From Announcing Interim CEOs of EVF:

The EVF UK board consists of Will MacAskill, Tasha McCauley, Claire Zabel, Owen Cotton-Barratt, and Nick Beckstead. The EVF US board consists of Nick Beckstead, Rebecca Kagan, and Nicole Ross. Given their ties to the FTX Foundation and Future Fund, Will MacAskill and Nick Beckstead are recused from discussions and decision-making that relate to FTX,[4] as they have been since early November. 

  • Will MacAskill and Nick Beckstead had significant enough ties to FTX to be recused from EVF FTX-related decision-making, a significant and legally complex element of the boards' current responsibilities.
  • Claire Zabel oversees significant grant-making to EVF organizations through her role at Open Phil, some of which have come under fire. While it is common for funders to serve on boards, it is not necessarily best practice.
  • Nicole Ross is an employee of EVF organization CEA, where she serves as Head of Community Health and Special Projects. It is atypical for non-executive employees to serve on boards where they have oversight and control over their own managers.
  • I do not know relevant details regarding McCauley, Cotton-Barratt, or Kagan.
  • All board members are, to my knowledge, European and American.

All listed are, to my knowledge, reputable and generally ethical individuals. However, these connections represent a larger intermingling in EA that is concerning and representative of a culture rife with conflicts of interest. Should EVF consider appointing new board members?

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I haven't thought about it much but removing people from boards after a massive miscalculation seems reasonable.

Like our prior should be to replace at least Nick and Will right?

Did Nick and Will massively miscalculate? I think the evidence is still not clear. At the moment it seems more to me that "some people on the EA Forum think they massively miscalculated", and removing board members for that reason seems a bit witch-hunty to me.

I don't think it's witchhunty at all. The fact is we really have very little knowledge about how Will and Nick are involved with FTX. I really don't think they did any fraud or condoned any fraud, and I do genuinely feel bad for them, and I want to hope for the best when it comes to their character. I'm pretty substantially unsure if Will/Nick/others made any ex ante mistakes, but they definitely made severe ex post mistakes and lost a lot of trust in the community as a result.

I think this means three things:

1.) I think Nathan is right about the prior. If we're unsure bout whether they made severe ex ante mistakes, we should remove them. I'd only keep them if I was sure they did not make severe ex ante mistakes. I think this applies more forcefully the more severe the mistake was and the situation with FTX makes me suspect that any mistakes could've been about as severe as you would get.

2.) I think in order to be on EVF's board it's a mandatory job requirement you to maintain the trust of the community and removing people over this makes sense.

3.) I think a traditional/"normie" board would've 100% removed Will and Nick back in November. Though I don't think that we should always d... (read more)

Jason
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A "normie" board would have at least put Will and Nick on a leave of absence. Putting people on a leave of absence when something happens that significantly affects the community's trust and it is not possible to presently address that concern due to legal/other reasons is standard operating procedure for most larger organizations. It does not imply misconduct or maladministration by those who are placed on leave.

Or maybe not. Part of the problem is that the board was too small already, and I assume it was poorly positioned to sideline 2 of the 5 members while dealing with the reputational and other upheavels caused by FTX crisis, the (now-realized) possibility of Charity Commission involvement, and the management of massive clawback litigation.

It appears Will and Nick have recused themselves from FTX decision-making, so they're probably de facto on a leave of absence anyway. If true, I furthermore think that not making this leave of absence official I think is just getting all the costs of declaring a leave of absence without any of the benefits.

Saying they have been recused since November implies that they weren't recused from decision-making regarding FTX prior to November. If this is true (and I'm hesitant because I don't know all the facts), they were likely not following proper process prior to November.

I cannot comment to how FTX issues were handled prior to November. It's entirely possible that Will and Nick recused themselves too. I'm also not sure what kind of FTX concerns were discussed.

Recusing themselves from FTX decision-making is significantly weaker than being on leave of absence. The latter implies that they are still part of decision-making for non-FTX related issues which I assume exist. (And technically recusing from decision-making also doesn't mean recusing from discussion, so they could have still been involved in discussions regarding FTX, though I'd assume that they also recused themselves from that). I think it's a significant difference.

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Michael_PJ
Isn't the whole point of recusing people so that you have something you can do when you don't want to remove them? I think I'm just very differently calibrated from everyone else, but my reaction to hearing that they were recused was "seems okay, but perhaps driven by public image more than anything else", so actually getting rid of them seems even more unnecessary to me.

They obviously have incredibly clear and blatant conflicts of interest? Not sure how you could possibly think it is purely a public image concern.

Another option besides recusal and removing someone is a leave of absence.

