University EA Groups Should Form Regional Groups

by akrivka17 min read5th Sep 202119 comments

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I think university EA groups should form regional groups because it will make

  • applying for funding,
  • distributing mentorship,
  • disseminating and preserving knowledge,
  • running local events,
  • and starting new groups

easier and more effective.

In this post, I first try to describe what I see as the problem (most visible in the US/UK region, which I'm most aware of). Then, I describe a solution using a regional model, discuss its aspects and benefits, and offer one real-world example (though there are many). Finally, I try to respond to some possible objections and considerations and come up with some action points.

Regional coordination in EA is already happening in many regions, and many people have been recently thinking or even writing about similar points as in this post. Here, my goal is to explore and expose the infrastructure, so that group organizers and other community builders can have it in mind when making decisions.

 

Abbreviations used:

  • uni group = university EA group,
  • CEA = Center for Effective Altruism,
  • EAIF = EA Infrastructure Fund.

The Problem

Currently, the uni group world looks something like this:

When groups want to get advice or mentorship from CEA, or apply for a grant or funding from EAIF, the situation looks something like this:

I think this is problematic in many ways:

  • It imposes a limit on how many groups can be supported. EAIF is willing to expand its capacities in the short term (as far as I know), but the CEA Groups team has, in my opinion, already reached the limit, as evidenced by their recent strategy to focus on top universities, and give only basic support to the rest (i.e. triage on uni groups).
  • It's daunting to interact with CEA/EAIF directly, especially if you're a new small uni group. What makes it daunting? Just the fact that CEA and EAIF are big and super important organizations — it's weird to ask CEA, the same org that runs huge global EA conferences, for help with an intro presentation, or to ask EAIF, the same fund that gives grants to other mega orgs like 80k or Founders Pledge, for a refund for your 1-on-1 coffee chats. I think this problem is inherent and there's not much CEA/EAIF themselves can do to solve it. I run a uni group and feel this quite strongly.
  • Knowledge preservation is hard to do. When a uni group organizer graduates, they can (a) continue running the group on a CBG, (b) ascend to CEA's Groups team, (c) do something else. Uni group organizers have the most knowledge about the local context of running an EA group, and they should aim to preserve and spread it. Yet, in case (a), knowledge stays mostly within one uni group, in case (b), it meets with other experiences from all over the world, ultimately losing the local context, and in case (c), it gets lost altogether.
  • It's unclear who's responsible for what. If a uni group dies, who's responsible for saving it? If a university doesn't have a uni group and should have, who's responsible for seeding it? Surely CEA can't keep track of all uni groups, including non-existing ones... Another example might be: Running in-person retreats for organizers is robustly good, but who's responsible for running them, all across the world?

The Solution

I suggest uni groups in similar geographical locations form regional groups (alternative names could be geo-groups, meta-groups, uni group clusters, or regional clusters). The situation might then look like this:

This is an example of a hierarchical networked structure, which was discussed in this forum post (What to do with people?) as early as 2019.

In my post, I try to apply this exclusively to university EA groups (not my initial motivation though), despite the fact that hierarchical networked structures can be very useful in other areas of EA as well. I think implementing a hierarchical networked structure in uni groups is quite actionable and a good place to start.

 

I'll now go through several aspects of how exactly regional groups might serve to aid certain processes or work toward some goals. The following sections are in no particular order (i.e. you might find the last one more compelling/important than the first one).

Applying for Funding

Let's assume that every uni group would like to receive some funding upfront for the coming school year/term. Here's how the situation might look like for one regional group:

The process goes from top to bottom (can go the other way too though): the regional group first applies for a grant from the EA Infrastructure Fund with an estimate of how much its groups will spend in the upcoming school year/term. The regional group then distributes the money to the individual uni groups, which at the end of the year/term report their actual expenses and balance out (return some money or get more). Finally, the regional group reports the aggregate realized expenses to EAIF and balances out as well.

I think this is better because:

  • It's much less daunting to apply for funding from a regional group. Uni groups don't even need to know about EAIF, and thus can't be scared away by it. They only need to interact with their regional coordinator/organizer (I'd like to avoid the phrasing of a "supervisor"), who's also likely willing to help groups out how to spend the money the best. They can meet in person, they can be friends, etc.
  • EAIF has an easier job. Instead of interacting with 80+ uni groups, they interact only with 6-8 regional groups. They don't need to be experts in all the world's local context and currencies, they only need to establish trust with the regional groups. This is more of a nice-to-have than a super important consequence. EAIF is quite capable as it is, though I think there might be some unexpected ways in which this is very impactful, e.g. that it allows EAIF to spend much more money from their overhead funding much more quickly...

