I'm currently researching forecasting and epistemics as part of the Quantified Uncertainty Research Institute.
I think that looking at their track record is only partially representative. They used to follow a structure where they would recommend donation opportunities to particular clients. Recently they've set up a fund that works differently; people would donate to the fund, then the fund will make donations at their will. My guess is that this will help a bit around this issue, but not completely. (Maybe they'll even be extra conservative, to prove to donors that they will match their preferences.)
Another (minor) point is that Longview's donations can be fungible with LTFF. If they spend $300K on something that LTFF would have otherwise spent money on, then the LTFF would have $300K more to spend on whatever it wants. So if Longview can donate to, say, only 90% of interesting causes, up to $10Mil per year, the last 10% might not be that big of a deal.
Thanks for the thoughts here!I'd note that the LTFF definitely invests money into some global priorities research, and some up-and-coming cause areas. Longview is likely to do so as well. Right now we don't seem to have many options to donate to funders that will re-fund to non-longtermist (a broadly defined longtermist), experimental work. In this particular case, Patrick is trying to donate to longtermist causes, so I think the funding options are acceptable, but I imagine this could be frustrating to non-longtermists.
Thanks for the comment, this raises a few good points.
Longview is trying to attract existing philanthropists who may not identify as Effective Altruists, which will to some extent constrain what they can grant to as granting to something too “weird” might put off philanthropists.
Good point. I got the impression that their new, general-purpose pool would still be fairly longtermist, but it's possible they will have to make sacrifices. We'll ping them about them (or if any of them are reading this, please do reply directly!)> If you find someone / a team who you think is better than the LTFF grant team then fine, but I’m sceptical you will.
To be clear, one of the the outcomes could be that this person decides to give to the LTFF. These options aren't exclusive. But I imagine in this case, they shouldn't have that much work to do, they would essentially be making a choice from the options we list above.
No prominent ones come to mind. There are some very junior folks I've recently seen discussing this, but I feel uncomfortable calling them out.
I just want to flag that one sort of "regular" consulting I'd love to see in EA is "really good" management consulting. My read is that many our management setups (leadership training, leadership practices, board membership administration) are fine but not world-class. As we grow it's increasingly important to do a great job here.My impression is that the majority of "management consultants" wouldn't be very exciting to us, but if there were some that were somewhat aligned or think in similarly nerdy ways, it would be possibly highly valuable.
Hi Peter, Thanks for the ideas here.My guess is that this is going to be a bit difficult. My impression is that the needs EA organizations know they have are fairly specific; they look like "really great research into key questions", or sometimes very tactical things like, "bookkeeping" or simple website development. "Consultant" is a really broad class of thing and really needs to be narrowed down in conversation.
Generally, organizations don't have that much time to experiment with non-obvious contractor arrangements. This includes time brainstorming ways they might be useful. If one is having a lot of trouble getting integrated (as a possible contractor), the best method I know of is to just work in one of these organizations for a while and develop a close understanding, or perhaps try to write blog posts on topics that are really useful to these groups and see if these pick up.Around having things like a directory, I expect the ones to work will be more narrow. There are a few smaller "contractor hubs" around; or "talent agencies", that assist with hiring contractors and charge some fee on top. I think this is a pretty good model for low-level work, and I'd like to see more of it. It does require people with either really good understandings of EA needs (or the relationships), or really good ability to do some super-obviously useful problems (like accounting).
If anyone is interested in doing consulting, one easy way to indicate so would be by just posting in a comment in this thread, or there could be a new thread for such work.
Some advanced market commitments (i.e., organisations publicly committing to pay for consulting services if they are offered) might also be helpful.
My guess is that this would be a tough sell, but I appreciate the idea.
The EA infrastructure probably helps but most people don't know much about how to set up and run an organisation
One (small) positive is that I think contractor setups can be some of the easiest to get started with. If you're just doing contracting with yourself, and maybe one other person, you don't even need to set up a formal business, you could just do it directly. The big challenges are in finding clients and providing value. You don't need much scale at first. But those things are challenges.
I imagine it could be considered nice for organizations to hire more new contractors than would otherwise make sense, as that would be effectively subsidizing the industry.
Yea,My hunch is that "EAs doing consulting for non-EA companies" looks very different from "EAs doing consulting for EA orgs", but I'd be happy to be wrong.
Re: reluctance. Can you say more about the concern about donor perceptions? E.g. maybe grantmakers like me should be more often nudging grantees with questions like "How could you get more done / move faster by outsourcing some work to consultants/contractors?" I've done that in a few cases but haven't made a consistent effort to signal willingness to fund subcontracts.
Contractors are known to be pricey and have a bit of a bad reputation in some circles. Research hires have traditionally been dirt cheap (though that is changing). I think if an org spends 10-30% of its budget on contractors, it would be treated with suspicion. It feels like a similar situation to how a lot of charities tried to have insanely low overheads (and many outside EA still do). I think that grantmakers / influential figureheads making posts like yours above, and applying some pressure, could go a long way here. It should be obvious to the management of the nonprofit that the funders won't view them poorly if they spend a fair bit on contractors, even if sometimes this results in failures. (Contract work can be risky for clients, though perhaps less risky than hiring.)
What do you mean about approval from a few parties? Is it different than other expenditures?
At many orgs, regular expenditures can be fairly annoying. Contracting engagements can be more expensive and more unusual, so new arrangements have to sometimes be figured out. I've had some issues around hiring contractors myself in previous startups for a similar reason. The founders would occasionally get cold-feet, sometimes after I agreed to an arrangement with a contractor.
doesn't seem too problematic so long as Open Phil isn't institutionally opposed to subgranting/subcontracting
I agree. The main thing for contractors is the risk of loss of opportunities. So if there were multiple possible clients funded by one group, but each makes separate decisions, and that one group is unlikely to stop funding all of those subgroups at once, things should be fine.
Re: prices. Seems like an education issue.
I'm struggling to parse "Many contractors that organizations themselves come from those organizations." Could you rephrase?
Sorry, this was vague. I meant cases where:1) Person A is employed at Organization B.2) Person A leaves employment.3) Person A later (or immediately) joins Organization B as a contractor. I've done this before. The big benefit is that person A has established a relationship with Organization B, so this relationship continues to do a lot of work (similar to what you describe).
One person I spoke to recently suggested that programs like RSP could be a good complement to consultancy work because it allows more people to hang out and gain context on how potential future clients
Yep, this is what I was thinking about above in point (3) on the bottom. Having more methods to encourage interaction seem good. There's been a bit of discussion of having more coworking between longtermists in the Bay Area for example; the more we have things like that, the better I'd expect things to be. (Both because of the direct connections, and the fact that it could make it much easier to integrate more people, particularly generalists)
Yep, agreed. Right now I think there are very few people doing active work in longtermism (outside of a few orgs that have people for that org), but this seems very valuable to improve upon.
There seem to be several longtermist academics who plan to spend the next few years (at least) investigating the psychology of getting the public to care about existential risks.
This is nice, but I feel like what we really could use are marketers, not academics. Those are the people companies use for this sort of work. It's somewhat unusual that marketing isn't much of a respected academic field, but it's definitely a highly respected organizational one.