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Michael_PJ
Same question as to Nathan: why? Mostly because of optics? I think you can flip this around. "Hey, we don't have any concrete evidence that you did anything wrong, but there's just a general sentiment going around that you're tainted now, so we're getting rid of you." That sits badly with me.  I think I agree with this, where there is a good argument for doing it the traditional way. I think just saying "well, traditional folks do it so maybe it's good" is not an argument I want to endorse in generality. And I don't see the actual argument here. To be clear, I do think that them recusing themselves was sensible, I'm unconvinced that doing more is justified except for optics.

Optics is one reason and it is a good reason. Optics matters and I don't think we should be so dismissive towards optics concerns.

Another related reason I mentioned is the trust element - regardless of whether it sits badly, it still is a fact of the matter that community trust is needed to do this job, and while Will + Nick are presumably good people they are lacking in the trust department at the moment, which suggests they should find a different job. I imagine there's a lot of very useful things for them to do in the EA movement and I'm not suggesting by any means casting them out of EA entirely. Just really doubtful they are the right people for the EVF board at this moment. This kind of reasoning happens all the time in all sorts of boards.

However, the element I worry much more about is that of bad decision making and basic risk management. Essentially if there's someone and you think there's a 20% chance they just make catastrophically bad decisions, I don't know why you'd want them involved in the sorts of things they make catastrophically bad decisions about, even if there's an 80% chance that they're fine.

Although it's difficult to know, especially without inside knowledge, I also suspect that Nick and Will leaving the board (plus bringing in some people with more nonprofit administration experience in their stead) would reduce the risk of more intrusive and distracting involvement by the Charity Commission over the medium run. Appeasement of one's regulator is a valid reason for asking a board member to resign and is not "optics."

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Michael_PJ
I'm struggling to articulate what I disagree with here. This is one of those things where in a sense, yes, it's totally reasonable to use this kind of statistical reasoning to make inferences about people ("many people who are in a situation like that did make some bad judgements, so I'm going to increase my expectation that you made bad judgements despite not having direct evidence"), but I feel like we often have norms against doing this partly because it can be very unfair. We can have the situation where something bad happens to or around you, and then people add insult to injury by treating you as if it might have been your fault.  I don't quite know where I'm going here, but I think there's something there.

I think the crux is that I just don't think the question of who should be on the EVF board is a matter of fairness. I think it's a matter of what maximizes the likelihood that EVF achieves its objectives in the light of various risk.

To be clear I still think Will and Nick are great people and I want them to be a part of the EA community, potentially even still in roles of great power and influence. Casting them out of EA entirely on statistical reasoning would be unfair and I think that's a matter of where the fairness matters. I just don't think EVF Board is the right place for them right now.

The "traditional way" of corporate governance is in significant part based on lessons learned from past mistakes, so I think at least a weak presumption in favor of following that approach is warranted. Otherwise, the only way to learn those lessons will be to make the same painful mistakes. If we only follow the traditional approach when we would independently reach that outcome via reasoning, we're not assigning any weight to that body of experience.

2022 definitely seemed to be a big year for EA making some painful mistakes in order to learn why some parts of the traditional scheme are the way they are. In more ways than just SBF/FTX unfortunately. I think 2023 is the year we pay the price for that, but hopefully we will learn and be stronger.

I think FTXFF not making sure all money went via them was a big miscalculation at least.

And I think our prior should be be removal, so we should want reasons not to do that. I sense that normy institutional folks would look at this and think that the EVF board is a bit fishy. 

The other clear mistake was promoting Sam so heavily as the poster child of EA.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

Did Nick and Will do that? This is actually a genuine question, I don't recall them doing that, but maybe they did.

I'm not exactly sure who made what decisions, and I'm not sure what Nick and Will expressed behind the scenes or what they tried to do, but as far as we can see publicly, Nick and Will definitely went along with and followed through on a strategy that definitely did enable Sam to run the "FTX Future Fund" (note: FTX prominently in the name) in a very prominent way that was very connected to EA, as well as orient a lot of his public branding and public persona to EA in a highly visible way. I think Nick and Will, and their strong reputation within the EA community, were critical in making this happen.

Contrast this to how Dustin relates to Open Philanthropy (note: not named Asana Philanthropy Fund) and you'll see it was very clear Sam was using EA to burnish his own personal popularity. Unfortunately, no one except me (as far as I know) seemed particularly (publicly) concerned about that.

Will also vouched for SBF to Elon Musk in a bid to invest in Twitter.

Wow "Asana Philanthropy Fund" makes the comparison so sharp. 

Sorry, but that really doesn't seem like "promoting Sam so heavily as the poster child of EA", and more like "went with the general flow of letting Sam's projects go ahead".

I agree the Elon Musk thing was sketchy and arguably a bad decision, but that also wasn't public and not related to SBF's EA activities.

To be clear, I also got the vibe that Sam was a poster child, but I don't think I can point to Nick and Will pushing that, and since those are the people we're talking about sacking, I think that's pretty relevant.

