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TLDR: I am running a writing contest for community builders. 

The judges and I are looking for reflections that achieve one of the following goals:

  • Help you improve your community-building efforts (e.g., by gaining clarity on your theory of change, planning your career, or reflecting on an event/project you recently completed).
  • Help others improve their community-building efforts (e.g., by sharing a strategy, lesson, or story that others would benefit from).

Note that we are especially excited about submissions that focus on longtermist community-building. However, reflections that focus on general community-building efforts and neartermist community-building efforts will also be considered.

EDIT: Submissions received by April 30, 2022 will be reviewed (note that submissions received by March 31, 2022 will be eligible for early-bird prizes). Each person (or team) can submit up to three entries. 

Note that the deadline has been extended in response to feedback.

What kinds of submissions are you looking for?

Broadly, we are looking for submissions that either help you or help others improve as a community-builder.

Reflections that help you:

We understand that the prompt “write reflections that help you become more impactful” is rather broad. Here are some examples of things we’d be excited to see: 

  • Write down your theory of change
  • Reflect on a key uncertainty
  • Find ways to achieve your goals more effectively
  • Imagine a future version of yourself two years from now that is 10X more impactful than your present self
  • Reflect on career aptitudes you’re hoping to test/develop (see also this exercise)
  • Engage in structured career planning
  • Take a project idea and consider if there are ways to pursue it 10X more ambitiously or 10X faster.
  • Apply goal factoring (or other techniques) to help you make a decision
  • Identify bugs that currently reduce your productivity.

Reflections that help others:

Experienced community builders often have access to models and strategies that could help others, but these insights often don’t get shared widely. 

Examples in this category include posts like Lessons Learned from Running Stanford EA and SERIGet in the Van, and Simplify EA Pitches to “Holy Shit, X-Risk”

(Note that these are just examples– you can absolutely submit entries that use a different style. As a general rule, do whatever might help you or others become more impactful).

What are the prizes?

We will distribute up to $20,000 in prizes. 

  • 1st place- $3,000
  • 2nd place- $2,000
  • 3rd place- $1,000
  • 4th and 5th place- $750 each
  • Other high-quality submissions- $500 each
  • Top 3 submissions received by March 31- $1000 each 

If we receive more than 30 high-quality submissions, we may expand the prize pool to reward additional semifinalists. 

EDIT: We will be awarding three early-bird prizes ($1000 each) to the three best submissions received by March 31.

Who is eligible to participate?

Community-builders (individuals involved in building the effective altruism community) will be best-suited for this contest, but anyone is eligible to participate

How will submissions be judged?

The judging panel will consist of me (Akash Wasil) and a panel of experienced movement builders. 

Broadly, we are looking for submissions that demonstrate high-quality reasoning, truth-seeking, and an impact-oriented mindset. 

Here are some tips:

  • Demonstrate strong reasoning transparency.
    • Acknowledge why you believe what you believe (note that in some cases this might be “because other people who I trust say so” or “because I have observed this at several student group meetings.”)
    • Indicate how confident you are in your claims and which of your claims are most important.
  • Write about topics that are important to you & draw from your experiences.
  • Ask yourself “are there any ideas I often find myself explaining to other community builders?”
  • Ask yourself “what do I wish other community builders knew about? What are some things that movement-builders could be doing better?”
  • Ask yourself “what’s an uncertainty that, if resolved, would help me be considerably more effective? What’s a topic I’d like to seriously think about for a few hours?”

How long should submissions be?

There is no required length, and we encourage participants to err on the side of brevity. If you only need <1 page to articulate your idea, don’t feel like you need to make it long. If you think your idea requires 5+ pages, don’t feel like you need to keep it shorter.

We expect that most winning entries will be between 1,000 and 7,500 words.

Should I submit something?

Maybe. If you have an idea that you often find yourself sharing with others, or if you have a question you have been meaning to dive into, this seems like a good fit.

However, we want to be cautious of a failure mode in which too much time is spent on contests. Contests can incentivize EAs to use their time in ways that are not actually most impactful (see here).

We think many people would benefit from engaging in the kinds of reflections we encourage below, but we don’t think everyone will. I suggest asking yourself, “is this the kind of thing I would benefit from, and what would I have time to do if I didn’t participate in this contest?”

If I were considering participating, I would probably use the following method. Note that the time markers are arbitrary, and you should feel free to deviate. But they are likely within the right order of magnitude– i.e., you should probably not spend 50-100 hours on this contest.

  • Brainstorm some possible ideas (5-30 mins)
  • Evaluate the ideas; identify a few that seem especially promising. (10-45 mins)
  • Ask myself if it would be worthwhile to spend a few hours thinking/writing about this topic. Maybe ask a few well-trusted community builders if they would find it valuable to read about the topic. (30-90 mins)
  • Start writing, and monitor my progress. If I’m making progress, keep writing until I’m done (2-10 hours).

Will submissions be shared?

We encourage you to post your entry to the forum during the contest using the Community Builder Writing Contest tag. Aaron Gertler put it best: “We want lots of people to read and discuss your submissions — we think the Forum will be a really fun place if good stories start showing up.”

