This post originally appeared on the EA Forum.
Effective Altruism Community Building Grants is a project run by the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA), providing grants of between $5,000 and $100,000 to individuals and groups doing local effective altruism community building for the academic year of 2018-19. We believe this could be a high-impact project for the EA community in the long term, because it is a way in which we can increase the time and effort that goes into EA community building.
This post is an update on how the project is going so far, including an overview of the application process, the grants we’ve made, our evaluation criteria, and our plans for the future.
Effective altruism groups are an integral part of the EA community and have played a central role in helping the community achieve many of its aims. They direct funds to effective causes, influence people’s career trajectories (including placing people in high-impact organisations), contribute to the intellectual progress of the community, and help to shape EA culture.
The goal of Community Building Grants is to scale the impact of high-potential effective altruism groups by increasing their organisational capacity. We expect this to have a number of beneficial effects, but we see a key benefit being the empowerment of group members to work on the world’s most important problems. We also expect Community Building Grants to enable group organisers to better coordinate and support each other, to pursue valuable projects outside the scope of EA community building, and to more more effectively disseminate a high-fidelity understanding of effective altruism.
This is a new project for CEA, and we see it as a way of testing the hypothesis that we can have a major impact by providing significant funding to effective altruism groups. If we judge EA Community Building Grants to have been successful, we intend to expand the project and the amount of funding allocated to it. Because the project is new, we’re also in the process of resolving any kinks, and we expect to continue to tweak the process as we learn more about how to execute it effectively.
To read more about EA Community Building Grants and the core rationale for the project, see this announcement post.
The grants were advertised in March, in the aforementioned announcement post. Applicants could apply as individuals or with a joint application. Applicants who passed the first interview stage were then interviewed by Harri Besceli, with Kerry Vaughan monitoring the interview process during April and May. After the interviews, final decisions were made by June. Applicants also nominated referees who were asked to provide a reference in borderline cases.
The three main criteria used to assess applications were:
- The applicant's skillset and general ability
- Applicant understanding of and engagement with effective altruism and effective altruism community building
- The future potential of the effective altruism group (where relevant)
Applicants were scored on all three criteria, and the scores were combined (using equal weighting) to create an overall rating of the application. This was a key input in the decision process, but did not solely determine the final decisions.
Since the programme launched in March, we've made 22 grant offers for a total of $623,000, almost all of which were meant to enable group organisers to work full- or part-time on organising their effective altruism group.
Of the 22 offers made, 18 will fund individuals directly working on their effective altruism group, and 4 will fund either a specific project or a group's general expenses. The table below lists the grants made, the number of people who will be working part- or full-time as a result of the grants, and the length of the grant period. The majority of the grant periods started at the beginning of this month. A small number of applications to the programme were referred to EA Grants for evaluation, and aren’t included below.
We ultimately granted significantly more funding than we expected to. This was largely due to the quality of applicants exceeding our expectations, but also because we concluded that the potential for harmful indirect effects was smaller than we previously thought.
Recipients of EA community grants will largely work independently from and autonomously to CEA. The main support offered is regular calls with CEA staff, a private Slack channel, and a retreat which took place in September (hosted and co-organised by the Czech Association for Effective Altruism). The structure and extent of support for grantees is something that we intend to experiment with significantly over the duration of the grant period.
Evaluating the impact of groups is challenging, because they provide a complex mix of direct and indirect benefits to both individuals and the wider EA community. Our goals in designing an evaluation process for EA community grants were to:
- Give groups clear guidance on what would cause us to evaluate their activities favourably.
- Make it easy for the EA community and potential funders to understand and evaluate the success of each grant.
- Provide sufficient evidence of the value produced to enable CEA to make well-informed decisions on whether to renew funding for given groups, and whether to scale up the programme.
- Avoid incentivising groups to optimise for our metrics rather than for what is actually highest-impact.
- Minimise the time cost to CEA and to groups in evaluating their results.
On the basis of these criteria, we’ve chosen to evaluate the success of grants primarily by assessing outcomes pertaining to influencing the career trajectories of their members, but also by taking into account how groups are good representatives of the EA community and by evaluating other valuable outcomes on a case-by-case basis.