I agree the Elon Musk thing was sketchy and arguably a bad decision, but that also wasn't public and not related to SBF's EA activities.

Whether it was "sketchy and arguably a bad decision" isn't the primary issue. Peter Wildeford pointed out that Will vouched for SBF. Vouching = staking your reputation to guarantee that someone has integrity/can be trusted.

(Many of the things you say in your comment seem reasonable to me as well, but I feel like we can't just skip over the vouching part even if it was non-public. If he vouched towards Musk he probably did the same in lots of other contexts, or conveyed trust in Sam in less explicit ways, at least.)

Again it's very unclear what kind of role they had in this sort of thing, but I see EA as at least partially about what kind of outcomes you achieve with your actions and the outcome they achieved is that Sam very much was elevated as EA's poster child and I think Nick and Will's actions and reputation was a very much necessary part of that.

Okay, but you started with "promoted Sam so heavily as the poster child of EA", and now we're at "took actions that may have generally contributed to Sam being promoted although  I can't point to any in particular". 

I'm being fussy about this because I find it upsetting that people are making specific claims of bad behaviour for people that are not in fact true or justified. There's enough heat at the moment without that.

I see EA as at least partially about what kind of outcomes you achieve with your actions

I think EA is independent of whether we choose to assess people for their ex ante behaviour or ex post outcomes. I think there are arguments for both, but I don't think it's at all obvious that ex post is all or primarily what matters.

I think the core problem for me is it is very unclear what Will and Nick specifically did or didn't do. There's a general cloud / "fog of war" here.

So all I can do is gesture to the "Will + Nick --> [BLACK BOX] --> SBF as poster child of EA" chain and make some inferences about BLACK BOX and argue that had Will + Nick not been involved this overall chain likely would not have worked as well as it did.

I think it's totally fair for you to question BLACK BOX and suggest Will and Nick didn't do anything. Unfortunately we will just never know.

I think it's totally fair for you to question BLACK BOX and suggest Will and Nick didn't do anything. Unfortunately we will just never know.

There are probably ways to gather some evidence, like asking Will and Nick directly, looking for and asking possible witnesses, basically investigating. Personally, I'd like to hear more from them, but I'd guess they have some good reasons to avoid commenting further publicly (e.g. see Will's shortform).

Yeah just from a kind of brier score perspective they should take a huge loss on that. 

EDIT: Per discussion below I'm retracting this as maybe too cute and misleading, given that there's substantial uncertainty around exactly what happened.

Isn't this a bit much hindsight? Conditional that you trust that nothing fraudulent is going on, you might just think "what route the money takes is an ops question that I leave to FTX ops staff to figure out" and not worry about it further. The only reason to get personally involved in insisting that the money flows a particular way seems like when you're already suspicious that something might be really wrong? 

What route the money takes (not in each individual case and in detail but in the high level) is clearly a question senior leadership should know and sign off, in particular in an organisation as small (in terms of number of staff) as the FTX Foundation. (I don't even know if they had any ops  staff, there is no-one listed here.)

No I think charities should ensure their grant funding goes via them, not via defunct phone stores. And if their ops folks can't manage that I probably hold the charity leadership accountable.

Happy to be wrong, but I'm pretty confident.

Jason
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Will was an unpaid adviser, right? While the extent of his involvement is unclear to me, it's not obvious he in particular should have been expected to monitor the organization's ops.

I suspect they were told at a high level that the payments were made through various entities for tax/accounting reasons and didn't dig into the nature of each of those entities. Indeed, there almost certainly were good tax reasons to structure certain payments other than through the 501c3. I don't think I would downgrade them for not independently investigating each of the grantor entities. There's just no ex ante reason to think one of them would be a chain of defunct phone stores. . .

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Michael_PJ
Why? Because it looks bad? That's a reason, but I continue to believe that we'd be better off in the long run if we didn't make decisions primarily because of optics.

While I wouldn't privilege optics, impacts to effectiveness that happen through optical mechanisms are just as real as those that occur through other mechanisms. Not saying you are suggesting this, but we need to be careful not to discount an impact because it occurs through such a mechanism.

I won't start the discussion here, but I continue to think that we'd be better off systematically if we took the rule of de-privileging optics-based reasoning even if it's better in individual situations. I appreciate that this is controversial.

To be clear I'm not unpersuaded by that argument you make. I find it plausible. How much to care about optics is a spectrum and I think it's clear we should care some, but probably care less than most groups. I think there are some clear areas though where we could achieve significant benefit with not much cost by doing some things though. I also think we should make these trade-offs intentionally, whereas we currently seem to have some sort of unawareness that leads to bad decisions.