After the contest, we will strongly prefer to share winning submissions that were not yet posted. However, we recognize that you may decide to write about something personal (e.g., a career planning exercise that involves a frank assessment of your weaknesses). 

As a result, if you do not want your entry shared, please let us know. By default, we will assume that we can share your submission. If you would not like your entry to be shared, please indicate this in an email and on your Google Doc.

How do I submit an entry?

You should complete this short form. You should also share a Google Doc with me at akashwasil133@gmail.com

We also encourage you to publish your entry on the EA forum with the Community Builder Writing Contest tag. (Note that we won’t use upvotes or comments as part of our process for choosing a winner).

Who is funding this contest?

This contest is funded by the EA Infrastructure Fund.

Why are you running this contest?

We believe that building and strengthening the effective altruism movement (“community building”) is one of the most effective ways to have an impact (see more here).

We also believe that community builders have to a lot of responsibilities to juggle. Community builder time is a valuable resource, and it’s often spread between various activities (e.g., planning events, running retreats, having conversations with promising members, reading direct work).

We expect that some community-builders would benefit from spending more time reflecting (e.g., clarifying theories of change, examining uncertainties, brainstorming ways to be more efficient, sharing lessons learned). 

We hope that this contest will give those individuals a structured opportunity to reflect, compensate them for their time, and allow their insights to be shared with others. (see more about why I'm excited about contests here).

Can I receive feedback on my ideas? 

You can email me at akashwasil133@gmail.com with any questions.

I may be able to offer quick feedback on ideas. You should feel free to send me an email asking questions like, “which of these three ideas do you think is most promising?” or “Do you think this idea would be worth writing up?”

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:55 PM

This is very exciting, I think it's really important for community builders to think carefully about meta stuff. Is there a reason for the the deadline being March 31st? 

  1. That's about 3 weeks from now, which feels fairly short to write a couple thousand word piece (especially if you have classes or full-time work)
  2. EAGxBoston is right after (April 1-3rd) and I would guess it would inspire a number of cool submissions.

I was about to say the same thing - the deadline is probably too soon. Also, by mid-April, we'd have had EAGxOxford, EAGxBoston, EAG London, and half a dozen community-builder retreats, all of which will likely inspire great pieces (but also maybe allow for time to write them - especially at the retreats)

UPDATE: Deadline has been changed to April 30. Added a few "early-bird prizes" for submissions received before March 31. Hoping that this will encourage early submissions while allowing people to participate later. Thank you for the feedback!

Original comment below:

Thanks for pointing this out, Vaidehi and Kaleem! Setting a deadline is tricky, and this is helpful feedback. Here are a few considerations that went into the March 31 deadline:

  • Spring break is in mid-March for many universities, and I wanted the deadline to be shortly after spring break.
  • I think there are benefits to having people reflect after conferences, and I also think there are benefits to having people reflect before conferences. EAGxOxford is March 26-27 and EAGxBoston is April 1-3. So I figured this deadline would be a useful "midpoint."
  • I think it would be great to start seeing some of these posts published before EAGxOxford and EAGx Boston.
  • My impression is that three weeks is enough time, though I might be poorly calibrated on this. I expect most submissions will take <10 hours to write over the course of 1-3 days.
  • I spoke with a few community builders about the deadline and they thought it seemed reasonable & they wouldn't feel rushed.

For now, I think it makes sense to keep the deadline, but I could see a world in which I extend it by a bit (especially if community builders reach out saying they need more time). If you're reading this and the deadline would prevent you from submitting, feel free to email me at akashwasil133@gmail.com.

I expect most submissions will take <10 hours to write over the course of 1-3 days.

If memory serves, it took me ~40 hours to write each of these retrospectives (maybe over the course of a month); these were by far the most useful reflections for me to improve my community-building efforts.

Thanks for mentioning this, Rohin! I agree that longer write-ups and retrospectives can be valuable. And if someone determines that it's valuable for them to spend 40 hours on a write-up, I'd encourage them to do so.

For this contest, I don't want the "norm" or "expectation" to be a 20+ hour write-up. I'm expecting many submissions that take the form "here's an idea that I was already thinking about, and now this contest nudged me to sit down and write it up" or "I sat down and spent a few hours reflecting on X, and here's what I learned."

This is partially motivated by finm's comment here:

I'm a bit worried that contests with large prizes can have distortionary effects. That is, they might pull EAs towards using their time in ways which are not altruistically/impartially best. This would happen when an EA switches her marginal time to some contest with a big prize, where she otherwise would have been doing something expected to be more impactful (e.g. because she's a better fit for it), but which doesn't stand to win her as much money or acclaim.

Most importantly, I think people entering this contest should ask themselves if spending marginal hours on their entries would be a good use of their time (relative to their counterfactual). My guess is that most entrants would benefit from reflecting for 1-10 hours, and a smaller subset would benefit from reflecting for 10-100 hours.

