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Effective altruism (EA) is undergoing a turbulent period of change with simultaneous shortcomings including but not limited to the collapse of FTX. These failings have coincided with and prompted an immense number of criticisms of the EA community and counterarguments with counter-proposals. The current structure of the EA community is widely debated, and EA is on the verge of becoming much larger in order to have a greater impact. This could both potentially further change its structure as well as increase the importance of EA. This makes solving the governance of EA a critical and pressing issue.

The Challenge

A Question with No Answer

EA is an open question. No one person or group knows the best way to organize a set of people to seek answers to that question. Admitting ignorance is the first step the EA community could take on a journey to form a radically better community. It is impossible for a community to learn and self improve without first recognizing its existing structure can be flawed and could benefit from improvement. 

A Community with No Members

The EA community is also not well defined. Is it anyone trying to look for answers to the open question EA asks? Is it the people on this forum? The people working at EA institutions? No one can definitively say.

What cannot be defined cannot easily be changed. It is possible the lack of a distinct identity for the community could be beneficial, even a radically improved approach to governance. However, it is also worth noting that without action to shape the EA community, it will probably tend to fall along the lines of existing incentive structures and institutions. The negative and positive effects of those structures should be considered as EA tries to think about answering its question.


The way the EA community exists right now will shape how EA, or its successor(s) (which hopefully would be the kind that successfully avoided incorrect moral lock-in) without a doubt. So will the world around EA, where it and its members come from. This very likely cannot be changed, but could be worth acknowledging and attempting to overcome while working on the open question of governance.

Many Paths to a Better World

EA has been presented with a challenge, but all challenges hide an opportunity. The way EA chooses to reshape itself in the coming months and years could have a vast positive impact on the future well-being of all intelligent life, in the near or long term.

If EA accepts that the governance of EA remains an open question, like EA itself, then the path could be one of discovery, not conflict. Comparing and contrasting different forms of governance is difficult, and running empirical tests carry associated risks of failure. It will likely take an enormous amount of willpower, know-how, and epistemic humility to achieve better governance of EA, but if it succeeds, the positive impact could be enormous.

Solve Governance, then use Governance to Solve Everything Else

One potential way to begin answering the question of EA governance is to ask more questions. How could quadratic voting reshape charitable giving? Should local EA groups defer to the expertise of philosophers with academic backgrounds on tough moral questions? Can a member of the effective altruism community be defined, and should they be?

If EA can admit to not yet knowing the answers to these questions, one day it might govern itself far better than it currently can, and a well governed EA could be far better at solving the core question of EA itself.




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Dear John, 

I have this post that more or less make the point that  there is still not much to govern to over focus in governance:


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