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Michael_PJ
I don't think we had unawareness, I think we had a lot of trust. And I'm very sad that it's been damaged, and I think we should fight to keep it.
JWS
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I liked your high-trust post, but my take would be that the community might already be in a low-trust state right now, and the actions we need to take to move back to the 'good actors/high trust' quadrant[1] where we can do the most good may not be the same ones we would take if we were in that state.

  1. ^

    Taken from this comment.

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Peter Wildeford
I'm not really thinking about the FTX situation when referring to lack of awareness around optics, but more the Bostrom apology controversy and the Wytham Abbey controversy.
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Peter Wildeford
See also my answer to this Q in the other thread
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Jonas V
I think it's very reasonable to remove Will, and much less clear whether to remove Nick. I would like to see some nuanced distinction between the two of them. My personal take is that Nick did an okay job and should probably stay on the relevant boards. Honestly I feel pretty frustrated by the lack of distinction between Will and Nick in this discussion.
3[anonymous]
I don't think it's unreasonable for people to generally be lumping them together. They were both on the Future Fund. They were both informed about bad things SBF had done. Nick ran the team while Will was only an advisor; OTOH Will spoke more favorably about SBF in public. You might see a lot of nuance between the two here, but I think most of us just see basic facts like this and the main debate is around questions like "Should leadership have seen this coming?" "Should leaders be removed when they cause a lot of ex post harm?" "Shouldn't community leaders be elected anyway?"
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JWS
I'm confused about how that would be done. Is there a procedure for removing board members? What's the procedure for replacing members of either board if one were to resign? Who gets to decide? Are there limits on the board size or tenure? I'm not asking the above to be provocative - internal company structure/dynamics is definitely not something I'm super knowledgeable about, so I'd be very curious to know.

In the UK, non-profits can be either member-based or not. I believe EVF is not member-based. That means the board is accountable to itself. Only the board can appoint and remove Trustees.

This is one of the reasons why term limits are considered good practice. Based on the tenure of some EVF Trustees, it looks like term limits have not been implemented.

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Aleks_K
A UK charity can put rules in their governing documents on how to remove trustees. I don't think EVFs governing documents are public, so we probably don't know. 

I wanted to thank you for sharing. I think it can be hard or scary to raise concerns or feedback to a board like this, and I appreciate it.


(I can only speak for EVF US:) 

Since the beginning of all this, we’ve been thinking through board composition questions. In particular, we’ve been discussing what’s needed on the US board and what changes should be made. We’ve also explicitly discussed conflicts of interest and how we should think about that for board composition. 
 

There are a variety of different issues raised in the post and comments, but I want to say something specifically about FTX-related conflicts. In the aftermath of the FTX collapse, EVF UK and EVF US commissioned an outside independent investigation by the law firm Mintz to examine the organizations’ relationship to FTX, Alameda Research, Sam Bankman-Fried, and related individuals. We’re waiting for the results of the investigation to make a determination about whether any board members should be removed for FTX-related reasons. We’re doing this to avoid making rushed decisions with incomplete information. Nick has been recused from all FTX-related decision-making at EVF US. (Nick and Will have also been... (read more)

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Milan_Griffes
Thanks, Nicole! It's helpful to hear updates like this from EA leadership in the midst of all these scandals.  Can you comment on why Nick Beckstead was recused rather than placed on a leave of absence?

Removing Claire from the EVF Board because she approved the Wytham Abbey purchase seems tremendously silly to me. FTX is a serious scandal that impacted millions of people; EA projects buying conference venues or offices isn't.

Edward Kmett's take on that topic seems correct to me:

I look at the building, a building I give myself even odds never to step into, as actually a plausibly solid investment from the standpoint of the cost of running events. I say that as someone who is not paid to care on this front.

[... A]s someone who has had to organize many conferences in the past, and who watched the utilization of the CFAR space in Bodega Bay, and what Lightcone has been up to, this doesn't seem anywhere near as beyond the pale to me as it seems to to some. 

What do I mean by that? Well. Lightcone gets something like 75% utilization out of the Hubinger house as an event space today. It also spends a comparable amount of money on an annual basis on the office space they offer in Berkeley where we first met to the cost of a prime rate loan for this property, which happens to match up with the cost of a loan for the Rose Garden Inn, almost to a tee. Looking at the Rose Garden Inn, it

... (read more)
JWS
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Is it necessary to relitigate Wytham Abbey in this thread? The OP suggests that Claire's position is unusual because:

While it is common for funders to serve on boards, it is not necessarily best practice.

Not because Wytham Abbey was a poor purchase. I understand that the community is very split on this, and the take you've shared is a good representation of the 'pro' side, but it seems to me that you've used this to re-open the WA discussion here rather than discuss whether EVF should consider changing the composition/structure of its boards, and what the merits of that would be, which I think is the charitable object-level discussion that the OP wants to have here imo.

