This blog post is part of our series of monthly strategic updates so that those that want to can stay up to date with what we are working on and why. Previously Will MacAskill has posted these updates on the Effective Altruism Forum. I (Tara) am taking over writing the updates moving forward and will post them here on our blog.
Since our last update, we have launched EA Funds, hosted a team retreat and continued to learn a lot at YC. As a result, we’ve updated and clarified our strategy and I’d like to share more of our bigger-picture thinking going forward. In these updates, I’ll aim to explain more of the why of our overall approach, to provide more context for what we’re working on.
During our team retreat, we clarified and updated our overall vision and mission. Our vision is to create an optimal world. We don’t yet know exactly what an optimal world looks like. There are some things which we think are robustly good, such as ending death from malaria or abolishing factory farming, and other areas where we are highly uncertain. For this reason, we want to see effective altruism do for the pursuit of good what the Scientific Revolution did for the pursuit of truth. We want to build a community focused on figuring out what this optimal world looks like, and how we get there.
To help make this vision a reality, we plan to first focus on building capacity to do more good in the future. In particular, we need three key resources as a community:
- groundbreaking ideas,
- talented, motivated people
- the money needed to put the best ideas into practice.
In the past, we’ve talked a lot about whether we’re bottlenecked by ideas, talent or money, but we’ve realised in absolute terms, we need vastly more of all of these key resources. We want to promote and strengthen effective altruism as an idea and a community, with the aim of increasing the total value of all resources effectively aimed at robustly doing good now, and figuring out how to do even more good in the future.
To better pursue our mission to support the community we are pursuing quarterly goals, focusing on one of the key community resources (ideas, talent or money) for each quarter. This quarter, our primary focus is improving the infrastructure for giving effectively. We developed the EA Funds concept after speaking to both highly engaged donors, and people who were quite new to the community. Beyond that, this quarter we are also building faster feedback loops to ensure we focus our future efforts where it is most valuable. Next quarter we aim to focus on consolidation and develop better infrastructure for developing and sharing core ideas within effective altruism.
Test Effective Altruism Funds as a concept. We will consider this project a success if feedback from the community is positive, and the amount we have raised for the funds in the first quarter exceeds $1M. We think that the fund managers will be able to recommend a more representative series of grants if they have at least $200K to allocate in the first round. You can keep up with how much money we've raised using this dashboard. We hope to raise additional funds through new contacts at Y Combinator. We chose to focus on money-moved during YC in part because the partners and founders there are particularly good at giving advice in this area. You can read more about why we launched EA Funds in our launch post and if you’ve yet to provide feedback on EA Funds we’d really appreciate your thoughts in this quick survey.
Establish models of how to evaluate the impact of our activities. This involves both establishing a framework for evaluating Executive Office activities and evaluating our how existing channels (such as our Effective Altruism Global conferences and social media channels) add value. We’re building some rough quantitative models to compare these different approaches, as we expect some projects to be many times more effective per dollar than others.
Maintain and grow a positive relationship with the broader effective altruism community. This includes providing greater transparency about what CEA is working on and why.
Our renewed focus means some changes to the organisational structure of CEA, in line with our goal of testing projects, measuring their impact and updating to focus on those which perform best.
1. Remaining teams in CEA all in one division
To allow us to better coordinate we’ve moved everyone (marketing, events, chapter support, community liaisons and Will MacAskill’ Executive Office) to one division, working towards agreed metrics and objectives. Find out more about the people who work at CEA on our team website.
2. The dissolution of our Special Projects Division
As part of CEA’s internal reorganization in July 2016, we created a Special Projects Division to house a number of discrete, pre-existing research-related projects:
- Philanthropic advising
- The Oxford Institute for Effective Altruism (OIEA)
- Fundamentals research
In line with our aim to narrow CEA’s focus, we’ve been reviewing which of the projects in this division to scale up, scale down or discontinue. We have therefore decided to do the following:
discontinue the philanthropic advising project (while shifting some of that work to Founders Pledge);
move our policy work on existential and technological risks to the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI);
move OIEA fully into Oxford University; and
allow the fundamentals research team to operate independently as part of a collaborative Oxford-based research community that includes OIEA and FHI.
In light of these changes, the need for a Special Projects Division at CEA has run its course. Although CEA will continue to sponsor the fundamentals research stream and facilitate the development of OIEA, its organizational focus will be on developing and strengthening the effective altruism community.
Below is more information on the next steps for each of the research projects that previously formed part of the Special Project Division.
The philanthropic advising project, which was originally part of Giving What We Can, has focused on (i) research into new, effective giving opportunities, and (ii) providing tailored giving recommendations to wealthy individuals and foundations. We recently decided to discontinue this project at CEA for the following reasons:
We moved less money through wealthy individuals and foundations than we expected. Although we had hoped that Founders Pledge members would provide a reliable stream of clients, we underestimated the inefficiencies to Founders Pledge of relying on a third-party for consulting services. We believe it would be more effective for Founders Pledge to provide these services itself. Marinella Capriati, formerly of our philanthropic advising team, will be joining Founders Pledge to help it develop its own philanthropic advising capacity.
Our research wasn’t able to add enough value beyond GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project. Our model involved conducting research into areas that GiveWell/Open Philanthropy Project had not fully explored and were unlikely to explore anytime soon. Our team’s areas of expertise overlapped considerably with those of GiveWell/Open Philanthropy Project, however. Without venturing well beyond our areas of expertise, there were fewer opportunities to provide value here than we expected. Although this might not always be the case, we believe that research that is within the focus areas of GiveWell/Open Philanthropy Project is most efficiently conducted within those organizations. James Snowden, formerly of our philanthropic advising team, will be joining GiveWell, where we believe his research will have greater impact.
Our philanthropic advising work was insufficiently complementary to CEA’s core strategy. In the philanthropy domain, CEA’s plan is to develop, and move money through, the new EA Funds platform. We believe this platform will accomplish several of the goals we had for the philanthropic advising team and therefore reduces the value of CEA doing its own charity research.
As we mentioned in last month’s update, Seb Farquhar, who led our policy advising work (previously as the Executive Director of Global Priorities Project), is moving across the hall to FHI, where he will continue his work on existential and technological risk policy. We discussed our decision not to expand our policy focus in our year-end review.
OIEA is an academic institute, founded by Hilary Greaves and Will MacAskill, that we expect to go live in fall 2017. During its initial, grant-writing stage, OIEA has been housed within CEA, which has funded its first employees (Michelle Hutchinson and Jon Courtney). Having received its first (small) grant, OIEA is now at the stage where it can operate as part of Oxford University, independent of CEA.
The remaining research team within CEA will focus on pursuing research that helps to improve the intellectual community around effective altruism. This may include:
- searching for insights that could help improve understanding of object-level questions about movement norms or strategy;
- understanding issues that cut across different cause areas, or relate to how they might work together; and
- producing resources that help individuals engage more thoughtfully with effective altruism
This team consists of two full-time researchers (Stefan Schubert and Max Dalton), and one part-time researcher (Ben Garfinkel). In addition, Owen Cotton-Barratt will be joining part-time to lead research direction. This team will work closely with FHI and OIEA as part of a collaborative Oxford-based research community.