Hide table of contents

Epistemic status: thrown together relatively quickly after talking to a few people about it at EAGx Berlin. Putting my views out here for now and hoping for discussion in the comments.


  • Many major (university) cities don’t have an active EA local group or university group. 
  • Unusually many people might be on the search for EA local groups in their city.
    • With the recent publication of What We Owe The Future and the corresponding marketing efforts, a lot of new people have been acquainted with effective altruism.
    • In some countries, a new semester / academic year is about to start or has recently started
  • Setting up a “minimal local group” is easy & potentially very valuable right now
    • People should be able to find the group when googling “effective altruism <city>”
    • It should be easy to contact the group (e.g. set up a gmail address)
    • Ideally the group should appear alive / non-outdated
    • You can set this up even if you don’t have the time to actually run a local group

If you are:

  • living in a reasonably large city without an active local group
  • you could see yourself investing 1-3 hours within the next few weeks

Then please consider reading the rest of this post!

If this does not describe you but you know somebody in this position, then please consider forwarding the post to them.

Is Your City Lacking a Local Group?

I’m primarily familiar with the situation in Germany, but am confident that my points generalize to many countries. The situation in Germany is that, while it has one of the most active EA communities, there are still many major cities with no local group at all, one that’s hard to find, or one that seems very inactive from a quick search. For instance:

  • Essen, Dortmund, Bochum, Duisburg in the Ruhr area seem to be lacking a local group despite being very close to each other and all having major universities
  • The remote university Hagen has almost 70k students, but no sign of a local group (which would have to coordinate mostly online, but might still be valuable)
  • Mainz has a reasonably large university but no local group
  • I found a few existing local groups that seem very inactive/outdated and could probably be superficially revived rather easily

In many other, especially non-English-speaking countries there’s a group in one or two larger cities (e.g. Prague, Milan, Helsinki) but seemingly little activity beyond that.

Increased Interest in EA

I believe that some countries are about to experience an increased interest in local EA chapters.

Firstly, What We Owe The Future was published about a month ago. At the same time, there were widely watched videos about EA topics by YouTube channels such as KurzgesagtPrimer and Rational Animations. This likely leads to an increase in interest for effective altruism, as the Google trend for the search term “effective altruism” seems to support with its peak in August:

Secondly, university students tend to look out for interesting opportunities to engage in during the beginning of their terms. I believe “minimal local groups” (which I’ll explain in detail in the next section) should exist generally in larger cities, but the impending or very recent start of a new term in many countries (such as Germany, UK and France) adds to the relative urgency of ensuring the existence of such groups.

If interested people are actively looking for a local entry point to the EA community and don’t easily find one, their enthusiasm may fade. If, however, they find a way to connect with others, they’re much more likely to stick around and get more involved.

This does not necessarily mean that people now need to set up and run a group to its full extent. This would be a lot of work and responsibility, and I get that most people are not in a great position to invest such effort. However, I do believe that there’s a much smaller version of “starting a local group”, which most people should have the capacity to do, and which still yields a lot of value.

Setting up a Minimal Local Group

Actually running a local group might involve a lot of things, such as:

  • Setting up an online presence
  • Setting up and maintaining internal channels of communication
  • Handling external communication
  • Coming up with a strategy
  • Planning events
  • Actually running events
  • Doing outreach
  • Running a fellowship
  • Registering as a university group

And obviously it’s great if groups exist and go to such lengths to provide a thriving local community for others to be part of.

However, in this post I’m not arguing for the creation of such “flourishing” groups but rather a much smaller version that mostly achieves one simple goal: being an entry point for people that come to the group on their own. So I’m particularly not talking about active outreach or even an active group life (although at least the latter probably needs to be pursued sooner or later by somebody in order to keep people actually interested), but rather a form of passive outreach. This would entail setting up a “minimal local group” with a very limited scope.

A minimal local group should primarily do the following:

  • Be easy to find online 
  • Be easy to contact 
  • Be responsive
  • And ideally, if people do contact the group, they should be able to take the next steps from there (which could mean that the person who set it all up additionally organizes a group kick-off event with the interested people to make some plans and distribute responsibilities) and move the group beyond its minimal state

I believe that setting up such a minimal group can be done in around 2 hours, with very low maintenance cost after that. Also note that you don’t have to be a student to do so, even if your city has a large university, as registering as a university group would be an optional step to be taken later, if at all.

