EA Germany is growing. More local groups, more community builders (CBs), more topic groups, and more donations. Since May 2021, EA Germany has had one full-time CB. A handful of part-time roles have followed since and ~2-4 full-time roles will follow soon. This post will present and interpret data collected from interviews with local and university group organizers in Germany between December 2021 and March 2022.
What is the German EA landscape like?
EA Germany (formerly NEAD, Network Effective Altruism Germany) is a democratically-organized association (German: Verein) in which the > 60 members can vote on the board and important strategic decisions. It has been growing in size and reach, becoming more present as the main organization for EA in Germany.
Compared to the US and UK, talent and ambition is more distributed across Germany and not focused on a few universities. An EA hub might rather form in bigger cities, like Berlin, Munich, Hamburg. In the following, we are mainly talking about local groups, which of course doesn’t capture the whole German EA community.
The Local Groups - Impressions and Data
We gathered our data by surveying and interviewing local group organizers (usually one call per group) in winter 2021/22, so we don’t expect it to be accurate anymore. In particular, we think that there has been a significant amount of growth, partly due to less covid restrictions and partly due to better support for local groups through calls and retreats.
There are about 25 local groups in Germany. Four of them are big groups with more than 10 people at regular meetups: Aachen, Berlin, München, Tübingen. We will give a short description of these larger groups further down. The other groups have about 3-10 people at normal meetups, varying from group to group as well as over time within the same group.
A bit less than half the groups have weekly meetups (~10), the others (~13) have biweekly, monthly or irregular meetups. For some groups we don’t have data for this.
Mixture of students and professionals
There are about as many student groups as groups that are a mixture of students and professionals, a few groups (3) are mostly professionals or PhDs. Those groups that mostly consist of students are open to professionals as well. Our impression is that that is different to what local groups in the UK or US are like, where groups are more often exclusively student groups and closer connected to the university.
Goals of the local groups
The groups usually don’t pursue just one goal at a time but several and every group has a somewhat different profile or choice of goals.
We think the first five are the core functions of local groups and are happy that many groups are prioritizing them. However, we think that career advice is very valuable and would like to see more groups focusing on that.
We think spreading the ideas of EA to non-members on a big scale, i.e. towards mass media, isn’t a usual responsibility of a local group and see this reflected in the response of the groups. However, if someone feels motivated to do something like this (e. g. a talk about AI Safety) or a group is looking for a project, this can be very valuable.
Similarly with donation advice: Effektiv Spenden concentrates on donation advice in Germany and it is therefore not a focus of student or relatively young groups.
Furthermore, we would especially like to see group members do more small research projects or other kinds of working groups, as Richard Ngo proposed at the end of this post. Something along these lines is already being done by an interregional group, who have collaborated to write many forum posts, including one on EA megaprojects.
The most used media for internal communication is Telegram (used by 7 groups) followed by Signal, WhatsApp and Slack (4 each), and one group used Mattermost as an alternative to Slack. Note that while we don’t have data on all groups, some groups use more than one channel.
Few groups (3) have fully-fledged strategy documents, some (5) have rough ideas written down about their strategy. However, many groups don’t have an explicit strategy, and given that most of them are small and/or their organizers have little time, we didn’t usually recommend that they should spend a lot of time on formulating one.
When asking the groups about their bottlenecks in CB, most gave several answers. The most common are the organizational capacities of the organizers (12) since they are all volunteers, and the succession in organizing and member inclusion or activation (11). Outreach, cross-regional networking, and infrastructure (finding rooms for meetups, how to get funding), were each mentioned seven times while the diversity or heterogeneity of the group regarding for example gender or occupation was mentioned three times.
Forms of outreach
Most groups have some form of online presence, like a Facebook group, in varying degrees of activeness. (Facebook is not really used anymore by young people in Germany.) More than half the groups (at least 13) had already done or were planning on doing Intro Talks in that academic year, and at least 10 groups have done some outreach at a University, usually at an event like a freshers fair or equivalent. Other forms of outreach used by some groups include:
- advertising for events or for the group in newsletters from uni departments or other external organizations (~7)
- giving content talks to specific EA-related topics and inviting interested people to these (~5)
- and physical advertising like flyers, posters or stickers (~4).
There are also a couple of groups (~4-10) doing mostly passive outreach, sometimes because the group is already quite big and people find their way though friends or the EA Hub anyways and sometimes because there is just not enough organizational capacity for it.
Learnings from the pandemic
Half of the groups reported a neutral, the other half a slight or strong negative impact of the pandemic. Many groups want to keep some online formats, like reading groups and alternating online and offline meetups or offering hybrid participation. While some groups want to cooperate with others to offer invited talks that can reach a wider audience than in person events, others prefer to highlight already existing online events or participate together with their group, i. e. public-viewing of EA Global talks.
A typical German local group may have one or two organizers who host a weekly discussion meetup and sometimes socials. 6-8 people attend a regular meetup and are mostly (but not exclusively) students. There is some connection to the local university and the group might organize an intro talk once or twice a year. While many groups vary in some of these characteristics, we want to introduce you to four bigger groups in a bit more detail:
While the Aachen group has recently been less connected with the German-wide community, they offer a lot of different regular meetups (discussions, socials, reading group, productivity group and more). Additionally, they twice organized a semester-long university course about Effective Altruism with international EA-speakers for 50-100 students as part of an existing format for an interdisciplinary lecture series.
Berlin is the city with by far the most EA community members, but doesn’t have regular official meetups. There is usually a monthly social plus irregular events hosted by members of the community (who don’t see themselves as organizers of EA Berlin). However, there is the TEAMWORK coworking space that acts as a hub for about ~20-30 community members who are mostly professional. Furthermore, there are a couple of EA flatshares, and possibly soon there will be the Berlin Hub as well.
EA Munich has a relatively large orga group of 5-7 people without clearly defined roles who bring their own experience to focus on i. e. student outreach, organizing talks etc. They organize biweekly events with fairly high attendance (up to ~40 people in some occasions), have a high participation in the Germany-wide EA Intro Fellowships, and are the only local group with high general funding for the current year.
EA Tübingen has a core organizing team of three with a couple more people generally involved in organizing. They are mostly students plus a couple of PhDs and professionals. The group hosts weekly meetups with 15-20 participants, usually talks or discussions additionally to irregular socials. This semester they had a big outreach program (50 people at their intro talk) and are planning a retreat for the end of the semester.
Additionally to the local groups there are non-local topic groups, some examples are:
- EA and Politics: Telegram networking group that sometimes has online discussions
- High Impact Medicine Germany: growing network for connecting medical students and professionals interested in EA
- EA MaPhy: Slack channel for people with maths and physics background, regular online talks and discussions (this is an international group but has somewhat grown from outside the German community, which is why we mention it here)
- The Effective Altruism and Consulting Network (EACN) is a professional group that focuses on installing workplace groups in all major consulting firms. They are offering career advice to students and professionals as well as influencing donations, employers and clients.
Changes to come in the near future
There are a lot of exciting processes happening at the moment! Most prominently, EA Germany is currently in the later stages of hiring a new director team as well as a project manager and there is potential for more growth in the next year. We see more retreats, fellowships and events than even half a year ago and are happy about that. We think there’s still potential for a lot more events, outreach and action in many local groups and we hope this can be realized in the future. We’re optimistic that EAGxBerlin and the following CB retreat will have a positive impact on the local groups and help them grow.
We want to thank everyone who helped us with this post. This includes the group organizers who told us about their experiences, other CBs who shared their thoughts, Christiane Ranke helping us with the analysis of the data, and everyone who gave us feedback.