Request for Feedback: Draft of a COI policy for the Long Term Future Fund

by Habryka 4 min read5th Feb 202060 comments

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The document below is a first draft of a COI policy for the Long Term Future Fund. I drafted this a few weeks ago with some people from CEA and the other fund members, but overall am not very attached to anything in this document. I am very curious about ideas other people have about improving the policy, getting feedback about which parts are unclear, as well as getting high-level feedback on whether the whole frame of this policy is even a good idea.

LTFF Conflict of Interest Policy

This document is the first draft of a supplemental conflict of interest (COI) policy for the Long-Term Future Fund (LTFF). It serves as a supplement to the CEA fund-general COI policy, which deals with a narrower class of conflicts of interest, in particular the cases where the fund member has a direct financial or professional relationship to the grantee. This document tries to be more restrictive and cover a larger variety of potential conflicts of interest. We expect to revise this first draft over time in response to feedback from donors and others.

This supplement policy distinguishes between three different types of conflicts of interest:

  • Conflicts that must be disclosed to the other fund members
  • Conflicts that have to be publicly documented when the fund recommends a grant
  • Conflicts that prevent a grant from being made, or force a fund member to recuse themselves from casting a vote on the grant (recusals and the associated COIs are not generally made public)

Due to the nature of the domain in which we are working, we expect to make a significant fraction of our grants to individuals or organizations we have a past relationship with. As such, we decided that relatively few conflicts should prevent a grant from being made, or should cause a fund member to completely recuse themselves. However, partially in order to compensate for that, we aim to be very open with our existing conflicts and err on the side of making all relevant conflicts known when we recommend a grant.

What follows is a list of situations in which a fund member should definitely disclose a conflict of interest, followed by a list of examples that tries to provide a more extensional definition of our conflict of interest policy.

Situations in which fund members should definitely disclose a COI:

  • A fund member has an ongoing romantic and/or sexual relationship with a potential grantee, or was in such a relationship that ended less than a year ago
    • This is sufficient cause for recusal of a fund member
  • A fund member has a close family relationship with a potential grantee
    • This is sufficient cause for recusal of a fund member
  • A fund member had some substantial past romantic and/or sexual relationship with a potential grantee that ended more than a year ago, or is a metamour of an applicant in an ongoing relationship
    • A sensible guideline for "substantial" might be something like “went on more than three dates” or “lasted longer than two weeks”
    • This is not sufficient cause for recusal, but should be made public when the fund member decides to not recuse themselves and the grant is made
  • A fund member is a room-mate or a house-mate with a potential grantee, or otherwise shares some close living arrangement
    • This is not sufficient cause for recusal, but should be made public in cases where the fund member decides to not recuse themselves and the grant is made
  • A very close friend or partner of a fund member is employed, receiving funds from, or has some kind of other directly dependent relationship to the potential grantee
    • This is not sufficient cause for recusal, but should be made public in cases where the fund member decides to not recuse themselves and the grant is made

Some examples of situations in which a fund member has to disclose a COI, and some situation in which they do not (though they are generally still encouraged to do so, if it seems at all relevant to the decision):

  • Not necessary to disclose or recuse: A fund member is friends with a grantee, but does not share a living arrangement and is not in any way romantically involved.
  • Sufficient for disclosure but not recusal: A fund member is close friends with a grantee, spending a considerable amount of high-engagement time together (something like, an average of ~4h a month in the last year, 1-on-1 or in small group settings), or having some past or ongoing collaboration on some significant project (significant project being something like a project with at least $10,000 in financial stakes, or more than 50h of time investment)
  • Sufficient for disclosure but not recusal: A fund member is evaluating a potential grantee for some unrelated job position or grant

Addendum: Additional factors to take into consideration for COIs

Here are some additional factors that should make a fund member more likely to disclose information about their relationship with the potential grantee. These are not binding, due to their inherent ambiguity, but serve as guidelines for fund members to decide for themselves whether they should disclose something:

  • There is a particularly large power imbalance between the grantee and the fund member that has a potential COI, such as the grantee being in a relatively dire financial situation, or being very early on in their career, or the applicant being themselves a potential supporter or donor to a project that the fund member is working on
  • The fund member has some history of conflict with the relevant person that might cloud their judgement in a grant-relevant way, which includes extensive interactions on social media and other online communities
  • The potential grantee is perceived by the fund member to be part of some group they’ve historically been in conflict with, or that has pursued opposing political goals
    • The fund member is a member of the republican party and the applicant is a vocal member of the democratic party.
    • The applicant is working at an organization that is in some competition with some project that the fund member is working on, or that they have an interest in
      • For-profit example: The fund member is building a forecasting platform, and the applicant is working on a platform that competes for the same user-base
      • Non-profit example: An organization that is closely associated with the fund member is competing for donations with an organization that the applicant is working at
  • The fund member has shared particularly intense experiences with the applicant, like intensive workshops or retreats (e.g. week-long silent meditation retreat, CFAR workshops), or the consumption of drugs above a threshold common in casual environments.
  • The fund member has received a major favor from, or otherwise feels indebted to the applicant. For example, the applicant might have provided critical emotional support at a time of struggle for a fund member, or has in the past given a major donation to an organization the fund member was associated with.
  • More generally, if a fund member has strong positive or negative feelings that on-reflection are unrelated to the work of the applicant, or if for some reason or another a fund member expects to find it unusually emotionally difficult to turn down a grant.

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