Harri Besceli

Harri Besceli's Comments

Brief update on EA Grants

Just letting people know that applications to EA Community Building Grants are still open (someone mentioned being unsure about this based on this update).

https://www.effectivealtruism.org/community-building-grants/

Which Community Building Projects Get Funded?

(I'm the project lead of EA Community Building Grants at CEA) At the moment we don't have a good understanding of the cause of the distribution of the applications across regions. If for example this is due to an inappropriate publicity strategy or strong network effects this could mean that we're unnecessarily missing out on promising opportunities, so I agree with you that this is important to understand.

EA Community Building Grants - Recent Grants Made and Changes to the Application Process

Hi Siebe,

Thanks for the questions - I’ve given some quick thoughts, though for some of the questions I would need more time to give a detailed answer than I think I can provide at the moment.

We think that there is a large amount of variance in the impact of individual grants that we’ve made. What makes you believe this? What kind of criteria are used to evaluate and compare the impact of individual grants?

In evaluating the impact of a grant, one of the main things that determine our assessment is cases of group members where a) we expect them to have large opportunities for positive impact, and b) the group has had a large influence on their opportunities for doing good.

Examples of reasons for us expecting someone to have large opportunities for positive impact include:

  • They have received a job, internship or study program offer from an organization or institution that we think is impactful (80,000 Hours Jobs board includes many such opportunities)
  • They have indicated career plans which we think are impactful and well thought through
  • We've interacted with them in person and think that they have a lot to contribute

Examples of reasons for us thinking that a group had a large influence on their opportunities to do good include:

  • They report the group having a large positive influence on them
  • They report having been introduced to effective altruism through the group

Additional things that contribute to our assessment include projects that the group has conducted, the group's health and welcomingness, and the scale of the group's activities.

So far, we’ve evaluated the first cohort of grants individually. This means that in order to make a decision about providing further funding for a specific group, we compare the group’s reported outcomes against our criteria, rather than against other groups. The judgement about there being a large amount of variance in the impact of grants is based on their individual performance against those criteria. We haven’t yet explicitly compared the impact of different groups against each other; so it’s difficult to give more detail on the reasons for thinking this at the moment.

In evaluating whether to fund a group, we'll consider evidence of impact (as above) as well as the fit of the applicants and the location that the group is in.

After evaluating the grants made over the course of 2018 we also think that we now have a better understanding of which kinds of grantmaking opportunities will be most impactful. Could you elaborate on this? Which kinds of opportunities do you think will be the most impactful? This seems highly valuable information for aspiring community builders.

Thanks for mentioning this - I agree that it would be useful to share the learnings that we have had so far. This is something I’d like to do at some point in the future, though I can’t commit to a timeline for this at the moment.

Furthermore, community-building seems like a long-term project, so I am quite surprised about the decision to focus so much on just a few opportunities and the confidence in which type of projects are valuable. I would think that exploration is enormously valuable in such an early stage of our international community. Is this because you believe there are large potential downsides?

I agree that exploration is important and that we can learn a lot from trying different things in this space, though I don’t think that making more grants on the margin is the best way to do this. I expect that making relatively fewer grants will leave more capacity for trying things such as exploring different mechanisms of supporting community builders and different types of projects to fund. I expect this to increase the community’s collective understanding of how to do community building more than increasing the number of grants.

You’re correct that I think there are large potential downsides. However, I also think that a more narrow approach would be appropriate even if this weren't the case.

EA Community Building Grants Applications Open

Following up on this - we've conducted initial parts of the programme evaluation, though haven't yet done this comprehensively, and we're not at the moment planning on publishing a public impact evaluation for EA Community Building Grants before the end of 2020. This is mainly because we've decided to prioritise other projects (fundraising, grant evaluation, developing programme strategy) above a public impact review. Also, we've found both doing the impact evaluation and communicating this externally to be larger projects than we previously thought. In retrospect, I think it was a mistake for me to expect that we'd be able to get this done by August.



Only a few people decide about funding for community builders world-wide

Some additional thoughts on this:

How should the decision making on local community building funding be distributed across people and organisations?