I understand that I might be wrong in this aspect and that actual grant-makers are better positioned to make the judgment of whether this would make the funding infrastructure better. Maybe the amount of trust between EAIF and regional groups will be unattainable, or maybe the difference in the quality of grant applications will be a problem.

Fortunately, I think this aspect of my proposal is fairly independent of the others, and funding is probably not the biggest bottleneck for having more uni groups right now anyway.

Distributing Mentorship

A similar graph as in the previous section could be drawn for distributing mentorship; at the top, there'd be CEA's Groups team or some similar team, the rest would be the analogical... Here, let me try to portrait a possible dialog between CEA, a regional group, and some uni groups, a community building fiction of sorts:

CEA: Hey regional group, how is it going?

Regional group: Pretty good. Uni group A is large and has extra leadership capacity, so we've allocated some of uni group A's organizers to the smaller groups, uni groups D, E, and F, and it seems to be going well. The mentors are mostly trying to teach whatever's working in uni group A, let us know if you have any guidelines that mentors should follow. We also have a few new high school EA groups in our area, but none of us are up to mentoring them, do you guys maybe have someone who's focused on high school groups that would be willing to supervise these groups remotely? 

Also, a uni group B organizer has created some cool materials for fellowship facilitators, so we've asked them to share and trial them in all our other groups. But we're pretty short on marketing materials, and it seems like something our groups are generally struggling with, do you guys maybe have someone who could help us out? We can help organize a workshop session or something.

CEA: Very cool, that's great! We can definitely connect you with someone focused on high school EA groups! In terms of uni group A, do you think they still have some extra capacity even with helping your own region's groups? Another regional group is very short on mentors, and we thought we'd reach out to you if you'd be able to help (probably online). 

Facilitator materials are great! Let us know after you've tried them for at least one round, and afterward we can consider making your materials more widely available. And yes, we're happy to send over a marketing specialist to do a workshop, but over time it might be a good idea to train your own specialist so that you can make better use of your local specific context.

Regional group: Thank you so much! We'll ask uni group A and also think of other ways we can help the other region out. We'll also start thinking about finding a local marketing specialist, it's definitely a very good idea!

...

Disseminating and Preserving Knowledge

Recently, some groups have started running community building fellowships. I think it's a great concept, and I think the regional group model supports it very well.

Each regional group would run its own community building fellowship. It'd be a hybrid program, with some online sessions, readings and exercises, but also with a vibrant in-person retreat (or more of them). Cohort size could vary, from small (5-10 people) to large-but-not-too-large (20-40 people).

There could also be a worldwide meta community building fellowship (for the lack of a better name) for community building fellowship instructors. Participants would share insights from their regions. It could be less structured, and more of a conference or a general assembly of uni group community builders. It could also be a space for CEA or someone else to establish an idea or concept top-down, e.g. if CEA wants uni groups to start using a unified visual style in their graphics, they can first teach the CB fellowship instructors how to use it, which can then run a class on it in their CB fellowships.

Aside from CB fellowships, regional groups could keep a central directory of

  • program syllabi, advertising materials, event ideas, ...,
  • venues for in-person events, services for printing advertising materials (T-shirts, banners, etc.), ...,
  • explicitly EA-aligned professors or other interesting people physically person in the area,
  • ..., ..., ... really lots of things.

Starting New Groups

Most students go through university without ever even hearing about effective altruism (someone told me a specific number recently, I don't remember it exactly, it was maybe like 99%?). It seems to me that there's a lot of untapped potential; most of the famous, highly engaged EAs or researchers didn't go to a top uni (not totally sure, but seems right)! So I think starting loads of new groups can be quite impactful, perhaps much more than making current uni groups marginally better...

