We are two community members based /previously based in Berkeley, who helped with parts of 'Summer in the Bay' and conducted the outcomes research to see what impact the push to get EA's to the Bay for the summer had. Note that this is a relatively quick high-level summary of the feedback from Visiting the Bay and the related interviews.

Who this advice is for?

This post came out of doing outcomes research on the 'Visiting the Bay' push to get EA's to spend time in the Bay area over Summer 2022. There were both formal internships and programmes (ex. the communications fellowship) from EA organisations in the area, but also general community support for anyone interested in spending time with the EA community in the Bay. This post is based on reflections helping organise in the Bay community and what we learned from the outcomes research. We wanted to post this as general advice of things to consider for anyone considering doing community organising in EA hubs, such as hosting in-person internships and fellowships or other events where people come for semi-extended periods of time. For example, this is advice for someone who wants to run 'summer in the Bay' 2023. 

TLDR

Getting a bunch of EA's (at various levels of involvement) together for an extended period of time is really valuable. It helps with deepening engagement in the EA community, making professional connections, learning and working on EA-related ideas and projects, friends, motivation, and more. There are serious considerations to be made around what we classify as a) community health and (for lack of better word) vibes, b) setting expectations and clear communication around community infrastructure and organisation, and c) defining professional vs. personal goals. 

On value

It was worth it:
a) improved connectedness to EA community (for most people made them feel more apart of the community and was a positive experience) 

b) significant professional connections (particularly for those interested in AI safety/x-risks)

How likely is it that you'd recommend someone in a similar situation come to the Bay Area for a summer? Average 7.85/10

  • Those that came for  a  “formal internship / job / programme” = 7.85/10
  • Those that came “to work independently / self-study / experience the Bay Area Community” = 8/10 

Most valuable part was 

  • Getting connected to community (socially)
  • Making (professional) connections 

∼ 5/53 survey respondents thought their visit was not worth it[1]

Key Takeaways and Areas for Improvement 

There was a lot of reactive community infrastructure set up out of need. A focus on transparency around community support and expectation setting is needed.

After the initial invite for people to consider coming to the Bay, less attention went into preparing community infrastructure than many 'attendees' expected. As a result, there was a lot of reactive, late stage attempts (ex. on group housing, Bay area guides, etc.) I think this placed a big burden on some organisers (and put a lot of pressure to be ‘community leads’). Setting expectations around community infrastructure and what's 'provided' should be done going forward. 

Particularly, what is being provided? Ex. housing support, co-working spaces - many people expected this and were upset when it didn’t exist. We don’t think it absolutely needs to be provided for all, but setting expectations and clearly communicating them is important.

Some people came thinking there was a whole Bay community super apparent and it’s more hidden / hard to navigate than realized. It’s particularly hard for those a) not in a group house, b) not working out of Constellation or Lightcone (shared offices), and c) those not working at EA orgs. 

Suggestions: Guides to X location (ex. EA guide to the Bay), a codified way of co-working with EAs of a similar seniority level, a welcome handbook, initial introduction to key organisers / people, master schedule of upcoming Bay area events, open/accessible coworking hub, reading/discussion groups 

It was extremely positive that the Bay push happened when an EAG happened. Hosting large events when lots of people are already nearby is good. 

I think that hosting the satellite EAG events was really positive and had significant impact. Same with the Longtermist organisers summit.  

Suggestions: people should organise more large events in cities with lots of EAs. Community organisers' can capitalise on that by hosting satellite events. 

Berkeley isn’t the right fit for everyone. The same is true for being around an in-person EA community more generally. 

The Berkeley EA community is more unique than other EA hubs (ex. heavily longtermist/x-risk focused, lots of overlap with the Rationality community) and isn't necessarily the right fit for everyone, particularly people who are less interested in x-risk related causes and organisations and people who are newer to the EA community. There's a lot of 'senior' EA's and office spaces are not open to everyone. If you’re too new to EA, you likely won’t be able to access people / resources. For many, it can be an intense community and culture. 

Hence, we're pretty uncertain at what level of EA involvement people should come to a ‘summer community’. We think it’s better suited for people at an EAG level than before (80% confident) because there’s a lot of self navigation around the community. 

