This post is mainly a synthesis of personal observations. It aims to provide an actionable overview for (European) policy-interested people involved in the EA movement to broaden their networks. However, it is not a comprehensive analysis, and readers are encouraged to think about pros and cons of certain approaches and to find other influential networks than the ones suggested in this article.
- I think policy-interested people in the EA movement are currently undervaluing the importance of building a network outside the EA bubble.
- In the past, people involved in the EA movement have often prioritised insular approaches, building communities around universities with large EA populations, forming EA houses, and attending EA conferences.
- While these efforts have been valuable in fostering a sense of identity and cultivating shared values, they have unintentionally limited the movement's reach and influence.
- For people involved in the EA movement to create a meaningful impact on a global scale, it is crucial to understand and harness the power of embeddedness in a diverse range of policy circles.
- Practical steps for EU policy-interested EA individuals:
- Prepare a hook for communication with more senior people and err on the cautious / humble side
- Attend non-EA conferences (some suggestions at the end of the doc)
- Join other (relevant) associations, non-EA houses
- Join and volunteer at a political party
- Diversify media and literature consumption
- Map important players and networks and define actions
The Importance of Embeddedness in Diverse Policy Circles
For people involved in the EA movement to create a meaningful impact on a global scale, it is crucial to understand and harness the power of embeddedness in a diverse range of policy circles.
Embeddedness refers to the extent to which actors are connected to, and integrated within, broader social networks. By fostering strong connections with influential individuals and organizations, people involved in the EA movement can tap into networks that drive real-world policy changes (see also this comment by James Herbert about impact mobility).
Expanding one's network beyond the EA community is crucial for several reasons:
- Understanding a wider variety of perspectives: Fosters a more comprehensive understanding of complex issues and helps to avoid echo chambers.
- Larger expected marginal value per contact: The assumption is that your network outside of the EA movement will be less likely to overlap with other networks from other people involved in the EA movement. In that case the marginal value for the EA community of adding someone outside of the EA movement to your network will be relatively larger than adding an additional person involved in the EA movement. As mentioned in this post, people can share these contacts from outside the EA movement with other people involved in the EA movement to make them more valuable.
- Meeting (future) powerful people: Establishes valuable connections with potential allies and decision-makers.
- Better understanding of “the system” and of influence: Enables more effective policy interventions.
- Connections for jobs and favors: Helps further your goals through strategic opportunities and collaborations.
- Honing your communication skills: Interacting with individuals from different backgrounds makes it easier to convey certain ideas to wider audiences.
- Having opportunities to seed ideas (in a cautious way): Plants the seeds for policy change.
- Inspiring more people to take part in the EA project: Bringing in people from other policy networks into the EA movement could be valuable for the total impact of the movement.
Potential downsides include:
- Opportunity cost
- In general: There are a lot of other activities one can prioritise and networking is not necessarily high value.
- To get more embedded in the EA community: which can be very useful especially if one is relatively new to the EA movement.
- Value drift: people lose touch with core EA principles and might suffer from decreasing levels of epistemics amongst other concerns of value drift.
- Less motivation to report findings back to the community: When people don’t prioritise their contacts within the EA movement, the movement loses out on receiving insights from object-level work in policy.
- Accidental harm and poisoning the well: It is important to communicate about EA and new or sensitive EA(-related topics) and cause areas in a cautious and high fidelity way to avoid misrepresentation of certain ideas.
Historically Insular Effective Altruism
In the past, people involved in the EA movement have often prioritised insular approaches; building communities around universities with large EA populations, forming EA houses, and attending EA conferences. While these efforts have been valuable in fostering a sense of identity and cultivating shared values, they have unintentionally limited the movement's influence and reach.
Insularity within the Effective Altruism movement not only limits its reach and influence but also risks stifling diversity of thought. By primarily engaging with like-minded individuals, we unintentionally create echo chambers, where ideas and beliefs are reinforced without being challenged or broadened. This can hinder our ability to consider alternative perspectives and develop more effective, innovative solutions to pressing global issues. It is crucial to engage with diverse networks and expose ourselves to a wider range of ideas to ensure the robustness and adaptability of our movement. See also this post for similar thoughts
Sociologist Mark Granovetter's "Strength of Weak Ties" theory posits that weak ties—connections with acquaintances or individuals outside one's immediate social circle—are more valuable for accessing new information and resources. Building weak ties in influential non-EA networks can lead to novel opportunities and partnerships.
Actions for the average EU Policy-interested Person to Take
For people involved in the EA movement focused on policy within the European Union, several practical steps can help broaden their influence and foster greater embeddedness in influential networks:
- Prepare a hook to arrange meetings and create credibility: When engaging with the average policymaker, it's crucial to communicate your ideas effectively and respectfully. Prepare a compelling "hook” for a conversation (e.g. you write a thesis on AI Governance) or key message that succinctly conveys the essence of your cause, while also being open to feedback and alternative viewpoints.
- Coordinate and be cautious/humble: Before you have object-level chats with policy makers outside of EA circles, make sure to coordinate with people in the EA movement. Err on the cautious side in your communication style and use these networks mainly to learn and network, instead of direct advocacy. See also this excellent post on communication about Biosecurity, which applied to a lot of other cause areas as well.