Regional groups are well positioned to seed new groups:

  • They could send a team to do an intro presentation on campus (or just ask someone from a nearby university to do it), and/or run an intro program, to find an initial organizing team. This was already kind of done by Yale EA, seeding Georgetown EA.
  • When the school year of one university starts later than another's, organizers from the first university could go live at the second university for a few days or weeks, to help the second group with preparations. This was already kind of done by Stanford EA, having sent their organizers to many unis all across the US for the first few weeks of September 2021.
  • Regional groups could keep a small budget to angel invest in small groups or people (related to "Applying for Funding), i.e. give out money no questions asked.

Running Local Events

Regional groups could organize in-person retreats for uni group organizers (or other EAs too) in their regions. They could also organize bigger events: conferences for aligned professors in the area, cause area conferences, rationality workshops, EA Global Xs, or even EA Globals.

Regional groups could create and nourish a strong team with more executive power. If successful, such a regional group could grow into a bigger national/state/city group with more professional organizers.

Caveats

I'm not sure what the ideal size of a regional group is (my best guess is 3-7 uni groups), but I'm sure that if there's a point at which it's hard for the group to coordinate itself, it's best it splits.

Real-world Examples

I'm fairly confident that anyone reading this post can come up with a few real-world examples of a similar hierarchical/regional model (companies, organizations, networks, ...).

Czech Scout Organisation

One specific example I'm particularly familiar with is the Czech Scout Organisation, where I've spent my childhood growing up and the past 4-5 years organizing/leading. Czech Scout is the largest educational organization in the nation (Czechia's population is about 11 million) — it has more than 60,000 engaged members organized in roughly 2,000 troops. It uses a similar regional model...

I asked my troop leader what the most important reason for why the system works so well is, and he said: "The fact that as the smallest unit, the troop, you don't need to do almost any administration. You just report everything to your local regiment, and they take care of the rest." (He had in mind things like finances, member subscriptions, club-room improvements, places for summer camps, ...)

The head of the organization has only 7 paid employees, each regiment has only 3-5 coordinators, and troops vary in size from 2 to 15 leadership members. Let me restate this another way: an organization serving 60,000 engaged members is run by 7 paid employees and the rest are volunteers.

There are many other possible similarities between Scout and EA I could draw (e.g. community building fellowships, know-how preservation, conferences and general assemblies, values and maxims, ...), but I'm not going to into them here.

These case studies are super interesting and if you also have one, please share it in the comments (e.g. one big example would be Teach for America, which some people have already explored here on the forum a little bit).

What could also be interesting is looking for real-world examples of the current model/situation in university EA groups. I personally can't come up with any, but I'm probably be biased/blindfolded... If you have some examples, or arguments why EA shouldn't follow any established models, please share too.

Possible Objections and Other Considerations

Why Cluster by Geography?

A common reaction to regional models is something along the lines "Geography is arbitrary, X is not.", where X could be size, focus, age, ...

I can definitely see the appeal of not relying on geography too much. Having a global network in which you can connect nodes across the world, and allowing people to switch places easily, is definitely great.

But frankly, I see geography as the least problematic way of clustering uni groups, and I think the abundance of regional models in other similar human structures shows for it.

Fortunately, I think it's possible to have overlapping infrastructures. For sure it'd be great for the very largest groups (currently Stanford, Oxford/Cambridge, PISE, ...) to be connected and exchange experiences about running larger projects... But this can totally happen on top of a regional model! I think a large uni group should be quite capable of being actively involved in their regional group, as well as interact with other entities such as other large uni groups.

The Problem Is in Getting People

This is by far the most common response I got on drafts of this post. The claim is that we first "need the people to run the regional groups" or perhaps even before that "more people doing full-time community building" (direct quotes of some comments).

Firstly, I think finding people is not that hard. There is a semi-regular supply of graduating uni group organizers, all of which are a great fit for the role of a regional coordinator. I don't think there are big downsides due to founder's effects, there's a quick feedback loop on how well the coordinator is doing, and anyone can step up at any time to take up some of the responsibilities.

Secondly, and much more importantly, I think most of the benefit comes from having the basic infrastructure in place (!!!). This is the place where I expect people to most disagree with me...

I think it's totally possible to run a regional group without any main coordinator. A regional group is (at least initially) more about its member uni groups and less about itself. If each uni group has a regional group representative who spends like 20% of their community building time running the regional group (coordinating regular calls, talking to new groups, organizing in-person events, ...), I think the regional group can totally sustain itself. As an example of a minimal model which can still be impactful, the West Coast and UK organizers have started group chats (these are just the ones I know of, there are certainly more) — no one is running the group chats, yet they're already helpful (to varying degrees, to be fair).