Eh, I'm just pretty happy to claim that many contests can in fact push people to do more valuable things with their time than they would have done otherwise. It's not that hard to think of considerations that most EAs haven't thought about.

Also, by this logic, should we also not have any posts that give advice to EAs? After all, they might pull EAs towards following that advice, even when that's not altruistically / impartially best.

Maybe the idea is that once there's money involved, it is individually rational for EAs to pursue the money from contests instead of doing what is best, and this is community-irrational? That seems surprising; if that were the situation, then why aren't the EAs just pursuing a normal job which would get more money?

Maybe the idea is that it isn't the money, it's the prestige from the contest that's motivating? That seems plausible.

Maybe the idea is that EAs can just ignore advice if it's bad, but they will irrationally be more persuaded when there's money and prestige attached (as in a contest)? That also seems plausible.

Okay, I'm more convinced of distortionary effects, though I'm still pretty keen on "yeah it's not hard to find cases where individual EAs could do better, because you thought of a consideration that they didn't".

My guess is that most entrants would benefit from reflecting for 1-10 hours, and a smaller subset would benefit from reflecting for 10-100 hours.

For this contest I was most compelled by the benefits to other organizers, and for that I think I would be a lot more excited about the 10-100 hour reflections.

  • My impression is that three weeks is enough time, though I might be poorly calibrated on this. I expect most submissions will take <10 hours to write over the course of 1-3 days.

I would have expected the average person to spend longer than 10 hours to write a submission. Especially for the reflections that help others - I think it can be nontrivial to go from "here's a thought I have" to "how do i express it to others well" (and often, that process is super valuable because you end up refining your argument and even changing your mind about what it is you're trying to say).

I might be a good idea to flag this more prominently in the post - this wasn't really the impression I got from reading the post (perhaps others did).  

On the timelines:

  • I do see the value of having posts published before / betweem conferences. 
  • If you are primarily trying to attract university students then it does make sense to time it with spring break, but I do think for working professionals it's a fairly short timeline. 
  • I think it's very likely that many people will not read this post until a few days or weeks later, or will see it soon but won't come up with an interesting idea until several weeks into the deadline. 

It's worth noting that the creative writing contest offered 55 days (7-8 weeks)* for submissions after the original post was posted (though I know this is different from creative writing). I think this is a reasonable amount of time and that this contest should offer roughly the same amount of time. 

Edit: Somehow I messed up my math haha. It was 47 days, 6-7 weeks.


I agree with all three of Vaidehi's comments as of typing this. I'll add that I think some posts would require research or talking to experts and could therefore take much more than 10 hours. 

One response may be that this contest isn't intended for those kinds of posts. But since those posts could be potentially very high value to the community, it seems reasonable to extend the deadline to encourage those kinds of posts. It seems to me like the value of extending the deadline and potentially getting a few more especially well-researched, well-argued posts outweighs the value of keeping the deadline March 31 and getting shorter posts that are written after spring break and between EAGs. 

Strong upvote 

Update: The deadline has been changed to April 30. Several people pointed out that the deadline felt tight & it would limit their ability to participate.

To encourage early submissions, we are offering three "early-bird prizes" ($1000 each) to the three best submissions we receive by March 31

Special thanks to Vaidehi, Kaleem, and those of you who emailed me with feedback about the deadline.

Do we have a date for the announcement of the winners at this point? I've attempted to reach out to Akash via the forum and via email, and haven't gotten a response after a few weeks. Has someone else taken over the organisation of this contest? 

Hey, Jay! Judging is underway, and I'm planning to announce the winners within the next month. Thanks for your patience, and sorry for missing your message.

I was keen to check out the winning entries to this contest, but I'm wondering if I missed the announcement, and I can't seem to find it anywhere. Have the entries been made public somewhere?

Not yet, and I'm to blame. I've been focusing on a different project recently, which has demanded my full attention. 

Will plan to announce the winners (and make winning entries public, unless authors indicated otherwise) at some point this month.

Are you considering previously posted work or are only new posts between today and the end of March eligible?

As of now, per the EAIF grant, this only applies to new posts (posted between March 11 and April 30). 

But I think one could make a case that people who posted before the contest could be compensated/recognized for their work. And I like that the Creative Writing Contest, for instance, allowed retroactive submissions.

If you have a retroactive submission, feel free to email me at akashwasil133@gmail.com. I can't promise anything right now, but if I get several of these, I could check in with EAIF about awards for previously-posted submissions.

Thanks for raising this, Khorton!

Came across this post today—I assume the bounty has been long-closed by now?

I also just came across this. Will DM the author to reply here.

Do you need a Google Doc or is it okay to just post it directly on the forum?

I'd prefer a Google Doc. (Judges might want to add in-text comments). But if this is a barrier for some reason, a forum post would suffice.

Are we able to post contest entries elsewhere? I'm still on the fence about trying to go after the blog prize, but I figure a reflection post submitted here would be a good post for a blog as well.

Yup! It's fine if you post the entry to a blog, as long it could also be posted or cross-posted on the forum! 

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