- Create a healthy balance of EA conference and non-EA conferences: Given you are already well-connected within the EA movement: Prioritize attending a non-EA conference (relevant to your field) over an additional EA event. This will allow you to forge connections with influential individuals outside the EA community, gain fresh perspectives, and identify potential allies.
- Join other (professional) associations and non-EA social groups: Actively building a network outside of the EA movement gives you a different network than a lot of other people involved in the EA movement have and is therefore extremely valuable. This can be through professional networks, but I’ve also met relevant people through living in larger (non-EA) houses or playing in football teams in Brussels.
- Join a political party: Becoming a member of a political party can provide an avenue for influencing policy from within. Use your expertise to help the party craft policy proposals related to your cause area, thereby increasing the likelihood of your ideas being implemented. Bycatch could be that you position yourself as a potential Accredited Parliamentary Assistant (APA) specialised in AI for after the elections.
- Diversify your media and literature diet: Broadening your information sources can lead to a better understanding of the policy landscape and the systems in which you are operating. In the EU, consider following outlets such as Politico's website, EU Confidential podcast, Euractiv, and Euractiv's tech brief podcast to stay informed and gain valuable insights. I also recommend more people reading biographies and stories about people who understood the concept of embeddedness, for example about Jean Monnet or Caro’s work on Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Map important players and networks and take subsequent action: Create a map of key stakeholders, networks and conferences specific to your cause area. Define actionable steps to engage with these entities and share your findings with others in the EA community.
Broadening Our Scope: Some Suggestions for Networks
Some examples of (European) networks and conferences can be found below. Feel free to suggest additional conferences and networks in the comment section!
- Date: 19. August - 2. September 2023 (different themed days)
- Summary: A platform for interdisciplinary exchange and dialogue, gathering leaders from science, politics, business, and culture.
- Cost: Varies depending on the program and ticket category (500€-1,000€). Scholarships are available and accessible through both your national Forum Alpbach Network group or the official Website. National Groups tend to be less competitive (depending slightly on your country of origin) thus it’s encouraged to apply through those first.
- Application: Normal Ticket Sale Open, Scholarships are open from from 1 March, 12 pm to 31 March, 12 pm (National Groups vary on this)
- Ongoing, with local hubs and events
- Summary: A network of young leaders under 30 driving dialogue, action, and change to improve the state of the world.
- Cost: Membership is free, but participation in events may require travel and accommodation expenses.
- Date: 2-5 October 2023
- Summary: One Young World empowers and develops young leaders to build a fair, sustainable future for all. They host an annual One Young World Summit to confront the biggest challenges facing humanity
- Costs: There are a few different scholarships young leaders can apply for to gain entrance
- Date: tbd for 2023
- Summary: The European Development Days (EDD) are Europe’s leading forum on international partnerships. Organised by the European Commission, the forum brings key actors together to share ideas and experiences in ways that inspire new partnerships and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.
- Costs: free but must Carbon Offset. You can apply via their EDD Young Leaders Programme
- Date: 15-19 January 2024
- Summary: An international conference where global leaders discuss pressing issues and collaborate on shaping the global, regional, and industry agendas.
- Cost: Attendance is by invitation only. Corporate membership fees apply, and individual tickets are priced at a premium.
- Date: February 2024
- Summary: An annual conference focusing on international security policy, attracting high-profile attendees from politics, military, academia, and industry.
- Cost: Participation is by invitation only. Pricing information is not publicly available.
- Date: 4.-5. May 2023
- Summary: The St. Gallen Symposium is an annual gathering of current and future leaders from various fields, including politics, business, and academia. It provides a platform for intergenerational dialogue on pressing global issues and fosters an exchange of ideas across cultures and disciplines.
- Cost: Participation is by invitation only, with a limited number of tickets available for purchase. Students can apply to become a "Leader of Tomorrow" for a chance to receive an all-expenses-paid invitation.
- Date: 23-24 May 2023
- Summary: GMF's Brussels Forum is the preeminent platform for global leaders, policymakers, and experts across sectors to shape the transatlantic agenda and debate the most pressing global challenges.
- Costs: To be announced
- Date: 7. - 9. November 2023
- Summary: Guided by the question "Which are the next walls to fall in science and society?" the Science Summit aims to showcase scientific breakthroughs, foster a dialogue between science and general public and connect global leaders from science, business, and media to develop solutions for the greatest challenges of our time.
- Application deadline: be nominated or apply between 1 March – 1 May 2023 through their “Global Call”
- Date: 15. - 16. May
- Summary: Since 2017, the Global Solutions Summit has provided an intense, two-day forum for the world’s leading minds to propose and debate research-based policy recommendations for the G20, G7 and beyond.
Apart from the examples above I recommend attending conferences organised by EU/Brussels think tanks (e.g. CEPS Ideas Lab) and media outlets (e.g. Politico organises regular conferences such as the Europe Tech Summit ). See also the EU Agenda for EU related Events and the European Commission's Events Page.