful gets implemented/started afterwards.
It is such a low effort to organize an event where you watch EAG videos together with others. You have to book a room with a screen and speakers and bring some snacks to make the setting more convenient. The most difficult part for us has been to get people to come. Usually someone who has indicated that he/she will come decides not to do so at the last moment.
When I go to EAGs, I don’t attend every talk because there are lots of other valuable things to do. Once EAG talks get uploaded online, I’d like to watch the ones I haven’t yet seen. I could do it alone, but then I wouldn’t create this potential value that comes with the effective altruism community, from social belonging to viewpoint diversity and future cooperation, and everything else in-between.
We actually organized such an event today, so I’m writing about it right after our event ended. Here is the rough schedule of our event. It didn’t go exactly according to the plan, but it was close enough.
11:45-12:00 - preparation: food, screen, chairs and tables
12:00-12:20 - gathering, snacks, chatting
12:20-12:50 - understanding universal basic income
12:50-13:10 - discussion
13:10-13:15 - quick break
13:15-13:35 - psychology of effective altruism
13:35-13:55 - discussion
13:55-14:00 - quick break
13:00-14:30 - the far future of intelligent life across the universe
14:30-14:55 - discussion
14:55-15:00 - quick feedback + wrap-up and call-to-action
Here is the feedback from our last such event from the 7 participants who attended.
What conclusions can we make based on the feedback form as well as personal conversations at the event?
- The event didn’t reduce anyone’s perceived motivation to spend time with aspiring EAs nor pursue EA-related projects. That’s a good minimum standard to achieve.
- A few people didn’t find that their motivation to spend time with other EAs changed. And more people didn’t find that their motivation to pursue EA-related projects changed. Most of those people were people who have been involved with EA for more than a year. It is to be expected that a single event doesn’t increase motivation much for people like that. However, one person who answered “no” to both questions about motivation had been involved with EA for less than a month.
- It is hard to know for sure how to optimize this. Someone said that the beginning of the event felt a bit awkward. I also felt that way since people were more quiet and hesitant to share their thoughts, but the atmosphere quickly got very nice. In the past, we’ve started with the traditional EA icebreakers about how we can help other attendees and what help we need ourselves.
- In addition, personal conversations during the event indicated that the videos related to universal basic income and the far future intelligent life across the universe didn’t generate the same level of interesting discussion and practical implications as the video about the psychology of effective altruism did. (Thanks Stefan Schubert!) But all these topics were voted up by the members themselves to be watched during the event.
- There is at least one thing that came out of the event that isn’t shown by the feedback form. One participant came to me afterwards to discuss an event we could try to run together with Peter Singer. His book Animal Liberation is about to be published in Estonian and this participant had an idea to co-organize an event related to that.
- In addition, at the end of the event we invited participants to attend our Giving What We Can Pledge workshop that we are organizing at the end of the month as well as our charitable poker evening. We’ll see in the near future how much this event helped to motivate people to take EA-related actions such as to come to our next events where we take bigger EA-related actions.
- We might want to reduce the number of videos that we watch during a 3-hour period. Some very good conversations happened during the quick breaks indicating that leaving more time for conversations is useful. Another option is to be spontaneous and keep conversations going for longer if they are useful, and therefore, watch fewer videos. Or vice-versa, watch more videos if necessary.
To sum up, EAG videos provide content from some of the most knowledgeable EAs and it’s a good reason to come together to spend time with other aspring EAs. In general, community builders might want to organize events like this to motivate their members to spend time with other EAs and pursue EA-related projects, increase generation of action-guiding ideas, and facilitate the start of some new activities, and as a bonus catch up on EA-related information themselves.
Feedback from our last event indicates that there was some increase in motivation and some generation of interesting ideas, and perhaps some new activities and actions will more likely be taken as well.
Thanks for writing this up! It's useful to see your schedule - you do make it look really easy.
Just a note that asking people if they're more motivated/community-oriented than a couple hours previous doesn't normally work very well, for a lot of reasons. The most obvious reason is that it's really hard to remember how motivated you used to be. Also, people will lie to please you. So I would put more weight on the question asking about specific actions. I'm still glad you provided the information you have - it looks like your community found the event pretty useful!