- We’ve renamed our team to Community Health and Special Projects, in part to reflect our scope extending beyond what’s often considered to be “community health.”
- Since our last forum update, we’ve started working closely with Anu Oak and Łukasz Grabowski as contractors. Chana Messinger has been acting as interim team lead, while Nicole Ross has been focused on EV US board duties. Charlotte Darnell has also recently accepted a role on our team.
- In response to reports of sexual misconduct by Owen Cotton-Barratt, an external investigation into our team’s response is underway, as well as an internal review.
- Other key proactive projects we’ve been working on include the Gender Experiences project and the EA Organization Reform project.
- We are in the early stages of considering some significant strategic changes for our team. We’ve highlighted two examples of possible changes below, one being a potential spin-out of CEA and/or EV and another being a pivot to focus more on the AI safety space.
- As a reminder, if you’ve experienced anything you’re uncomfortable with in the community or if you would like to report a concern, you can reach our team’s contact people (currently Julia Wise and Catherine Low) via this form (anonymously if you choose).
- We can also be contacted individually (our individual forms are linked here), or you can contact the whole team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- We can provide anonymous, real-time conversations in place of calls when requested, e.g. through Google Chat with your anonymous email address.
The Community Health team is now Community Health and Special Projects
We decided to rename our team to better reflect the scope of our work. We’ve found that when people think of our team, they mostly think of us as working on topics like mental health and interpersonal harm. While these areas are a central part of our work, we also work on a wide range of other things, such as advising on decisions with significant potential downside risk, improving community epistemics, advising programs working with minors, and reducing risks in areas with high geopolitical risk.
We see these other areas of work as contributing to our goal: to strengthen the ability of EA and related communities to fulfil their potential for impact, and to address problems that could prevent that. However, those areas of work can be quite disparate, and so “Special Projects” seemed an appropriate name to gesture towards “other miscellaneous things that seem important and may not have a home somewhere else.”
We hope that this might go some way to encouraging people to report a wider range of concerns to our team.
Our scope of work is guided by pragmatism: we aim to go wherever there are important community-related gaps not covered by others and try to make sure the highest priority gaps are filled. Where it seems better than the counterfactual, we sometimes try to fill those gaps ourselves. That means that our scope is both very broad and not always clear, and also that there will be plenty of things we don’t have the capacity or the right expertise to have fully covered. If you’re thinking of working on something you think we might have some knowledge about, the meme we want to spread is “loop us in, but don’t assume it’s totally covered or uncovered.” If we can be helpful, we’ll give advice, recommend resources or connect you with others interested in similar work.
Here’s our current team:
- Nicole Ross (Head of Community Health and Special Projects)
- Julia Wise (Community Liaison)
- Catherine Low (Community Health Associate)
- Chana Messinger (Interim Head and Community Health Analyst)
- Eve McCormick (Community Health Project Manager and Senior Assistant)
In November 2022, Nicole took a step back from leading the team in order to focus on EV US board duties in response to the FTX crisis. In her place, Chana stepped into the role of Interim Head of Community Health and Special Projects. We anticipate that Chana will remain in this role for another 1-6 weeks (90% confidence interval). During this time, Nicole is dividing her time between some ongoing board duties and thinking about our team’s strategy, including potential pivots (see below).
We’ve also started working closely with Anu Oak (Project Coordinator and Assistant) and Łukasz Grabowski (Project Manager) as contractors. Anu joined us in late October 2022 as Catherine’s assistant and has since taken on responsibility for several of our team’s internal systems. Łukasz came on board in February 2023 and has been collaborating with other team members on various projects, including the Gender Experiences project (see below).
Charlotte Darnell has recently accepted a role on our team to help with interpersonal problems in the community alongside Catherine and Julia. Charlotte comes to us from CEA’s Events Team.
External investigation and internal review
As mentioned here, EV UK and EV US have commissioned an independent, external investigation into reports of sexual misconduct by Owen Cotton-Barratt, including our team’s response to those reports. This investigation is currently underway. The main point person for this investigation from EV is Zach Robinson, Interim CEO of EV US.
Our goals for this review have been to reflect on our response to the reports about Owen’s conduct, and to identify whether there are any systematic changes we should make to our casework.
This process has included:
- Julia and Nicole writing retrospectives, and members of the team discussing takeaways and updates from them, with support from Ben West.
- Writing up anonymized versions of past cases to get perspectives on our processes from people outside the team and having calls with those people to discuss.
- Chana speaking to several HR professionals, ombudspeople and an employment lawyer to get their perspectives on the team’s work more broadly.