I interpreted "some of which have come under fire" as a polite way of saying they thought the purchase was clearly wrong and reflected poorly on Zabel's judgement. If they weren't trying to bring the wisdom of the decision into their argument I think they would have just left it at her being an example of a funder having a board seat?

I do agree, though, that relitigating it here isn't helpful.

The OP suggests that Claire's position is unusual because:

"While it is common for funders to serve on boards, it is not necessarily best practice."

Not because Wytham Abbey was a poor purchase.

The OP says: "Claire Zabel oversees significant grant-making to EVF organizations through her role at Open Phil, some of which have come under fire. While it is common for funders to serve on boards, it is not necessarily best practice."

I interpret this as saying Claire should be removed because  'funders serving on boards is not necessarily best practice', and also because the Wytham Abbey purchase was controversial and/or bad.

I think it's bad to cite the Abbey as a reason for a decision like this, while maintaining ambiguity about whether you think the purchase was a bad idea vs. merely controversial. I also think it would be unhealthy for EA to go down the road of making decisions heavily based on what seems controversial, without saying anything about whether you think the idea was also bad.

Social environments with a lot of "obviously X is suspect, everyone knows that, no need for me to say why I think that" talk tend to fall into a lot of deference cascades and miasma-based bad reput... (read more)

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JWS
Yeah I can see why it does come across in the way that you interpreted, and I think my original comment was a bit more combative than I intended as well, so please accept my apologies for that. Nevertheless, I think the more productive conversation to be had is still about how the EVF board works, and not the object-level debate around Wytham Abbey - though I did appreciate Edward's take on it, so thank you for sharing it! I think the question that's important to me is this. Assume the community comes to a consensus that some course of action was bad and that the board member responsible should step down. The best information that we have atm is that there wouldn't be a means to actually put this into effect beside social pressure (which I grant is a very strong force). Or if a board member wanted to step down for some other reason, family or care responsibilities for instance, who gets to decide their replacement? But I totally understand if that's not the topic you think is most important to discuss, and thank you for engaging with me :)
Arepo
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Removing her for that decision seems excessive. However, regardless of what we think of the purchase decision, it was poorly executed: 

  • they didn't disclose it publicly announce it so that the community mostly learned about it via Emile Torres' Twitter account [edited]
  • it was bought by an umbrella organising purporting to represent the EA brand, with apparently no awareness of the optics
  • they didn't give any quantitative justification for it (and, contrary to what Edward Kmett says, there are modern conference centres in Oxford, which would probably have cost substantially less)
  • it doesn't sound like they did much or any external consultation, and the board have not shown any indication that they recognise the genuine risk of rationalising high-value decisions like this 

It’s not accurate to say that EVF didn’t disclose it publicly. I first learnt about Wytham Abbey a while before Torres’ article, after reading this job ad: https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/careers/office-manager-oxford-ea-hub.

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Arepo
Sorry, I misspoke. They disclosed it, but didn't publicise it. It shouldn't have been buried in a job ad.
Jason
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That strongly suggests a mere oversight rather than something substantial. There's also no reason to place such an oversight at the feet of any board member. It's not their job to monitor execution of that sort of detail.

I'm not convinced that it was poorly executed; I'd need to hear more details first.

they didn't disclose it publicly, so that the community mostly learned about it via Emile Torres' Twitter account

Claire said, "(This isn’t my domain but) we typically aim to publish grants within three months of when we make our initial payment, but we're currently working through a backlog of older grants."

This may reflect that Open Phil made a mistake, or it may reflect that they made the right call and de-prioritized "get announcements out ASAP" in favor of more objectively important tasks. I'd want to know more about why the backlog existed before weighing in.

I don't think Open Phil should heavily reshape their prioritization on things like this based on what they're scared Emile Torres will tweet about; that does not sound like the sort of heuristic that  I'd expect to result in a functional Open Phil that is keeping its eye on the ball.

But separate from Torres, I can see arguments for it being useful to EAs for us to get faster updates from Open Phil, given what a large funder they are in this space. They of course don't morally owe EAs even 1% of the details they've provided to date,... (read more)

Chiming in from the EV UK side of things: First, +1 to Nicole’s thanks :) 

As you and Nicole noted, Nick and Will have been recused from all FTX-related decision-making. And, Nicole mentioned the independent investigation we commissioned into that. 

Like the EV US board, the EV UK board is also looking into adding more board members (though I think we are slightly behind the US board), and plans to do so soon.  The board has been somewhat underwater with all the things happening (speaking for myself, it’s particularly difficult because a lot of these things affect my main job at Open Phil too, so there’s more urgent action needed on multiple fronts simultaneously). 

(The board was actually planning and hoping to add additional board members even before the fall of FTX, but unfortunately those initial plans had to be somewhat delayed while we’ve been trying to address the most time-sensitive and important issues, even though having more board capacity would indeed help in responding to issues that crop up; it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg dynamic we need to push through.)  