Top-down vs. Bottom-up

Should this be a bottom-up grassroots effort or a top-down executive decision?

I'd say it should be bottom-up, but I'm open to arguments the other way. My main argument is that a top-down solution would take a long to come through, and the folks on the ground are much better positioned to create regional groups that actually support them in organizing.

That being said, I think it'd still probably be a net positive if there was a top-down solution running simultaneously. I'd be very happy if someone from CEA reads this post, evaluates it critically against CEA's current plans (that in my opinion do not effectively avoid the issues I outlined in the section "The Problem"), and makes a push for a change of CEA's uni group strategy.

Interfacing With City/National Groups

It's natural to ask what should be the role of regional groups in relation to city/national groups, or if perhaps they should be the same thing?

I definitely think they shouldn't be the same thing, at least not initially. Perhaps a better name than "regional group" is uni group cluster or regional cluster (RC?).

City/national groups are often run by adult, professional people, who don't know enough about what it means to run a uni group. The activities of city/national groups and regional/uni groups can definitely overlap (e.g. running conferences or retreats), but I think it's beneficial to separate the student and work worlds...

But again, it'd still probably be a net positive if city/national groups decide to more actively support uni groups in their area.

What Should Be Done

The aspects and goals I outlined in the section "The Solution" are not equal in importance and tractability, and it'd probably be very hard to implement all of them at once. Fortunately, I think they're fairly plug-and-play, and, as mentioned, most of the benefit comes from just having the basic infrastructure in place.

To that end, I think the most important action point right now is for uni groups in similar locations to seriously discuss the possibility of forming a regional group. Further action points: if you're a graduating uni group organizer, consider the role of regional coordinator; if you're CEA, evaluate this model critically against the current one.

In terms of what should be the first thing that regional groups do, I think starting group chats or a Slack server, and scheduling regular (bi)weekly calls is a great first step. As long as people are compelled by the regional model, I think everything else will follow from there.

Technical Side Note

I sometimes like to jump several steps ahead and imagine what sort of digital manifestation would a regional group have. I think having something like a simple public Notion page with announcements, regular call times, resources, contacts, etc. would be great. Later on, regional groups could agree on certain data collection schemas and automate their processes and member tracking using something like Airtable. More thoughts on this appreciated.

Contact

I'm very keen to discuss ideas in this post with people, here's my email address: krivka.adam@gmail.com, and here's my Calendly: https://calendly.com/krivka-adam/60min.

Also, this was my first EA Forum post! Please, don't be too harsh on me, but I'd also welcome feedback on language, structure, tone, etc. :-)

 

I'd like to thank Jack Ryan, Jessica McCurdy, Miriam Huerta, Emma Abele, James Aung, Dewi Erwan, Bella Foristal, and Mark Xu for comments on initial drafts of this, Danny Navratil (my scout leader) for our discussion, and Jan Kulveit for another discussion on infrastructure constraints in EA.

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I think this idea makes sense and more coordination is good, especially for CB efforts. I think e.g. more formal coordination in the US (e.g. East Coast universities) would bring a lot of the benefits you outlined. Outside of the US I think Manuel's national org providing support model will likely make more sense, because national orgs are already fairly stable and for the other reasons he mentioned. 

I think the main reason this won't happen in practice (although I'd love to be wrong!) is:

