“The best part was the AI safety cuddling session” - feedback from one participant and we think it captures the general vibe of the retreat very well.
What we want to do with this post:
- Provide a short description of the setup of the retreat
- Evaluate the costs (finances & time investment)
- Evaluate the results & effectiveness
- Most importantly: Nudge people to organize more EA retreats, they are really good for community health.
We planned the retreat for multiple reasons. Firstly, we got more and more convinced that they are a highly effective way to bind communities together, e.g. by posts like this one and because both of us met many EA friends at conferences and retreats.
Secondly, South Germany used to have a lot of smaller EA local groups. Sadly many of them died out during the pandemic. But many cities still had EAs interested in attending meetups and It seemed obvious to us that many groups could restart activities with a small nudge from outside.
Therefore, we decided to organize a weekend retreat targeting EAs from South Germany. We prioritize people without an active local group but also admitted EAs with different backgrounds and levels of experience and levels of experience. Our goal was not only to have an enjoyable weekend together but also aimed to motivate people to actively participate in their local group next semester.
To this end, we booked a house for one weekend for about 40 participants. We cooked ourselves and divided up duties among the participants (those who took the main cooking responsibility got paid for it). The program was mostly done by the participants. For example, more experienced members of the community held career workshops and there were workshops on community building, positive psychology and social activities like hot seat. We encouraged people to have 1-on-1s with each other and many people took the offer. In general, we tried to not cram the schedule with too many activities such that people could just have a good time and connect with the community more.
The main organization was done by us (Marius Hobbhahn & Yannick Mühlhäuser) with some guidance by Manuel Allgaier, the director of EA Germany..
In total, we spent about 4000€. Of that, roughly 1000€ was food, 1800€ on the accommodation with the rest being spent on an array of necessary items, cooking and travel. Since we had ~40 participants, this amounts to ~100€/person/weekend. All of the costs were covered by CEA. We think that a slightly bigger venue and outsourcing the cooking could have been worth investments but we couldn’t find a venue that would fulfill this and all of our other requirements, e.g. we wanted to have the house just for us. We would recommend other retreat organizers outsource the cooking if possible but our retreat shows that you can also do it yourself if no such option exists.
We estimate that we spent about 20-25h each in the two months leading up to the retreat. This time was mostly spent organizing the venue and food, handling the applications and communicating with the participants. Our experience is in line with the number of hours the Global Challenges Project estimates.
Results & effectiveness
In the feedback form the question ‘How likely is it that you would recommend this retreat to a friend or colleague?’ scored a 9.6 out of 10. Participants described themselves more than two times as motivated to execute an EA project or participate in their local group.
A number of participants highlighted the interaction with full-time community builders and the local group planning session as especially useful. The retreat also produced a few get-in-the-van moments, some participants with limited or no previous EA involvement attended the retreat spontaneously and got to a deep engagement very fast. We think that the retreat made a significant contribution to the reactivation of several EA groups in South Germany. We think that the retreat made a significant contribution towards the reactivation of several EA groups in South Germany. . Furthermore, we think that many participants are now closer to the community, e.g. feel more comfortable reaching out, will go to conferences, change their career plans, etc.
Even if you don’t revive any local chapters, paying 100€/person/weekend to significantly increase the motivation of your EA community members, giving them the confidence to take bigger steps and potentially change their career trajectory, seems like an effective community building intervention to us.
We are in full agreement with Trevor Levin that EA groups should do more retreats. Most local groups of medium size or bigger should probably aim for one retreat per semester. For smaller local groups it makes sense to collaborate with local groups nearby and organize a retreat together.
We are happy to share everything we learned about organizing a retreat with anyone who is interested. In general, a bunch of things will always go wrong but as long as you have a venue, something to eat and a bunch of EAs the retreat will be good.