Hope this is helpful!

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Milan_Griffes
Thanks, Claire. Can you comment on why Nick Beckstead and Will MacAskill were recused rather than placed on leaves of absence? 

Our impression when we started to explore different options was that one can’t place a trustee on a leave of absence; it would conflict with their duties and responsibilities to the org, and so wasn’t a viable route.

Isn't the point of being placed on leave in a case like this to (temporarily) remove the trustee from their duties and responsibilities while the situation is investigated, as their ability to successfully execute on their duties and responsibilities has been called into question? 

(I'm not trying to antagonize here – I'm genuinely trying to understand the decision-making of EA leadership better as I think it's very important for us to be as transparent as possible in this moment given how it seems the opacity around past decision-making contributed to bad outcomes. 

You've certainly thought about this more than I have and I want to learn more about your models here. 

But I don't really follow how it conflicting with duties disqualifies being placed on leave as a viable option, as at first brush that sorta seems like the point!) 

While it is common for funders to serve on boards, it is not necessarily best practice.

This phrasing is a bit weasely. Is the claim that it's bad for funders to serve on boards? That it is not best practice? If that's what you think, why do you think that?

(Given how much of EVF's budget comes from OP, them having representation on EVF's board seems reasonable to me.)

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Arepo
It's not clear to me which direction this pushes in. On the one hand, it does seem kind of fair. On the other hand, having chains of organisations passing money around the same set of people seems like it could obscure conflicts of interest, whether intentionally or not.
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Jeff Kaufman
How would having Claire on both boards instead of it being two different people obscure conflicts of interest? I would have expected that point to cut the other way? (Ex: someone on OP's board has a COI with someone EVF is considering granting to, and pressure is passed along.)
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Arepo
I'm thinking in terms of combinatorics. Each organisation someone is involved with is one more interest to conflict, and one more place where you can influence an interest you have elsewhere. Anyone trying to audit you has to do exponentially more work.
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Linch
Your argument here cuts against your prior comment.
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Arepo
I think it could go either way. If you think the limiting factor on auditing is the number of people you have to audit, then having the same N people be the board of trustees of all EA charities is maximally efficient. If you think it's the number of connections between sources of potential CoI, then having completely nonoverlapping groups seem optimal.
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Linch
I guess I'm imagining from either Open Phil's perspective, or that of other large funders, the risk of value misalignment or incompetence of Open Phil staff is already priced in, and they've already paid the cost of evaluating Claire. It's hard to imagine that (purely from the perspective of reducing costs of auditing)Holden or Cari or Dustin preferring an unknown quantity to Claire. There might be other good reasons to prefer having a more decentralized board[1], but this particular reason seems wrong.  Likewise, from the perspective of future employees or donors to EVF, the risk of value misalignment or incompetence of EVF's largest donor is already a cost they necessarily have to pay if they want to work for or fund EVF. So adding a board member (and another source of COI) that's not associated with Open Phil can only increase the number of COIs, not decrease it. 1. ^ for example, a) you want a diversity of perspectives, b) you want to reduce the risks of being beholden to specific entities c) you want to increase the number of potential whistleblowers
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Jeff Kaufman
Nonoverlapping doesn't mean no COI. Imagine Org1 grants to Org2, which grants to many orgs: Org1 board: A, B, C Org2 board: D, E, F Grantees: lots of people Imagine there are COIs between each person with probably X. Each grantee org has a 3X chance of COI with Org2, and 3X with Org1. You care more about the ones with Org2, but Org1 matters too. Now imagine C and F are the same person. The chance of COI is unchanged: 3X with each org. And if you're worried about auditing you have 6 connections to audit per grantee in the first case, and five in the second. It's true that auditing a single C=F board member is more work then auditing just C or F, but it's probably less work than auditing both C and F. (And there definitely isn't exponentially more total work.)

Sure, that's one way of modelling it. Another  is something like COIs between entities in which you're invested. That means a trustee of a single org has one possible COI vector - looking after themselves when they should be looking after their org. Two trustees of one org each have two vectors between them. One trustee of two orgs has four vectors - looking after themselves when they should be looking after either org, or looking after either org at the expense of the other. 

Generalising, it seems like on this way of thinking you'd get (n^2 - n) more COI vectors, where n is number of affiliations, than you would with single-affiliation trustees doing the same set of roles.  I have the sense that senior EAs can be affiliated with maybe as many as 4 or 5 legally distinct organisations - and if you count the subsidiaries of EVF as effectively different organisations with shared trustees, those numbers get pretty big.

I think this way of thinking about it more congruent to the concerns many (including me) had around eg EVF buying Wytham Abbey, or grantmakers from one nonprofit giving money to another with which they're closely involved.