  • Resources / Funding
    • This doesn't appear to be a priority for CEA's CB program. Their model is to have local groups, and then provide mentorship / support directly to their target groups or peer-to-peer via CB grantee-only channels or retreats
    • I'd (weakly) expect EAIF may have a high bar for funding this since it's a (somewhat) new model . I'd guess they would have a high bar for funding (e.g. the use case being really strong - e.g. supporting a region with a lot of groups or a team with a fairly strong track record). However, this coud be totally wrong and it would definitely be worth applying for funding and seeing what would happen.
  • Talent
    • RE: "Firstly, I think finding people is not that hard."
      • +1 to "it's hard to get people" :
      • I think CB as a career path is not a very stable / predictable path right now (although that will hopefully improve with time)
      • I think it's difficult to find people who are interested in coordination alone vs other CB activities
    • Also : "and anyone can step up at any time to take up some of the responsibilities."
      • From my experience this is not the case. Doing handovers, especially for new/small projects is not that simple.
      • Especially if the work is unpaid, but even if paid.
    • RE: "I think it's totally possible to run a regional group without any main coordinator."
      • I disagree .
      • I think you may be a little too optimistic about people's interest in / willingness to do coordination work (although I wish we were all operations nerds, that simply isn't the case).
      • It could be fairly inefficient to have a lot of people split time over this, from a logistical perspective (e.g.  it's easy to waste a lot of time coordinating coordination activities, if that makes sense). I think a better model would be to have a few dedicated people who can do the coordination really well.  Perhaps 1-2 people spending >50% of their time on this.
      • I think it's plausible that people might end up wasting time if the region is not sufficiently large enough to support more formal activities, and would rather see individuals experimenting with smaller things (e.g. see my 80/20 comment)
      • For all the above reasons, I'd expect funders to be more hesitant to see several organizers splitting time over 1 regional group
      • If you lack proper funding or a formal accountability structure you risk the regional group dying out or being less active

Meta-level side-comment: I like that you have diagrams & the overall structure of the post. I would say most of my points below come from pragmatic issues that may not be easy to know when you're just starting (I think if I'd written a post about infrastructure 2-3 years back I would have probably had many of the same assumptions / optimism. I have since changed my mind on many of those things)

Thanks for writing this up! Agree that we should coordinate more on regional level.

City/national groups are often run by adult, professional people, who don't know enough about what it means to run a uni group.

I'm curious, why do you think so?

Many city / national level group organisers started with organising uni groups, and even those who only learned about EA after university have often done some other form of student engagement as well like running other student groups, so I'd guess that the majority of city / national level group organisers do have experience with this. Even those who do not would be happy to learn more about what it's like to run student groups. 

I think there are benefits of having one central national-level group rather than several organisations, and if a specific national group lacks capacity or competence to support uni groups, then I would first try to build up capacity there (e.g. hire someone to do uni group support specifically) rather than founding a new organisation with all the overhead that comes with it. 

Lastly, this system seems to work well in countries with well-established national-level groups like EA Norway.

I should've put more thought into this section. I now realize I was mainly basing my claim on my experience with Czech EA, where almost no one has experience with university groups, and the fact that there are basically no national groups in the US/UK regions (only city groups). 

National groups can definitely play the role of regional groups in many places extremely well, I just don't think it's a requirement to have one to coordinate as uni groups on the regional level. 

Secondly, and much more importantly, I think most of the benefit comes from having the basic infrastructure in place (!!!). This is the place where I expect people to most disagree with me...

 

Could you expand on this more?

I don't think you can have an infrastructure without the right people to set it up. Since this is a new model of support I think it would be important the founders would be strong and be able to experiment and set up a good system. But not sure if I'm misunderstanding your point here.

(Splitting my comments up since I have a few separate points)

There's a claim that EA is not talent-constrained nor vetting-constrained, but infrastructure constrained, which I think I agree with. 

There's a difference between "people who set up the infrastructure" and "people who fill in the infrastructure". I agree that it's extremely important the first group has the best people possible, I don't think it's so important for the second group. 

With this post, I'm trying to be the "right person to set it up", by describing one possible infrastructure. 

Thanks for the clarification. I think we have different defintions of "people who set up the infrastructure" and "people who fill in the infrastructure".

For me: 

"people who set up the infrastructure" are not just people who come up with the idea but also who are involved in on-the-grounds getting your hands dirty setting up - e.g. setting up the initial concept, but then experimenting and refining the set-up as time goes on. This seems like fairly difficult work. This on-the-ground iteration requires a much higher time commitment and therefore I'd expect it to be harder to recruit for. 

Another distinction is the leader / core organiser of the infrastructure, who doesn't need to have set it up and so in some way is "filling the infrastructure" but probably needs to have certain skills. I think that this is also not going to be easy and requires people to pass some bar. 

I'd be keen to see more 80/20 ideas like this setting up / faciliating group chats. Other ideas:

  • Organizing monthly calls or socials with regional groups (e.g. even just starting with the existing ones)
  • Interviewing organizers in a region and identifying any common challenges or synergies they could benefit from

I think this kind of thing can help to spark interest amongst the organizers in a region that this kind of work may be immediately beneficial to them / make it more likely for people to want to spend more time on coordination. 

