Would a transparent idea directory enable refinement of good ideas into great ones, help great ideas find a team, all the while reducing the overall burden of transaction costs associated with considering new ideas?
Ideas are a resource, like money, skills and time. If EA is more talent constrained than funding constrained, and better mechanisms for coordinating EA's are useful, then it may be worth creating the requisite digital and personnel infrastructure to manage ideas.
The basics of a "Transparent Idea Directory":
1- Write up: An idea is submitted as a semi-formal proposal according to a template like that used for the EA Grants applications.
2- Formal Review: Proposals would be reviewed by a committee, probably comprising quantitative skills, deep knowledge of EA principles, and experience converting theory into action such as entrepreneurship. Proposals would be categorized as follows:
I- Ready for implementation. These are extremely well considered ideas that support EA principles and have/will contribute good evidence for effectiveness.
II- Worth refining. These are promising ideas that can be upgraded to type I with more background research, adjustments in strategy, etc.
III- Back to the drawing board. These are well intentioned but miss the mark in an important way, perhaps an over-reliance on intuition or misinformation.
3- Community Review: Proposals would be posted in a venue where the community could not only review the content and comment, but also offer to form part of a team to launch the idea. This could be similar to CoFoundersLab, where the startup community can promote themselves as having a business idea looking for a team, or being a manager of investor looking for a project. For the most promising ideas, the committee could facilitate establishing the best team.
Additional Features: Additional information could be displayed, such as indicating if an idea has a full team that has begun implementation, thereby reducing redundancy. The team could post additional requests about an idea under implementation, such as consultants for specific expertise or small pieces of research. Timelines could show how long an idea has been worked on. Upon completion, reports on success or failure could be attached.
Clearly, establishing a formal review committee and developing an online directory with the features I've laid out would require a lot of work. The committee would likely need to be several people and consume considerable time verifying proposed data and background information. This may be streamlined by having a single person triage proposals, and a committee only required to review the most promising. The proposed website would need to be fairly sophisticated to handle the multiple inputs, and would likely need nearly constant updating. The transparency could stoke intellectual property disputes which may consume time settling such disputes. Fortunately, these problems would only arise if the project was successful, a victim of its own success, thereby warranting the necessary attention.
For individuals, this directory could serve as a portfolio of EA of one's work as an idea person, as a doer, as a funder, etc. For the EA community it could serve as a data pool for researching the common features of effective ideas, showcasing past successes and learning from failures.
Too many ideas and not enough doers increases the likelihood that doers will settle on weak ideas. Put another way, new ideas present transaction costs to doers, and more new ideas are not necessarily better if the number of doers is saturated, they only gum up the works. In this scenario, it makes sense to invoke the expectation that if you think you have a great idea, start doing it (on a super small scale akin to The Lean Startup). If results are favorable, then it's probably worth a high-impact doer's attention to determine if it's ready for prime time.
This fits with the natural expectation that the person responsible for the idea should also be responsible for executing it, and "idea people" often do execute their own vision. However, this expectation sets up an unfortunate asymmetry, where idea people are considered a waste if they don't also execute their ideas. They get criticized for lacking dedication or follow through, and there is unspoken sense that it would be better that an idea without follow through was never voiced in the first place (ie- transaction costs). In the end, idea people can get discouraged (!) from coming up with ideas at all.
This thinking makes sense in a capitalist society, but is unfounded in a community that is trying to maximize good (EA is essentially dedicated to figuring out which ideas are the best and then working only on them). Furthermore, the character traits that tend to produce good ideas (ie- creative dreamers) are not the traits that tend to produce results (ie- hard work and skepticism). A transparent idea directory could break this, enabling idea people to focus on developing good ideas, helping the best ideas to float to the top, and then connecting more good ideas with doers.
Finally, the main goal of a transparent idea directory is to reduce the unavoidable transaction costs of new ideas. The investment needed to maximize idea management may ultimately reduce the transaction costs that are currently distributed across the community.