Oscar Howie

Chief of Staff @ CEA
615 karmaJoined


Quick followup to note that collaborative spirit is included among CEA's Guiding Principles listed on the CEA site. Clearly it's confusing - including to a member of CEA's own staff like me! - that we refer to different things as 'principles' in different places, and that might be something we look to clarify if and when we revisit these pages as Zach Era CEA.

Thanks for reading closely, and for flagging this! While CEA is the owner of EA.org, the intro essay was drafted by a collaborative process including non-CEA staff, and the final version was written by 80k's Ben Todd (more in the essay's announcement here).

The discrepancy is tracking the reality that there is no consensus about how best to define EA, although I think the omission of collaborative spirit from the CEA page is an oversight and I expect we will edit it accordingly soon.

Our (CEA's) website has a page about core EA principles.

And note that Zach has said elsewhere he intends to write more about his views in due course.

Circling back to say we recently published CEA's 2023 budget.

Note that we project spending to be substantially under budget.

In 2021, we spent $6.9m and ended the year with 29 staff. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison, because those staff include five members of what was then the CEA ops team, and is now the EV Ops team, so the more direct comparison is with 24 staff at that time.

You can see on our dashboard some of the ways our programs have changed since 2021 (three in-person EAG events compared to one, nine EAGx events compared to zero, etc).

CEA’s spending in 2023 is substantially lower than in 2022: down by $4.8 - 5.8 million.

The graph below shows our budget as it stood early in the year, reflecting our pre-FTX plans, and compares that to how our plans and spending have evolved as we’ve adapted to the new funding environment. This has happened during an Interim period in which we’ve tried where possible not to make hard-to-reverse changes that constrain the options of a new CEO.

We currently have the same number of Core staff that we did at the end of 2022 (37), but staff costs are a relatively small proportion of our overall spending (around 20% in 2023).

  • For example, we spend a lot on events, and have cut a lot of event spending, but largely by reducing passthrough costs rather than by firing people from what is already a small team relative to the scale of its activities.
  • In contrast, the costs of the Online team responsible for the Forum are much more staff-heavy, and we don’t have plans to replace several people who left the team this year. We did recently hire one new person to work on Forum content.
  • It’s also worth noting that we postponed as much hiring as we could during our ongoing Interim period, so we expect our total number of staff to increase in 2024 relative to today’s benchmark. We expect that increasing staff costs as a proportion of our spending will increase the quality and cost-effectiveness of our programs.

You can read more about CEA's relationship with Leverage Research on our mistakes page.

  1. Healthy habits can be good for your wellbeing and productivity, in the short- and long-term
  2. Establishing healthy habits is especially hard under conditions of scarcity: time, energy, bandwidth
  3. It’s worth putting in effort to establish health habits during the good times

I keep daily yoga and meditation practices, one in the morning and one during the day, and I keep them during busy and stressful periods. I don’t think I would have started or maintained either (or habits related to sleep, food, phone) if I hadn’t entrenched them as fixtures of my routine when I was living an easier life.

This is not an argument for specific habits. Compiling the evidence behind and my experience of my preferred habits would require more scarce time than I currently have. And in any case, I don’t think I’ve found the Correct Combination for myself, let alone anybody else.

It is an argument for acting now, beginning to solidify whatever your preferred habits might be, before you come to really depend on them.

Thanks for raising this. I agree that the dial has shifted somewhat toward funding constraints for non-mysterious reasons, and I’d note that this is true across different cause areas. CEA is funding constrained too! Our Interim MD has framed this as the start of EA’s Third Wave.

I’ve been leading internally on how we might unconstrain CEA itself, and (in its very early stages) thinking about how we might coordinate fundraising activities between EA meta (~movement building) orgs. But I want to be explicit that there are a couple nearby things CEA is not currently doing and hasn’t been in recent history:

  1. Fundraising for non-CEA projects
    • Giving What We Can used to be part of CEA, but was spun out in 2020, and this has been outside our remit since then
    • Luke and Sjir recently wrote about funding constraints from a GWWC perspective
  2. Grantmaking to non-CEA projects
    • Similarly, EA Funds was spun out of CEA in 2020
    • The bulk of our current grantmaking is to the groups and EAGx conferences we directly support and their organizers

The dashboard is accurately capturing the fact that we have not (yet) made any big strategic changes to our programs intended to address funding bottlenecks. But it does disguise the fact that we’ve done some things within existing projects, including launching an effective giving subforum (later shut down) and supporting an Effective Giving Summit. I’m confident that there are more things we could do to move the needle here, although I’m less confident that they would be more impactful than our existing programs, even in the new funding environment.

There is important work to be done figuring out the costs and benefits of a more money-oriented approach, but I’d caution that it’s unlikely CEA makes any major changes to our current strategy until we appoint a new CEO. Worth noting, though, that we’re open to pretty major changes as part of that process.

On CEA (where I'm Chief of Staff) and its website specifically:

  • I'm glad that you think the What is CEA page is quite good, thanks!
  • The site is in a slightly weird position because it appears very high in searches for "effective altruism", so the front page needs to cater to that audience, as well as people who land there because they're actually interested in CEA itself. We expect the interested-in-CEA crowd to be more likely to stick around, so the page is designed to prioritize the new-to-EA crowd (i.e. redirect them to EffectiveAltruism.org).
  • We were in the process of commissioning a redesign of the site a few months ago, but that is now on hold pending us finding a new Exec Director and potentially pursuing a new strategy.
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