We're already 80/20-ing in the LA area! So far we have 4 colleges, and our first call is next week. :)

Awesome! Excited to see the results :)

I commented on a draft of this post. I haven't re-read it in full, so I don't know to what degree my comments were incorporated. Based on a quick glance it seems they weren't, so I thought I'd copy the main comments I left on that draft. My main point is that I think inserting regional groups into the funding landscape would likely worsen rather than improve the funding situation. I still think regional groups seem promising for other reasons.

Some of my comments (copy-paste, quickly written):

[Regarding applying for funding:] At a high level, my guess would be that this solution would increase overhead and friction in distributing money, rather than reducing it. I think setting up lots of regional grantmakers is a lot of work

That said, I think regional groups can be very useful and valuable for other reasons. Just don't really think they should do grantmaking.

I'm worried about different regional groups applying inconsistent quality service, and/or inconsistent criteria in distributing money

I think we should think of ways to address the psychological issue of people being afraid, rather than building a lot of structure around this

I think [the EAIF would] have a pretty easy time setting up more scalable systems [once there is a much larger number of groups]

E.g. we could set up more standardized, faster processes for grant applications that fit certain categories that can be quickly reviewed by less senior people. The bottleneck for setting up such a system is having a sufficient number of applications for it to be worth doing

You also need to build the infrastructure for making the payments themselves efficiently, doing the financial accounting, running an entity, tax reporting, etc. – (…)

I think people routinely underestimate the time cost of running a legal entity with a lot of activity. I wish people generally try really hard to eliminate any unnecessary operational busywork. Instead, we should focus relentlessly on the EA content and promising people, and use very pragmatic fast solutions for handling admin things

Thanks for this! Agree with what I take to be your main point--building up support for university groups and their organizers would be great.

The main thing I'm nervous about: I suspect this post heavily underestimates the value and difficulty of having regional coordinators be excellent fits for their work, and that this means the hiring of regional coordinators should be much more cautious (and will have to be much slower) than the post at times suggests.

Some intuitions and evidence that point toward that:

  • As the post suggests, this (under-emphasizing of the importance and difficulty of getting excellent coordinators) was the main thing that seemed off about this post, to several other experienced organizers who reviewed a draft.
  • Experience-based conventional wisdom seems to be that good hiring is very important. E.g. I've read/heard from tech companies, nonprofits, and senior government officials that hiring is one of the most important things--or the most important thing--they do.
  • The difference between university groups' outcomes is vast (even if we're comparing similar universities), suggesting that the quality of a group is generally very important.
  • Anecdotally, the difference between university group organizers' personal fit for organizing these university groups (e.g. differences in commitment to impact, relevant social skills, relevant knowledge) is vast. For example, some organizers explicitly don't prioritize impact in their career planning, and it seems likely that such a regional coordinator would set a discouraging (or at least non-inspiring) example for university group members and organizers.
  • There seem to be very few people who seem to be both great fits for group coordinating and interested in such work.
    • Within the US, this is a small enough community that I think we know all the people who fit that bill--it's currently just a handful of people.
    • If there were more people who fit that bill (great fit + interest), they would already have applied to the EA Infrastructure Fund to do relevant work, and there wouldn't still be so much low-hanging fruit in this space.
  • As you rightly point out, regional groups could do super useful stuff, like starting new groups and distributing knowledge (or, I'd emphasize, more extensive mentorship/management). These things are hard to do well--relevant experience and skills seem very useful.
  • Anecdotally, groups' success seems mainly constrained by whether they have organizers who strategically dedicate lots of time to the group and have strong relevant social skills.
    • (The comfort of getting funding seems relatively unimportant. If my memory is right, I think a draft reviewer with knowledge of group funders' situations also noted that they didn't consider funding logistics to be a major current or potential bottleneck on their end.)
  • [edit: moved a point to a comment for length]

I think in a few years, today's community building work will have paid off in (among other things) creating a bunch more people who are strong fits for doing excellent work as regional coordinators. But if people rush now to have mediocre fits fill these roles, I worry they might crowd out future excellent work, which would be losing lots of value.

As I mentioned before, I'm a big fan of the overall idea! Just hoping that this hiring aspect gets implemented well.