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Jeff Kaufman
I see, you are thinking about conflicts between the interest of being "person X in their role at org Y" vs "person X in their role at org Z". I agree that this goes up quadratically as people have roles at more organizations: in the extreme where everyone had at most one organizational role you couldn't have any of that kind of CoI. I had thought, though, we were talking about interpersonal conflicts of interest. Things like "person X in their role at org Y" vs "person X in their role as someone dating person W at org Z". This is the kind of CoI that I think doesn't increase if you have fewer people across the same number of organization roles. I thought the issue with the purchase was people thinking it was not cost effective, or should have been better disclosed? What's the CoI argument here?

Let's distinguish some legal conflict of interest moral conflict of interest

I think that what I described was not a legal conflict of interest, which would be where a senior staff member is faced with a decision that could benefit them.[1] IMO EAs should consider it necessary but not sufficient to avoid these.

I would call a moral conflict of interest any situation in which a senior member is faced with a decision where they have an incentive to do something that isn't in the best interest of the organisation for which they work. IMO these should also be avoided, or at least recognised as a serious cost to weigh against the upsides. Such situations put the staff in situations where it's extremely difficult to recognise from the outside whether the decision process was really for the greater good, or a rationalisation. They seem at high risk of biasing support strongly towards the pet projects of the decisionmakers at the expense of many smaller projects that continually struggle for funding.

Wytham Abbey seems like an example of this, if as I understand members of the EVF board  were involved in the decision making on OP's behalf. Asterisk is perhaps a similar example. If a... (read more)

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Jeff Kaufman
That's already how I was using the term, fwiw. It sounds like maybe you're saying you think there's fundamentally a conflict of interest in having someone from OP on the EVF board, because OP is the funds a lot of things at EVF and what's best for EVF could be different from what OP wants? This misses why OP would want to have one of their employees on the EVF board: they are providing so much funding to EVF I expect they want someone to formally represent them internally. It would be bad for OP if they granted money to EVF which then went to do things that OP didn't want to be supporting, and having board representation is a way to make that less likely.
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Arepo
Yeah, that sounds right. When you're a senior staff member at an organisation you are, in some sense, supposed to be optimising for the health of that org. On this understanding you're the senior staff member at multiple orgs you're then supposed to be optimising for multiple variables, which isn't logically possible.  Obviously you can optimise for some function of the two, but this involves a lot more subjective judgement, so a) could more easily go wrong without any bad faith, and b) it can obfuscate genuinely bad faith decisions (such as prioritising support for an org with which you're associated because it gives you greater social status) - even to the people making them.  I don't assert (or think) anyone at EVF is acting in seriously bad faith, but as I've said elsewhere, I think we should assume a) non-0 probability that they sometimes do so in minor ways and b) that if they continue to stay in a position that incentivises them to do so the risk will continue to increase.  It doesn't 'miss' it. I understand there are other considerations - they're discussed everywhere; I'm just stating that there exists this downside which isn't discussed nearly as much, and doesn't seem to be acknowledged by the people it applies to. 

I guess I could see it that way, but this is a pretty non-central CoI. My understanding is EVF took on an OP staff member as a board member because both EVF and OP wanted to be more closely aligned. They understand that the orgs have somewhat different interests, and by putting someone in a position to embody both they're pulling the two orgs closer together.

Jason
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Probably yes, but on a different rationale than people are taking here. 

Being on the EVF UK board is likely to require a significantly larger time commitment for the next few years, and is going to require a skill set that most of the current board wasn't selected for. I base that mainly on the existence of the statutory inquiry -- I think it is likely that EVF UK will end up with an action plan from the Charity Commission (at a minimum) that will require a lot more board involvement in the next few years. And, as far as I can tell, the board wasn't optimized for experience or aptitude in corporate governance and administration. Even after the statutory inquiry closes, I assume EVF UK will remain on the CC's radar for several years, and the board will need to make higher-than-baseline efforts to mitigate the risk of future CC involvement during that time.

Given that, and given the view that EVF exists to provide operations efficiencies rather than to micromanage the projects, it doesn't seem that EVF board membership is the highest and best marginal use of certain board members' time. Furthermore, in light of the changes in what the board needs, it would be appropriate to re-ev... (read more)

I believe quite strongly that EVF should prioritize expanding its board, regardless of whether Will and Nick resign or are removed. [1] This belief (which predates the FTX situation) centers around three points.

