I don't have much time to get into this, but I heard rumblings, saw a post, and wrote a comment, and now I'm making a post of my own because this information feels worth spreading now. I will not be going into much more details, for reasons that should be obvious.

For those that don't know me, I'm a therapist who has been working in the community for about 5 years now, and has been almost exclusively working with the community since early 2020,  though I've been scaling down my therapy practice to focus on other projects like therapist recruitment/supervision, and mental health research. I also do mediation now and then, and in both roles, Community Health has been incredibly helpful.

Another of my major things is teaching at various rationality camps and workshops for highschool age students, as well as some for adults. To say that Community Health has been incredibly valuable here would be an understatement. I've also spoken at a few EAGs, which is relevant insofar as sometimes things happen there which also requires Community Health interactions. 

I think it is incredibly easy to undervalue the good CH does, particularly if people don't regularly interact with it or make use of them rather than just having a few anecdata to go off of.

I think it is also incredibly easy to be uncharitable toward CH if you don't interact with them regularly and only have a few anecdata to go off of. There's no appropriate comparison for the work they do, but HR or police with ~most of the responsibility but ~none of the power seems apt as a first approximation.

For people who feel they've been unfairly burned by CH before, I get it. Maybe they made a bad call; it happens, and no system is perfect. Or maybe it's just a difference of opinion, or beliefs, or information, and the CH team did the best they could be expected to with the info they had. Either way it may seem weird to say that they have ~no power, when clearly they have a lot of social power in particular circumstances.

But from my observations, this power is only marginally higher than what any group of people can accomplish by acting as a whisper network, and the label only impacts reach; it doesn't make it particularly easier to try to serve the same purpose with more self-awareness, conscientiousness, and fairness than most would.

What I can say about my own experiences, however, is that CH often does an amazing job of walking the tightwire between taking accusations seriously without accepting them at face value. I have seen them let people know what they've been accused of, so long as they have not promised anonymity to reporters. I have seen them inform people that anonymity in reporting is something that they can do, but also that it directly trades off against investigation/consequence level. That shit isn't easy to navigate, and I've seen them spend many hours investigating stuff to try and reach a fair and balanced conclusion.

There are some situations that take up hundreds of hours of grueling emotional labor by people working in organizations like the ones I've been part of, and sometimes CH only helps a little with that, but other times they help a lot. They help resolve many issues that could grow into bigger ones by being a mediating force. I can't actually tell you how many hours they've saved me; I can only tell you how relieved I've been after spending dozens of hours dealing with some thorny issue to have people I could hand the issue to as a useful "next step," and know it will be handled at least as well as I would be able to.

And basically no one knows about any of those times they do things well, because why would they? I get that transparency is good, but so is privacy, and one of the points of having a CH team is to not turn every event into a massive drama that sucks in thousands of hours from hundreds of people. Sometimes that's appropriate, but sometimes it's not, nor wanted by the parties involved.

As for people worried about being talked about or blacklisted from things without their knowledge... again, I get it. But I promise you, whisper networks will not disappear if the Community Health team isn't around, and from those I've participated in both in this community and outside it, they're not made worse from the existence of CH. Quite the contrary.

So yeah. I need to get back to work, but it felt worth at least raising a flag on the hill of "My life would be much harder without Community Health in many hard to explain ways, and I think yours would too."

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:02 PM

I really liked this post and agree with much of it.

I ran the Forum for a while. This involved handling interpersonal conflict. At worst, the conflicts on my plate were things like "an argument between two people" or "someone having a mild breakdown in text form". These are relatively minor issues on the CH scale, but they were among the most stressful elements of my job; I'd get lost for hours trying to write the perfect moderator response, or arguing with someone in DMs about how I'd resolved a situation.

I'd find dealing with CH situations much more stressful — because of their severity, and because I wouldn't even get to write a moderator response. I thrive on being able to explain myself, and forced silence/vagueness would drive me crazy. Instead of "using quotes from a public post to describe why we've banned someone for a week", I'd have "using my best judgment about a story with multiple sides to explain why we've made a decision that will have a serious impact on the lives of multiple people, at least one of whom will be unhappy with the decision and possibly share their side on the Forum later". And I might not even be able to say what the decision was!

So while I don't know enough about internal CH matters to say that I'd agree with all their decisions, I appreciate that having to make those decisions at all — and face public scrutiny without recourse to transparency — is extremely difficult, and that there is no way to "win" every such decision.

Basically no one knows about any of the times they do things well because why would they?

This line particularly resonated with me. There are some types of work where doing it successfully means nobody ever hears about you: we generally don't pays attention to people who prevent bad things because we don't notice the absence of bad things as anything... well, as anything notable. It is almost like publication bias or some similar I don't see it so I think it doesn't exist situation. I imagine that community health work is often (although not always) a kind of invisible labor.

I suspect that the culture of EA is a little more likely to acknowledge and respect this kind of work (and I think it does a decent amount better than the broader society), but it still strikes me as less respected than the people doing more active, visible, and promoted things.

This is also strongly reminiscent of ideas in The Innovation Delusion, which describes how "maintenance and care workers, including IT helpdesks, nurses, and people who take out the trash both on our streets and on our social media networks, are underpaid and disrespected."[1]

  1. ^

    These are not my words. This is from a book review

I echo the general sentiment -- I find the CHT to work diligently and be in most cases compassionate. I generally look up to the people who make it up, and I think they put a lot of thought into their decisions. From my experience, they helped prevent at least three problematic people from accruing power and access to funding in the Spanish Speaking community, and have invested 100s of hours into steering that sub community towards what they think is a better direction, including being always available for consultations.

I also think that they undervalue the work and wellbeing of community builders, that they have a lot of unaccountable influence on grant decisions and that they make some decisions that I don't think an experienced HR / conflict mediation team would endorse and that causes very competent community builders to turn away from the job, more below

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/6Ph937BtRGmox2K8y/jsevillamol-s-shortform?commentId=XLdw6FEfKrtPAKD9e

Mine would too. Thank you for writing this!

Would love to read some concrete examples of cases where the CHT made a difference, despite the 'if it's invisible it means that it is successful' line of thinking that I fully understand. I also understand why some people say that CHT did not intervene in instances where it would have been necessary because the official line remains 'CHT isn't the EA police/conflict solver' when confronted with these questions. 

Hi, you can read examples in this list of 12 months of cases we handled.

Do you think you'll do another of these?

We don't have immediate plans to do another one, but do think it would be valuable to do at some point.

I sense making community health more predictable to people would be valuable - what is community health likely to do in this kind of situation? What will happen to me if I talk to communtiy health in this situation? What will happen if I behave like this?

Thanks!