Hey, thank you so much for writing such a well thought out response! I can't seem to be able to write a similarly good, so I'll just respond to a few points that stood out to me.

Re hiring: I think there's a difference between hiring for "people to set up the infrastructure" and hiring for "people to fill out the infrastructure" (I wrote about this in another comment). I agree that the first one is very important to do well, I think that the second one can be done on a more natural selection basis. 

Another thing that your comment got me thinking about is: I wish we reverted back to the more volunteer basis of community building. It makes me sad to see people in EA always cling to "throw a bunch of money at this" or "hire someone to do it for you", instead of thinking of systematic ways to make the situation better (sorry this sounds uncharitable, can't think of a better wording). But this is kind of a hot take I have to think about more...

> If there were more people who fit that bill (great fit + interest), they would already have applied to the EA Infrastructure Fund to do relevant work, and there wouldn't still be so much low-hanging fruit in this space.

This seems like the wrong intuition. There might as well be lots of people who "fit that bill", but because it's hard to discern what the low-hanging fruit is, and there's no infrastructure or system for them to effectively pick the fruit, they don't take action, and maybe that's why we got so few people in CB careers...

> I think in a few years, today's community building work will have paid off in (among other things) creating a bunch more people who are strong fits for doing excellent work as regional coordinators. But if people rush now to have mediocre fits fill these roles, I worry they might crowd out future excellent work, which would be losing lots of value.

I feel like you might be overestimating how excellent can community building work be (but I'm not sure!). E.g. if I think about my LA region, I can't think of ways how the roughly 4 to 6 colleges and their uni groups can do excellent community building work. Of course, they can get together and organize bigger stuff, which can be excellent, but on the level of one uni group, it only gets as good. The reason I wrote this post is because I feel like we're very far off from the point where every uni has a uni group as good as it could have.
 

Hey, thanks for your thoughts!

Re hiring: I think there's a difference between hiring for "people to set up the infrastructure" and hiring for "people to fill out the infrastructure" (I wrote about this in another comment). I agree that the first one is very important to do well, I think that the second one can be done on a more natural selection basis. 

I'm not sure I buy either of those claims.

  • I have a pretty strong intuition that someone trying to set up this infrastructure is doomed if they don't try a bunch of things and closely engage with feedback loops (just because knowing what works is hard). If that's the case--if doing regional coordinating is very important for setting up regional coordination infrastructure--then the two roles are not neatly separable (i.e. they need to be done by the same people, so we can't have different hiring practices for the two roles).
  • I don't have a good sense of what you mean by "natural selection basis."
    • If you mean "hire people who are taking initiative and doing excellent work at smaller-scale / local organizing," then I probably agree.
    • If you mean "hire people who aren't excellent fits," then I disagree for the reasons discussed in my original comment.

I wish we reverted back to the more volunteer basis of community building.

I'm pretty confused about how this fits with your interest in establishing infrastructure. Anecdotally, it seems that volunteer-based infrastructure often collapses because volunteers get busy with other stuff, while paying people creates financial incentives + financial capability for people to devote lots of time to a thing.

It makes me sad to see people in EA always cling to "throw a bunch of money at this" or "hire someone to do it for you", instead of thinking of systematic ways to make the situation better

I also don't get this--isn't hiring people a systematic way to make a situation better?

There might as well be lots of people who "fit that bill", but [...]

I think we can rule that out empirically--we can get a rough upper bound on the number of people who are prepared to do excellent regional coordination from the number of people on full-time CBGs. Unless I'm mistaken, in the US that's just a few people.

I feel like you might be overestimating how excellent can community building work be (but I'm not sure!).

My estimate of (a lower bound of) how excellent community building work can be (relative to median community building work) comes largely from the evidence discussed in this post and this one. I think these posts provide strong support for the conclusion that some EA university groups are many times more impactful than others (even if we're just comparing EA groups at similar universities). If you don't think those posts strongly support that conclusion, I'd be really curious to hear why not. (Or maybe you see other strong evidence to the contrary?)

Relatedly, I'm not convinced by the responses to the objection that "The Problem Is in Getting People."