Suggestions: unsure on this, but inviting people via a formal programme (ex. for an organisation as opposed to for self-study) as a way to a) make sure everyone is aware of whose visiting so they can have a good experience (ex. get invited to events, get added to Slack's, etc) and b) help ensure that everyone involved aligns on a shared vision of what the project's goals are and who they are for

Community health / norms need to be addressed and considered. 

Ex. People want socials / some way to balance out social vs professional sides of EA. At the same time, the EA community in the Bay is also a professional one. It's unclear what is the appropriate way to balance maintaining professional vs personal vs social relationships in a small community. For example, it's hard to figure out should parties be advertised on a work slack, what the implications are when people's professional and social lives mix (ex. seeing a potential candidate at an EA event). Even if EA organisations / CEA / organisers try to separate out the social / parties from professional, it doesn’t work. As demonstrated by multiple people thinking CEA sponsored afterparties (note: they didn't) at EAG SF and EAGxBerkeley. People are still likely to link the two in their head, so community health does need to be addressed

Suggestions: Talk to CEA's Community Health team in advance to make a plan, consider appointing a community health contact (or a local form), discuss concerns among the community and work towards supporting a safe and inclusive community 

There were pretty large difference for those that came with a formal programme and those that didn’t 

Those that came without a job or to self-study expected more community infrastructure (ex. reading groups, lunch and learns, etc). There just wasn't enough capacity to put those together. We think either setting clear expectations or providing more infrastructure (ex. community contacts, welcome team, co-working spaces, lunches, socials, etc) is important.

One piece of key feedback was that gatekeeping / power dynamics were not apparent early on, but ended up being very important. Many reported 

  • Two social / perceived value tiers - who had Constellation / LC access and those who didn’t
  • Similarly - who was working / interning at an EA org and who wasn’t 

Suggestions: consider open to all co-working hub, open houses by local organisations, only hosting people via organisations so that everyone has equal resources and access,  etc[2]

A lot goes into organising community hubs: here's some things we hope you consider. 

Here's a long (but not exhaustive) list of things that came up related to setting up in-person hubs that you could and should consider .

  • Funding - are you giving grants, are people paying, how can you work to make things clear and transparent and manage expectations?
  • Housing - does the location have good, affordable, and accessible housing? is the area pretty spread out? are you going to try to organise group houses? are there legal requirements that you are aware of?  do you have a community or adverse event plan in case something happens? are you going to make group house locations public? will you help people find housing? 
  • Co-working spaces - are you going to rent a shared office? will people pay? are there other offices? can everyone access them? who is going to decide who has access to what? 
  • Social events - do you want to make this a social community? who are the community builders / key organisers? are they getting paid, overworked? do group houses want to host events? are you doing things legally? do you have funding or are people expected to pay? what happens if someone is owed money, who is responsible? do you have a community health plan in place? how are you going to make sure everyone is invited (if everyone is)? have you thought about status and culture with the intersection of professional and social circles? are you going to throw parties? serve alcohol, if so do you have a plan for minors?
  • Professional events / projects - how are people going to network? do you want to organise professional events (ex. conferences to co-founder pairing sessions)? how can you support people reaching their professional goals? how are you going to help channel people coming to a location wanting to work on ambitious projects actually working on ambitious projects?
  • Community health and norms - where do people report things to? what community health mechanisms do you have in place? have you thought about how different identity groups might experience the event differently? do you have a plan to support and uplift specific groups of people? have you thought about power dynamics / potential gatekeeping? 
  • Impacts on current community - how will this impact the people that live there year round? will it be disruptive? what are the costs to this? how do organisations that work in the area feel about growing the size of the hub? 
  • Misc - do you have enough organisers? how are you going to measure impact? what are the goals? is it open to all or invite only? how does this prohibit / limit people who can't come to a location for X amount of time from accessing career / professional opportunities? what are the opportunity costs?

We want to reiterate that it seems 'Summer in the Bay' was incredibly valuable for most. It also raised follow up questions on the value of in-person hubs as a model of community building. As we get to the next summer, we want to make this public as advice for future hub pushes, internships, and more.  There are many people interested in helping community events go well. If you're ever in need of help, reach out :) 

  1. ^

    Key reasons why it wasn't were: some people were based on other hubs so it wasn't much of an added benefit, people didn't like the Bay EA / Rationalist culture, had negative mental health effects, lost access to regular support system / community

  2. ^

    This definitely has a tradeoff - it requires someone organising something, perhaps a location doesn't have the capacity, so then fewer people are able to come, which might be less impactful. 

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