There’s an underlying tension where CEA struggles to be both “top down” and “bottom up” at the same time:
Apply now, and please err on the side of applying!But we get thousands of submissions so “it’s not the best use of our time to give feedback [on rejections]…these things are subjective.”
Apply now, and please err on the side of applying!
But we get thousands of submissions so “it’s not the best use of our time to give feedback [on rejections]…these things are subjective.”
(When I say “you” further in this comment, I am referring to CEA generally and not the author specifically.) Tl;dr see four recommendations below.
From the “bottom up” vantage point, CEA wants to grow the community. You want more people working for and funding EA interventions. You appreciate that diverse worldviews bring to light overlooked areas, and you can’t predict where breakthroughs come from. You recognize the benefits of broadening the EA tent to match talent including management and line workers.
From the “top down” vantage point, CEA wants high quality programs and events: a position of thought leadership, a high epistemic standard, optimal 1-1 networking, and influence over policy, talent and funding to do the most good. Therefore, you reasonably choose to gate conferences, classes and programs. You don’t want to dilute the core principles or attract bad actors.
It feels to me like CEA chooses to apply the “top down” or “bottom up” lens as appropriate for itself in most situations. However, this can be confusing or misleading to the bulk of the EA community who works alongside CEA but is unaffiliated with it.
As I’ve previously commented in Open EA Global, EA is a personal choice/identity. It’s not a job title earned or a license you receive through a license board. So when people are turned away from events or courses - that they are excited to attend or pay for - with unsigned form letters and vague calls-to-action - it feels like a value-based judgment even when it is not.
I pursued four unrelated programs and all of these applications were lengthy and personal. I felt like CEA took my trust and willingness to provide detailed personal information for granted. I’ve encountered only a few organizations (graduate degree programs come to mind) that came close to asking for that level of qualitative detail - and in those cases I found more clarity on what the bar was and what the upside could be. So I can see where feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction are compounded when folks don’t receive commensurate feedback.
Slight aside, based on my professional expertise in branding and customer service, it’s not obvious that the risks of “bad actors” attending events/programs outweighs the risks of “disgruntled ex-EAs” diluting the EA brand in other venues. It’s been suggested that more public criteria for applications might allow people to “game the system,” but you can also motivate good actors to do what’s necessary to qualify next time. I’m not sure if the visible cost of bad seeds at an event is higher than the invisible cost of people being turned away who might sour on EA altogether. If not handled with care, rejected applicants become vectors of negative publicity throughout the nonprofit landscape and beyond. Measuring and understanding this could be a useful research project.
Here are four actionable recommendations to improve this process (in no particular order):
Thanks for listening. I acknowledge that gatekeeping EA programs is a thankless job. I’m interested in making the process better both as a marketing leader with relevant experience and as a community member who sees opportunities for CEA to overcome its own hurdles to doing more good! Feel free to take or leave any of my suggestions and DM me if you want to dig deeper on anything.
Intro EA Virtual Program and 80k Hours Advising (accepted), EAG DC and EAGx Berlin (rejected).
Hi Scott, I truly appreciated your post on "Open EA Global" and am inclined to agree on most fronts. This is a month old, EAG DC has passed, and so I'll strive to focus on what's new or unique versus what has already been said:
I'm new to the EA community and have not been to EAG. In fact, I applied to EAGx Berlin this month and was told to apply to a local conference, then I applied to EAG DC and was told to apply to an EAGx. (No EAGx will be posted in my region until likely Boston in the spring; although I can look forward to the virtual conference coming up.) I was excited to dive in to the community and disappointed by the chicken-and-egg here and the impersonal rejection process. I still believe EA is a great cause, I understand the thankless job of the staff in these decisions, and I acknowledge the ways I can strengthen my personal candidacy. (But I wish the website had not invited me to apply with such cheer! And I wish I had spent less time on this particular process.)
Despite not being an EA, I possess professional experience around community engagement and customer service. I led massive Growth in two companies from obscurity through IPO. My teams have popularized challenging concepts to mainstream audiences and dealt with toxic customer service issues. I acknowledge I am one year into my EA journey and far from the smartest person in the room.
Being an EA is an identity, it's a personal choice. That sums up why EAG rejections may sting so badly compared to, say, getting passed over for a job offer or finding out Burning Man tix already sold out. The literature can state that this is merely admission to event and it's not intended to be a personal judgment, but the verdict might not feel that way to an individual. Even in these comments, I see lots of talk of "not meeting the bar" which personally makes me uncomfortable when the bar is so ill-defined. A "good enough EA" seems like a straightforward interpretation of this bar, so I get why some folks take it personally.
The overall objective of EA is to find the best ways to help people and put them into practice. Let's set aside costs, logistics, precedent and hurt feelings... for EA to find the most effective interventions and scale them, it benefits from casting a large net. This exposes the growing movement to new ideas which can be sifted through (and incorporated or discarded). So it seems to me, the larger, more open conference serves the overarching objective best. There are plenty of technologies that can and do help with matching in order to make the event "feel" smaller for various reasons. There are still plenty of ways to pamper the 800 pound gorillas.
To an outsider, it's not apparent how networking-heavy EAG is. It's only because I have multiple colleagues who have attended EAG in the past that I learned how the 1-1 matching is a key factor in doling out spaces. I approached the event with the mentality of "let's consume content, hear keynotes and absorb all that EA has to offer!" It's clear from some of the comments that this is relatively unimportant, but I do wonder if EAG misses a golden opportunity to amplify the content for general community-building (and as one comment mentions - to elevate voices besides Will's).
Is South by Southwest (Tech) a worthwhile template for EAG? The massive conference in Austin, TX has a growing share of detractors, but it did a lot of things right. The "Day Pass" is the front door for folks who are attending, learning, listening (and paying big bucks) to attend. Then there are all manner of networking events from semi-public lectures to exclusive gatherings on top of the Ritz. I don't feel bad that I didn't get a 1-1 with the CEO of X company, because I didn't even know that was going on. That conference has succeeded in letting anyone in and creating exclusivity at the same time.
Thanks again for the consideration and I hope you find this helpful, etc. -Steve