So, what specifically would need to be done? This might of course depend on your particular circumstances, but I would suggest to work through the following list:

  1. Check if there is a group in your city/area already, or there are any remnants of one from the past
  2. If you can find any other (formerly) active EAs from the area, contact them to potentially get them on board
  3. Get access to or set up an email address for your local group (e.g. “effective-altruism-<your_city>@gmail.com”)
  4. Optionally, create a group in the messenger of your choice (such as Signal or WhatsApp) that others will be able to join
  5. Create or update an entry for your local group on the EA Forum community page, linking to your group’s email address, and possibly providing a link to join your messenger group
  6. If there’s a central listing of local groups in your country (such as this one in Germany), figure out how to get your group added to the list
  7. Optionally, create a page/group on other social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, where you expect people might look for your group
  8. Optionally, ask some EA group organizers from nearby cities to join your social media / messenger groups (this both helps coordination between groups, and makes your group seem not quite as empty to newcomers)
  9. Set a recurring reminder for yourself to check the group’s communication channels

If you want to do more, there is of course a variety of further actions you can take, but this exceeds the scope of this post and there are other resources available.

What Happens Next?

Once a minimal local group is set up, there are a few different ways things might pan out:

  • A number of people contact / join your group, including one or more who have some EA experience and are willing to take over responsibility → success!
  • Some people contact / join your group, but they are all new to EA and prefer to be “shown around” rather than being responsible themselves
    • If you have the capacity and it seems worth your time, you could run a few introductory events for them and see where things go.
    • If you have little capacity but at least one newcomer is enthusiastic enough, you could offer to advise them while they try to get the group off the ground (e.g. by that person running an introductory reading circle, or coordinating with other new people to join an online virtual program).
    • In the worst case, you can just be open about the fact that the group is not yet very active, but you still wanted to ensure people can get connected already, and briefly advise the new people on how to familiarize themselves with EA. Ideally make it clear that people are free to step up and kickstart the group.
  • Very few or no people join your group (for now) → unfortunate, but no harm done, and this might possibly change in the future. Your minimal group is very low maintenance after all, and you can just keep it in this state for months or years if necessary.

I think there’s a significant chance that setting up a minimal local group will result in a few additional engaged EAs, and that it might even turn into an active local group over time. The potential downsides seem negligible in comparison.


Thanks to Adrian Spierling and Matthew Esche for their feedback on this post.


More posts like this

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:50 PM

Did something come of this in Dortmund or Koeln?

Köln does have a somewhat active local group currently (see here https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/groups/6BpGMKtfmC2XLeih8 ) - I think they mostly coordinate via Signal, which interestingly is hidden behind the "Join us on Slack" button on the forum page. Don't think this had much to do with this post though.

I'm not aware of anything having happened in Dortmund or the general Ruhrgebiet in the last year or so, with the exception of the Doing Good Together Düsseldorf group.

Note local groups can do bad if, as a naive example, they tell people donating to non-EA charities that they're bad people.

I think EA Israel has a hobby of writing lots of docs about this ;) I'll ask one of the community managers if they want to elaborate.

Anyway, my point is that I'd make sure I know about these [potential blind spots] / [potential risks] before starting, I think

Great idea, just did this. Hopefully it gets approved. 

Great idea! Somehow I hadn't thought about the value of inactive groups vs no group.

I know a few university cities in Finland with only 1-2 EAs who don't have time to commit to running a group many hours a week. I will ask them if they'd be interested in this and do a ~10-step manual on how to set up a mini group and how EA Finland can support them. (Maybe calling it a contact group 🤔) Maybe an incentive to start the group (in addition to having a bigger impact) could be that they automatically get invited to EA Finland's organizers only-events and retreats.

Adding to Yonatan Cales comment, I think I would add just a few bullet points in the manual on what to do (or not do) to avoid having a negative impact. There are lots of good posts and EA community building resources about what could go wrong and how to avoid that but I think most of them are relevant only later, when a group is committing >1 hour a month to community building.

Here is now EA Finland's Start a Mini EA Group in Finland document. Tried to make it as detailed as possible to make it easy to do and added some more bonus activities like setting up posters at your campus. 

Looks very helpful, thank you Karla. :)