MaxDalton

Executive Director @ Centre for Effective Altruism
Working (6-15 years of experience)
3407Oxford, UKJoined Sep 2015

Bio

I lead the Centre for Effective Altruism, an organization that is trying to support the EA community in order to create a radically better world. I set our overall strategy, hire people to further in our work, and manage and empower the leadership team.

I used to be a moderator here, and helped to launch the new version of the Forum in 2018. Before that I studied economics, did some mediocre global priorities research, and helped to set up an early version of EA Funds.

Feel free to reach out if you think I might be able to help you. Follow the links to give (anonymous) feedback to me or CEA.

How others can help me

How I can help others

  • I might be able to help you talk through issues you're facing relating to management, and I can point you towards some good resources if you're new to management.
  • I might be able to fix issues you see in CEA's work.

Sequences
1

CEA Updates (Q3 2021)

Comments
239

Topic Contributions
10

You can read a bit more about why we did this here. We handed the funding side off to OP, and we hoped someone else would take on the support side, but no-one did. OP are currently handling funding only, and we would work on support only, which reduces much of the risk of duplication.

I'll ask someone on the groups team to explain more about why we're more optimistic about our approach now.

Hey Ryan, thanks for writing this up - keen to explain this and reflect more.

First, I do think that I could have written this post better: e.g. given the disclaimer about not focusing on FTX up front.

I think that a lot of this is a substantive disagreement about how CEA’s year went, which I think might be driven by a substantive disagreement about what CEA is.[1]

I’m aware that some people (possibly including you) have a model that’s a bit like “CEA is responsible for what happens in the EA community. A big bad thing happened to the EA community, so CEA is responsible, and so they had a pretty bad year.” (I expect that this is a bit of an oversimplification of your view, but hopefully it helps make the direction clear.)

An oversimplification of my view is “CEA is responsible for running EAG, EAGx, UGAP, groups support, virtual programs, the EA Forum, EA.org. A couple of these things had middling years, but many of them seemed to grow or improve significantly (like 5x, 2.9x growth). So CEA had a pretty good year, and “a year of continued growth” is a good summary.”

The key way in which that is an oversimplification is that the Community Health & Special Projects team does have a broader mandate: scanning for risks and trajectory changes to the community and trying to address them. As mentioned in that section, we clearly didn’t prioritise or eliminate this risk - we’re reflecting on how much that was a mistake, versus a good decision (to focus on other significant risks). We are reflecting on what we should do differently to reduce this and related risks in the future, and we’ll communicate more about that in due course. As I say in response to Larks, there may well be things that we end up thinking were big mistakes here, that should cause us to course-correct (and should go on our mistakes page). But we’re not yet confident in if/what the mistakes were, so we didn’t want to add them in this post yet. I should have noted that in that section though - I’ll go and edit.

So one way I think of this is, should CEA’s annual review be kinda the same thing as EA’s annual review? If I were writing EA’s annual review, there would be a bunch of negative stuff in there, and the overall tone would be pretty different to the above. If this is what CEA’s annual review should be, I did a pretty bad job and you’re right.

Or should it be more like Rethink Priorities[2] annual review? I think that Rethink Priorities could reasonably be like “Our core work went well! (Footnote: though it's impact may be attenuated by one of EA’s major funders blowing up in a very visible way. We’ll reflect on what that changes for us.)” I think there’s a legit version of CEA’s annual review that is like this, if you view CEA as more being responsible for running EAG, groups support, etc.

Overall, I think that CEA is clearly somewhere in between these extremes - we’re more focused on and accountable for how EA overall goes than RP are. But my current take, based on how I view CEA's role/mandate, is that it’s a bit more on the “Rethink Priorities” end, whereas I guess you think it’s more on the “EA annual review” end. I expect that this partly explains why I took a different approach to the annual review.

Going through your nitpicks:

  • Agree that morale dipped around FTX stuff. My impression is that it’s more back-to-normal, but we should probably have noted this. (And I think it’s a caveat to the overall thing of “doubled the team size and maintained morale/retention” thing though.)
  • Yep, some of the growth was due to FTX attention (but again, this feels like a bit of a footnote - a significant majority of the growth was not to do with FTX, and I think that the FTX growth was an example of the Forum providing real value, by helping people to process the news). 
  • This is a fair point about Forum quality - I’m aware that some people think this. Our current take, having looked into this a bit and looked over top post lists from previous years, is that the quality is pretty constant but that people are struggling to find the most interesting posts as post volume has increased. This is still a problem, and something that we’re looking to fix. I think that this is an important amendment to the statement in the post, and something I’ll correct.
  • Understatement of the FTX thing - I agree the tone is maybe a bit bland here, but I’m not sure it really understates it? “Community took a significant hit” seems about the right level. 

To sum up, despite the big-picture disagreement above, I think that you’re right that we should have added a bit more on the setbacks and caveats to the big picture. But my perspective is that the big picture on CEA's year really is positive.
 

  1. ^

     As a meta point, I’m aware that I’m clearly biased to think that CEA went well, and to want to say that CEA went well. This post is an attempt to accurately convey the big picture as I see it, but I’m aware that I may be biased here! I think that I can speak somewhat definitively to how I view CEA’s scope though.

  2. ^

    I chose Rethink Priorities kind of at random as an example - this could be many EA orgs, and I don't mean it to reflect anything  on RP in particular.

Thanks - that’s a good point. We do discuss this in the latter sections of the post, but I think you’re right that we should have mentioned it up front to set expectations.

Re criticism contest, agree that it's a disappointment that that contest didn't surface more criticism of FTX. I also think that overall it drove some meaningful and useful criticism of core EA ideas and institutions, and that's worth highlighting. Not sure if we got the right balance between those two sides in the post.

Hi Larks, as we mentioned in the post (especially the last two sections) we're actively reflecting on what, if anything, we should have done differently around FTX. I'm not yet confident what the conclusion of that will be, so it seemed premature to include it in the mistakes section, but maybe we should have mentioned it still. 

Once we're done with our reflection, we'll share more about our takeaways and (if necessary) update our mistakes page etc.

FYI we just posted our annual review here.

I think there's currently a bug with sequences - we're aware and someone's looking into a fix.

Hi, this is something we’re already exploring, but we are not in a position to say anything just yet.

We've now released a page on our website setting out our approach to moderation and content curation, which relates somewhat to this comment. Please feel free to share any feedback in comments or anonymously.

We've now released a page on our website setting out our approach to moderation and content curation, which partly addresses one of the points raised in this post. Please feel free to share any feedback in comments or anonymously.

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