  1. The current board is too small and too busy to provide good oversight to EVF and its constituent parts. Including Will and Nick there are seven people tasked with providing oversight for 10 orgs/projects, plus EVF as a whole, in addition to their other responsibilities. I don’t know why anyone would expect that to go well. The need for good oversight is quite important: CEA, one of the biggest and most important projects, has chosen to rely quite heavily on board oversight rather than e.g. publishing internal program evaluations for public scrutiny. This might be a good model (FWIW I personally find it problematic), but it certainly a level of board attention that seems implausible in the current setup. 
  2. CEA is responsible for executing certain tasks on behalf of the community, e.g. operating effectivealtruism.org, promoting community health, running “communications for all of EA, not CEA in particular”, etc. In the past, there have been significant problems in
... (read more)

It's somewhat concerning how almost all of EVF UK's board members are on the longtermist side of EA:

  • Will MacAskill - wrote What We Owe the Future, was part of the Future Fund grantmaking team
  • Nick Beckstead - was part of the Future Fund grantmaking team, grantmaker on the longtermist side at Open Phil, wrote dissertation on longtermism[1]
  • Tasha McCauley - actually I'm not sure how involved she is in EA, but she also serves on the OpenAI board[2]
  • Owen Cotton-Barratt - research scholars program director at Future of Humanity Institute[3]
  • Claire Zabel - senior program officer for global catastrophic risks at Open Phil[4]

While I respect all of them and care about longtermism, I think the EVF board should aim to become more ideologically diverse as it expands. There doesn't seem to be a single board member whose primary cause area is animal welfare or global health and development. An EVF board of directors with more people from the animal welfare and GHD sides of EA would probably be better at balancing the interests of all three major camps of EA. (Aside: There don't seem to be any people of color on the board, either.)

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
... (read more)

Very good point (I was disappointed to see it getting downvoted without explanation). 

The current board’s ideological composition is unfortunate given the problems CEA has had in the past around representing cause priorities. It is also likely to affect which projects get the operational and credibility benefits of operating under the EVF umbrella. The current project roster skews very longtermist, and I haven’t received any answers to my questions about how EVF selects its projects and the degree to which cause focus plays a role.

I’d also point out that the US board also tilts longtermist and doesn’t have anyone who is an obvious neartermist. While Nicole’s resume doesn’t suggest a clear ideological leaning, Nick and Rebecca (who worked at CSET and founded a longtermist incubator) both seem to be firmly in the longtermist camp.

And yes, I would hope that if/when the board expands, it would include some people of color.

All listed are, to my knowledge, reputable and generally ethical individuals.

Agree with this!

However, these connections represent a larger intermingling in EA that is concerning and representative of a culture rife with conflicts of interest.

Regardless of what we think the answer to the post's question is, I strong agree with this, and think much more needs to be done by the trustees to make transparent their possible conflicts of interest from being involved with multiple related organisations.

I also continue to believe that there being so few people running so many disparate threads of the EA movement is going to lead to overconcentration of influence, conflicts of interest, and reduced competition in the space regardless of who the individuals are, and that some or all of EV's subsidiaries should split off (in particular, there should be no formal connection between organisations serving the EA community and those running potentially controversial special ops like purchasing Wytham Abbey, incubating Alameda, etc).

To the poster, did you use BurnerAcct because of fear of reprisals professionally or personally due to being seen as questioning the authority/legitimacy/effectiveness of the current board?

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Arepo
If it was a literal burner, they may not be able to answer. That seems like the most likely explanation to me.
JWS
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That's my prior assumption too, I just find it very upsetting how many recent posts are prefaced by a disclaimer that the author doesn't want to reveal themselves for this reason :(

Edit: Disagree voters, what about this comment do you disagree with? I was just reporting my reaction, but maybe I was making a too broad claim about how many posts are pseudonymous for these reasons?

Buck
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Note that "lots of people believe that they need to hire their identities" isn't itself very strong evidence for "people need to hide their identities". I agree it's a shame that people don't have more faith in the discourse process.

While I do think I maybe disagree with Buck on the actual costs to people speaking openly, I also think there are pretty big gains in terms of trust and reputation to be had by speaking out openly. In my experience it's a kind of increase-in-variance of how people relate to you, with an overall positive mean, with there definitely being some chance of someone disliking you being open, but there also being a high chance of someone being very interested in supporting you and caring a lot about you not being unfairly punished for speaking true things, and rewarding you for sharing important information. There are a lot of very high-integrity people around who will be willing to die on the hill of you speaking openly about what you think is important.

My guess is this variance causes some people to genuinely be silenced, since some people really hate the idea of anyone taking adversarial action against them. I feel genuinely stuck on what to do about that. I often try my best to reward and incentivize people who speak out openly in epistemically sane ways, but I don't have a good solution for how to make it so that nobody will take any adversarial action against that. The community is big, and I can't uniformly enforce norms everywhere, and even trying would probably have a pretty bad false-positive rate.

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JWS
I agree, but many people - some of whom seem to be highly engaged in the community - clearly believe that they do need to do so. Even if the truth is that they don't, the fact that this belief is widespread is a significant issue for our community. We need to have open mechanisms for feedback on actions and ideas, so that we do end up doing the most good. Tl,dr: You are correct, these are logically separate points. But people not having faith in the process is the important issue imo. 
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