I think it's reasonable that at the current scale of granting for local community building (~1 FTE, ~$1 million/ year, ~30 grants / year) the majority of the decision making is housed within one organisation, and that the majority of the decision work is contributed by one person. This level of specialisation and centralisation seems reasonable to me because I think that:

  1. Making good decisions requires a bunch of different components such as context on the EA community, the route to value of EA groups, how to do grantmaking etc. and these can be hard to achieve without a person / organisation specialising for this purpose.
  2. There's a possibility of funding harmful projects as per Stefan's comment. I think more decentralised decision would increase the risk of funding harmful projects.
  3. The scope of the programme is relatively narrow and homogeneous, as per Ryan's comment, which makes it easier to get gains from specialisation.
  4. A lot of the value of having different grantmaking programmes (differing worldviews, different epistemics, contact with different networks etc.) can be achieved by having a specialised decision maker who allocates a some of their time to consulting others.

Should there be more work going into decision making on local community building?

I think more capacity here would be good, though I don't think that allocating additional decision making capacity to local community building funding decisions is a strong priority relative to nearby alternatives. Within the EA Community Building Grants programme, I think that allocating more capacity to support functions is a higher priority than decision making functions. Within the EA grantmaking space, I don't feel like I have a great sense of where additional capacity could best be used, though I'd be surprised if this was EA Community Building Grants.

I also don't think the size of the current budget necessarily warrants additional FTE investment. I think the money granted/ FTE is in a similar ballpark for other small granting projects in the EA space such as EA Grants, EA Funds, though I'm unsure of this.



The above are my best guesses, though I don’t feel very confident in them. In general I think this is a valuable topic to explore, and I’m interested to learn more about grantmaking programmes with different models (like EA Funds) to see if there are improvements that can be made in how the decision making is distributed.

If there are independent funders that are interested in making grants to local community building opportunities, I’d be very happy to chat (harri.besceli@centreforeffectivealtruism.org). It’s possible that I’ll be able to provide useful input on any grants being considered, and I’m also keen to hear if there are any valuable funding opportunities we’re missing.

Only a few people decide about funding for community builders world-wide

Hi Jan,

Thanks for flagging your concerns here. The scope of EA Community Building Grants (CBG) doesn't encompass all funding decisions regarding community building, but is limited to providing funding for people to do part-time or full-time community building with a specific EA group (i.e. at a university, city and national level). We’ve made some grants outside this category, though they account for less than 10% of the total funding we’ve granted out. Within this category of location specific EA community building, the CBG programme likely accounts for the vast majority of funding.

In terms of our process for making decisions on Community Building Grants at CEA, I am the project lead, but other staff and external stakeholders are involved in the process (both in terms of object-level work and by providing oversight). For example, in our last evaluation round:

  • I conducted the majority of the interviews for grant applicants and the rest of the interviews were conducted by other members of the groups team.
  • I reviewed the applications, solicited input from others internal and external to CEA, and wrote up decision recommendations and my reasoning for the recommendations.
  • The decision recommendations were formally reviewed by 2 people at CEA, sent to two external advisers for additional review, and finalised in consultation with CEA's executive director.

My (quick) best guess is that of the total time allocated to community building grants decision making to date, 70% has come from me, 25% from others in CEA and 5% from people external to CEA.


As Community Building Grants is still a relatively new programme, we're still experimenting with the evaluation process, and there's a chance it'll change going forward, though I expect the amount of consultation of other CEA staff and external advisers to remain relatively similar. I'd be happy to hear any ideas you have on how to to ensure that we take into account a variety of viewpoints - feel free to email me at harri.besceli@centreforeffectivealtruism.org or you can contact katie.glass@centreforeffectivealtruism.org (the head of the groups team).

Conditional interests, asymmetries and EA priorities

Anecdatally, I've taken medication for insomnia before and ended up trying to stay awake for longer because I was enjoying the sensation of sleepiness. Unfortunately fighting to stay awake was kind of unpleasant, and negated the enjoyment.

>>> I suppose you can point out an analogous-seeming case with depressed people who lack the willpower to improve anything about their low mood.

This reminds me of the 'Penfield mood organ' in Philip K. Dick's 'Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep?'

>>> From the bedroom Iran's voice came. "I can't stand TV before breakfast." "Dial 888," Rick said as the set warmed. "The desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it." "I don't feel like dialing anything at all now," Iran said. "Then dial 3," he said. "I can't dial a setting that stimulates my cerebral cortex into wanting to dial! If I don't want to dial, I don't want to dial that most of all, because then I will want to dial, and wanting to dial is right now the most alien drive I can imagine; I just want to sit here on the bed and stare at the floor."


(though this description is of someone who stays in a bad mood because they don't have a desire to change it rather than lacking the willpower to)