One of the biggest challenges of being in a community that really cares about counterfactuals is knowing where the most important gaps are and which areas are already effectively covered. This can be even more complex with meta organizations and funders that often have broad scopes that change over time. However, I think it is really important for every meta organization to clearly establish what they cover and thus where these gaps are; there is a substantial negative flowthrough effect when a community thinks an area is covered when it is not.
Why this matters
The topic of having a transparent scope recently came up at a conference as one of the top concerns with many EA meta orgs. Some negative effects that have been felt by the community are in large part due to unclear scopes, including:
- Organizations leaving a space thinking it's covered when it's not.
- Funders reducing funding in an area due to an assumption that someone else is covering it when there are still major gaps.
- Two organizations working on the same thing without knowledge of each other, due to both having a broad mandate, but simultaneously putting resources into an overlapping subcomponent of this mandate.
- Talent being turned off or feeling misled by EA when they think an org misportrays itself.
- Talent ‘dropping out of the funnel’ when they go to what they believe is the primary organization covering an area and finding that what they care about isn’t covered, due to the organization claiming too broad a mandate.
- There can also be a significant amount of general frustration caused when people think an organization will cover, or is covering, an area and then an organization fails to deliver (often on something they did not even plan on doing).
What do I mean when I say that organizations should have a transparent scope:
Broadly, I mean organizations being publicly clear and specific about what they are planning to cover both in terms of action and cause area.
- In a relevant timeframe: I think this is most important in the short term (e.g., there is a ton of value in an organization saying what they are going to cover over the next 12 months, and what they have covered over the last months).
- For the most important questions: This clarity needs to both be in priorities (e.g., cause prioritization) and planned actions (e.g., working with student chapters). This can include things the organization might like or think is impactful to do but are not doing due to capacity constraints or its current strategic direction.
- For the areas most likely for people to confuse: It is particularly important to provide clarity about things that people think one might be doing (for example, Charity Entrepreneurship probably doesn’t need to clarify that it doesn’t sell flowers, but should really be transparent over whether it plans to incubate projects in a certain cause area or not).
How to do this
When I have talked to organizations about this, I sometimes think that the “perfect” becomes the enemy of the good and they do not want to share a scope that is not set in stone. All prioritizations can change, and it can sometimes even be hard internally to have a sense of where the majority of your resources are going. However, given the importance of counterfactuals and the number of aspects that can help proxy these factors, I think a pretty solid template can be created. Given that CE is also often asked this question I made a quick template below that I think gives a lot of transparency if answered clearly and can give people a pretty clear sense of an organization's focus. It's worth noting that what I am suggesting is more about clarity rather than justification. While an org can choose not to provide the reasoning for what it’s doing, being clear on what they are doing is a great, quick first step.
What is CE’s planned scope over the next 12 months (2023-2024)
Our top three goals this year
- To incubate ~10 charities with 75% of them growing to be field leaders (e.g. GW supported or equivalent in other cause areas)
- To run our new foundation program multiple times
- To explore other impactful career paths we could run training programs in
Actions (More info in our annual report)
|3 things EAs might be surprised that we spend considerable time doing
|3 things EAs might be surprised that we do not spend considerable time doing
- Our recent foundation program launch (~2 FTE)
- Helping CE charity alumni longer term (~1 FTE)
- Helping/researching social enterprise projects (~0 FTE)
- Training existing NGOs outside the CE network (~0 FTE)
Budget (more info in our budget)
|We put more money into X than people would expect
|We put less money into X than people would expect
~7.5% CE Incubation program stipends o cover costs of living (~£112k)
~10% Contingency (~£150k)
~6% Office costs (3200 sq in London) (~£90k)
~58% Staff cost (for ~16 FTE) (~£864k)
In practice cause area prioritization (more writing on our cause priority)
Notes on chart: All numbers are rough approximations. Global health / well-being includes family planning and mental health, animals is mostly farmed animals. We expect the exploration cause areas to change more often than the others year to year. Received funding is typically not earmarked or restricted to a specific purpose or cause area but it still creates an implicit expectation/pressure.