Local Effective Altruism Network's New Focus for 2019

by Michal_Trzesimiech 8mo30th Mar 20193 min read3 comments

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This post announces a new strategy for LEAN, focusing on empirical research and tech infrastructure and withdrawing from direct support of local groups, as well the receipt of a new grant from the Centre for Effective Altruism.

Our History

Local Effective Altruism Network (LEAN) launched in 2015 with the original mission to help local Effective Altruism (EA) groups come into existence and thrive. LEAN was a part of .impact, which later became Rethink Charity. Back then, we were a volunteer-led, grassroots, and open community project.

We offered the first directory of local groups and profiles of Effective Altruists around the world. That catalogue is known as the EA Hub (which we will relaunch this month).

We seeded over 100 local groups across the world by setting up websites and Facebook groups, offering ongoing direct support to organizers, as well as covering the costs of essential technology.

We were among the founders of the Effective Altruism Newsletter and Group Leaders Newsletter, which we curated together with the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA).

We conducted the first Effective Altruism Survey in 2014 and then re-ran it in 2015 and 2017, before making it a joint collaboration with Rethink Priorities. We also ran the first ever systematic survey of local groups in 2017, trying to discern not only how local groups were functioning, but also what their needs were and whether they were being met by LEAN (or anyone else).

The results of this survey suggested the following:

  • Most groups were small (median size of 10 members), new (less than two years old), and precarious (34% of organizers thought their group would likely not continue if they were to step down, whereas 39% thought it likely would).
  • Many organizers lacked confidence that they were doing the right thing with their group and desired more personalized support and active guidance, as well as resources and information about how to run their group.
  • Significant numbers of organizers required and valued various forms of tech support (websites, hosting, email accounts), which streamline running a group .

In late 2017, we therefore resolved to prioritize the following initiatives:

  • Consolidating written guides and resources for groups, and gathering more empirical data about local groups to inform these outputs.
  • Continuing streamlined tech support for organizers.
  • Providing more one-on-one support to organizers.

By the end of 2018, we successfully launched resources.eahub.org, consolidating existing resources for group leaders. Our website template was forked (copied for individual use and independent modification) 46 times. We hosted 17 custom websites on our cloud, and sponsored 64 domains, over 120 custom mailboxes, and 51 meetups on meetup.com. In addition, we continued to offer day-to-day support to group leaders.

The Present

Today, we list more than 100 local presences of Effective Altruism with over 1,000 members around the world. They are important in getting people involved in Effective Altruism, as almost 40% of all Effective Altruists in the 2018 Effective Altruism Survey reported being members of a local group.

As local groups are increasingly becoming professionalized, their challenges are different than a couple of years ago, when typically groups were smaller scale and volunteer-run. As a result, they require different measures, often involving financial aid and more coordination effort.

Our long-term partner in the field, the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA), is now increasing their investment in supporting local groups, for example by:

  • Launching EA Community Building Grants, a project which provides grants of between $5,000 and $100,000 to individuals and groups doing local effective altruism community building,
  • Hosting retreats for group leaders, to help facilitate coordination
  • Growing their Groups team from 1 to 3 staff members.

This is a positive development, and one which we have long advocated for. So long as our partners continue to expand to offer significant direct personal support to local groups of all sizes and in all locations, we don’t want to needlessly duplicate the effort, and as such we don’t think that there is a significant need to continue our operations in this area.

Specifically, the following responsibilities will be transferred from LEAN to CEA:

  • Curation of the EA Groups Newsletter
  • Day-to-day personal support of group organizers in matters related to running a group, including via email or video conferencing
  • Moderation of the Effective Altruism Group Organizers group on Facebook
  • Moderation of eagroups.slack.com

Looking Ahead

We thoroughly investigated our options and decided that we will focus our resources on the two areas detailed below: empirical research and technology.

To support our plans, the Centre for Effective Altruism offered us a grant in the sum of $50,000, for which we'd like to express our sincere gratitude.

Empirical Research

In the area of empirical research, we will:

  • Continue to engage in empirical studies of the Effective Altruism movement, both in the Effective Altruism Survey (run with Rethink Priorities) and the Local Groups Survey (run in 2017 and 2018 with the Centre for Effective Altruism).
  • Collaborate with Rethink Priorities on ongoing research to analyze EA movement building.
  • Turn the data into key analyses on the shape and direction of Effective Altruism.

Safe and Essential Technology

In the area of technology, our key focus points are outlined below.

The EA Hub

As we are yet to announce, we have rebuilt eahub.org from scratch and it now offers a safe and robust platform to hold:

We are now working on:

  • A feature for listing and coordinating projects taking place within Effective Altruism, and
  • A cross-platform search functionality, allowing users to quickly find relevant information across multiple sources.

Technology for Local Groups

We currently equip local groups with essential technology such as websites, domains, and mailboxes. We anticipate that these will ultimately be transitioned over to CEA and/or be privately hosted by groups. We will continue to provide the services in the interim.

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