- Catherine looking over the reports we received about Owen to give another perspective on how it could have been handled.
- Relevant members of the team discussing and consolidating their overall updates together.
- Continued work consolidating and thinking through updates.
- We will communicate process changes in a future update.
Gender Experiences Project
In February, we announced our project to get a better understanding of the experiences of women and gender minorities in the EA community. This work is being carried out by Catherine Low, Anu Oak, and Łukasz Grabowski. Charlotte Darnell will be joining this project soon.
So far, we have analysed data from a variety of existing sources such as EAG/x survey responses, the annual EA Survey run by Rethink Priorities, and Community Health team case records. We’re now exploring ways to gather new information including working with Rethink Priorities on questions to include in their next survey.
We’re drafting a post with some of our findings so far and hope to publish it soon.
EA Organizations Reform Project
Like many others in the EA community, we have been thinking about ways the community should potentially change or reform. One effort in this direction is the project Julia is currently leading. This project aims to build a task force of 3-5 people from across EA organisations and projects, which will look into areas where EA organisations might reform their practices and produce recommendations for EA organisations about steps that seem promising. They plan to interview people who are familiar with other fields about best practices that EA might currently be missing.
Some areas the taskforce is likely to consider:
- Board composition
- Conflict of interest policies
- Whistleblower protection / support
Please see this post to suggest people the task force could talk to.
We are continuing with our reactive casework as usual, where we respond to requests for support or advice from community members.
Some examples of casework:
- Handling cases involving interpersonal harm in the community. This often involves one or more of:
- Listening to people talk through what they have experienced
- Talking to people who have made others uncomfortable about how to improve their behavior
- Restricting people who have caused harm from attending CEA events
- Informing other EA groups, projects, or organizations about known problems
- Supporting individual community members who are dealing with personal or interpersonal problems, such as a mental health-related struggle or a conflict between multiple community members.
Catherine is the primary team member focusing on this area of our work at the moment, while Julia focuses on projects such as the organizational reform project. Charlotte will also be focusing on casework.
Other updates on our work
- Łukasz has produced a team tool for mapping the overlap and interrelationships between the boards, staff, and advisors at EA organizations, to help us do risk assessment around the interrelatedness of EA projects. We hope that this will help draw our attention to conflicts of interest and high levels of interdependence, so we can help better manage risk.
- In collaboration with Chana, Victoria Brook contracted with us to produce this sequence of tutorials for tools to help people approach collaborative truth-seeking. The sequence includes tutorials for using Guesstimate, Loom, Excalidraw, Squiggle and Polis.
- Our work advising on projects with significant potential downside risks is continuing as usual. For example, we often advise on projects operating in less established and/or more sensitive fields, such as those relating to policy or involving minors, helping decision-makers to weigh up risks against the positives.
Potential strategic changes
We’re in the early stages of considering some potentially significant strategic changes for our team.
Firstly, as discussed a little elsewhere, we have been considering whether to spin out of CEA and/or Effective Ventures. This may grant us a useful kind of independence but might make some kinds of coordination more difficult. We will be gathering more information and considering these and other trade-offs over the next few months.
Secondly, we have been considering whether our team should pivot more of our resources towards work in the AI safety space. Actions we might take there would often be analogous to our existing work in the EA community more broadly. For example, we could potentially receive and investigate concerns about individuals in the AI safety space, provide support for the well-being of people working in the space, and assist with coordination between relevant actors to make plans for “crunch time”. We will likely be investigating what this pivot could look like more deeply over the coming months.
How to contact us (including anonymously)
If you’ve experienced anything you’re uncomfortable with in the community or would like to report a concern, you can reach our team’s contact people (currently Julia Wise and Catherine Low) via this form. We know a form isn't the warmest, but this helps us manage the inflow of messages, and you can remain anonymous if you choose to be. Alternatively, you can email our contact people at email@example.com, or you can contact us individually (our individual forms are linked here). And you can contact the whole team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You might contact us because you just want to pass on some information, or you might want to have a call to talk through your situation or just have someone listen to your concerns.
If you’d like to have an anonymous, real-time conversation with us instead of a call, we may be able to facilitate that e.g. through Google Chat with your anonymous email address. If this is your preference, let us know and we can explore the options.
We’re aware that Rethink Priorities also has a Special Projects team. Our current belief, and that of Rethink Priorities, is that this won’t cause much confusion.
Chana has not been reporting to Nicole throughout the duration of conducting this internal review, in part to mitigate conflicts of interest.