  • One response is that "There is a semi-regular supply of graduating uni group organizers, all of which are a great fit for the role of a regional coordinator." But I've argued that the current state of meta-EA and the variance in group organizers strongly suggest otherwise.
  • One response is, "I don't think there are big downsides due to founder's effects, there's a quick feedback loop on how well the coordinator is doing, and anyone can step up at any time to take up some of the responsibilities." But:
    • People influence culture, and early organizational actions set norms/precedent/vision; these seem like large potential founder effects--ones that could crowd out better regional groups that could have formed otherwise.
    • I'm not sure what quick feedback loop this is. Is it local groups' success? That seems to me like a noisy and slow feedback loop.
    • Feedback loops don't seem very useful if employers don't apply high standards to hiring (as suggested by "anyone can step up").
    • I'm not sure that anyone can step up--regional coordinators might not like having their toes stepped on.
  • One response is "most of the benefit comes from having the basic infrastructure in place." I'm not sure about that--I suspect most of the benefit comes from having the right people in place, and that formal infrastructure / communication channels /  organizational structures are of little value without the right people.
  • One response is "it's totally possible to run a regional group without any main coordinator." But having things like retreats and the seeding of new groups happen seems extremely difficult without a main coordinator (mostly due to diffusion of responsibility and the fact that these things take lots of time to do well).

So far I feel like most comments here are about "how to find people to fill out the infrastructure". I'd curious to hear if people think the regional model is the right infrastructure. 

If yes, then we should think about ways we can implement it, and solve the problem of getting the right people at the right positions. In the post, I suggested uni groups in similar locations start having regular calls to see if one of their organizers (perhaps close to graduating) might not be a good fit. Are there other ways?

Here's a similar but slightly different suggestion: rather than there being one definitive regional organisation for each area, we just encourage the creation of more organisations that are in between local groups and large funders.

Some examples of these organisations:

  • A team that runs and is responsible for a few local groups (e.g. a successful local group expands locally)
  • An organisation that centralises certain specific group functions (e.g. marketing, organising talks, introductory programs), so that local groups can outsource
  • A team that specialises in seeding new groups, and provides significant help and support to new organisers
  • A national organisation that tries to coordinate and encourage collaboration across local groups, including keeping an eye on groups that are at risk of disappearing

Some reasons this could be good:

  • Local groups wouldn't automatically be reliant on the one designated regional organisation
  • A designated regional organisation that is doing poorly is a problem because it's more difficult to replace
  • Teams can specialise in the thing that they are good at, rather than having responsibility for every aspect of all local groups in their area
  • Teams can work at whatever regional scope makes most sense (could be just a few groups, could be global) - overlap in geographical scope between different kinds of these organisations is often fine, whereas every geographical location would need exactly one designated regional organisation

Some reasons that designated regional organisations could be better:

  • Who has responsibility for what would be clearer, so fewer things would fall through the cracks
  • The role of a regional organisation would be clearly defined and the same across regions, making evaluation easier, making knowledge sharing between regions easier, and making it more straightforward to start or join an organisation (i.e. a clearer career progression pipeline)
  • A regional organisation may be well placed to decide what kinds of functions to prioritise to best support its local region 

There are quick thoughts, I'm likely missing important considerations. I'm not sure which approach seems better, and they aren't mutually exclusive, but I thought I'd share the thought.

A related example is multi-academy trusts in the UK school system, which are essentially organisations that run multiple schools. Schools can choose to join an existing trust, and trust can start new schools. Rather than the central government funding each school individually, it funds trusts, who have responsibility for the schools in their control.

Thanks for the brilliant post, by the way, I'm really glad you wrote it!

Somewhat related: What to do with people? https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/oNY76m8DDWFiLo7nH/what-to-do-with-people

I reference this in the post. A conversation with Jan along the lines of his post about EA not being talent/vetting-constrained but infrastructure-constrained has been very influential on me.

I want to add one anecdote to my Czech Scout example: most  regional or troop leaders are actually not that good, I'd say the average is somewhere between mediocre to bad. This is definitely true for my troop/regiment. (Sorry...) Yet, we manage — because we get, for example, a signup system for free, a common meeting space for free, a summer camp site for free, educational materials with activities for free, courses on leadership or management  for free, etc. Once in a while, this system identifies great individuals, who then ascend to run bigger events (instructor courses, large conferences, ...)

It's the infrastructure that makes a bunch of mostly suboptimal individuals achieve close to optimal outcomes.