The primary metric used to assess grants at the end of the first year is the number of group members who apply for internships or graduate programmes in priority areas and reach at least the interview stage. For subsequent years, the primary metric used to assess the grants is the number of group members who go on to work in priority areas.
We have chosen to prioritise career-related outcomes because we believe that this will track a key source of the community grants' value, and because we feel like we have a reasonable understanding of the value of these kinds of outcomes. Though career-related outcomes will be a useful proxy for success, it’s worth emphasising that we don’t expect them to capture all of the value that the groups produce. However, we feel it is important to have concrete metrics for our projects, especially ones that require a lot of people’s time and money.
We used the 80,000 Hours list of priority paths as the basis for our list of accredited roles, but expanded it to be somewhat broader. The areas and roles that we intend to accredit are still being decided upon, and we expect the number of accredited roles and areas to increase in the future. We’ve chosen a relatively restricted set of criteria for the time being, as we think the costs to later restricting the criteria will be significantly higher than the costs of expanding them.
A general expectation of all grantees and a necessary condition for receiving further funding is that they abide by CEA’s Guiding Principles of Effective Altruism and act as good representatives of the EA community. By this, we mean that we expect the indirect effects of grantees to the community to be positive, both on the public perception of effective altruism and on the cultural norms of the effective altruism community.
Beyond career-related outcomes, we will encourage grantees to submit other outcomes that they’ve produced, which we can evaluate on a case-by-case basis. Such outcomes could include career-related outcomes not previously specified or non-career related outcomes, such as supporting other EA Groups, influencing donations, etc. This is in part intended to minimise the potential of creating adverse incentives, and to help us better understand the value created by grantees for future evaluation rounds.
We are aware of how focusing on career-related outcomes could have negative effects. For example, we could disincentivise valuable activities because they don’t count towards the success criteria. These activities could include:
- Having people enter the priority area where they will have the highest expected impact (rather than the one where they have the highest chance of ‘success’);
- Helping promote good epistemic norms and considerate culture so that people entering these areas will have larger positive externalities than otherwise;
- Helping out other EA groups, with information and shared best practices.
We could also incentivise suboptimal or harmful activities because they do count towards the success criteria. For example:
- People pushing group members to apply for a priority position even if it isn't a good fit for them
- The use of potentially harmful strategies such as large-scale outreach in order to achieve the success conditions
- Distorting grantees' thinking by encouraging them to believe that career changes are the most important thing to work on, and not to question the metric (even if they acquire evidence that ought to make them question it)
We hope to avoid these negative effects by providing after-the-fact assignment of credit for outcomes outside the scope of the primary success criteria, and by emphasising the criterion of ‘being a good representative of EA’.
We recognise that these measures may be imperfect, and we may seek to make improvements to future evaluation criteria based on our mid-term review of current grantees’ reported outcomes.
CEA will run additional, smaller grant rouns in January 2019 and in the summer of 2019.
Prior to the summer 2019 funding round, we’ll evaluate the grants provided so far. If we judge specific EA Community Building Grants to be successful, we’ll renew the funding provided to those groups in the funding round. If we judge any groups to have been particularly successful, we may provide grants for time periods longer than a year. Additionally, if we judge the process as a whole to have been successful, we may expand the number of groups we fund.
Given that EA Community Grants is in its first iteration, it is difficult to make strong predictions about its impact. However, one vision of the EA community building landscape within a few years’ time could involve:
- The equivalent of 50 full-time people doing local EA community building
- Full-time EA community builders in the majority of (but not restricted to) ~15 major universities and cities in Europe and North America
- 5 national or regional EA organisations, employing a handful of people working on both EA community building and ‘direct’ projects
- 5 people working on supporting and coordinating EA Community Grantees, providing a combination of retreats, conferences, training, mentorship, online infrastructure, etc.
- 100+ EA group members going into high-priority positions each year
If you’d like to support EA Community Building Grants, you can do so here.
If you have any questions relating to EA Community Grants, please contact email@example.com.