Better governance would not necessarily have prevented prominent scandals in EA. However, stronger accountability and governance mechanisms would almost certainly have mitigated them, and possibly even prevented them entirely.
Governance standards are generally quite poor in EA. If you audited EA organisations using a checklist of things like whistleblowing protections, managing conflicts of interest, Board function and Board composition, I think most Boards would be 'amber' or 'red' against wider governance norms. This unnecessarily increases the risk of future scandals. Unless this is reformed, we should expect more scandals that hurt people, organisations and the community, and which prevent us achieving the goals of the EA community.
One of the easiest fixes here is Board composition. You want a Board that has:
- enough members that it can continue to function well if ~2 people are unavailable for some reason (therefore 6-8 people, given that some members may be conflicted on some issues)
- at least some people with relevant expertise, particularly the ability to interpret internal financial reports; to manage, assess and hold accountable the CEO; and to create strong governance processes
- a mixture of inside and outside views of the organisation (and the EA community) to reduce blind spots
These things are much less likely to be achieved if the recruitment process for Boards is entirely done via personal networks and direct, unconditional invitations to join the Board. This approach is especially likely to fail tests two and three.
Accordingly, I think it's really important that there have been at least three open calls for trustee recruitment this year. Rethink Priorities led the way in January, and One for the World (my organisation) and EVF are conducting open searches at the moment. This is a significant positive step and should become a norm.
It can also be really inspiring. In our latest round, we had more than 20 people who met our bar for 'would be a values-aligned, valuable Board member'. Also, some of them were so impressive that we wouldn't have approached them directly, believing that they would be unlikely to accept.
Epistemic status: reasonably high. There are well-established governance norms based on more than a century of real-world experience; it seems highly unlikely that EA is exempt from these.