This page lists some of the mistakes we've made that have affected those outside CEA, and steps we've taken to do better. These are primarily from 2016 onward, since that's when we began publishing our mistakes. This list is not exhaustive.
While some of these were mistakes that we regret and wish we had avoided altogether, others are results of tradeoffs we made that we still think were the best decision. However, we still want to flag the downsides of these tradeoffs.
Please contact us with other items that should be listed here.
Our shortcoming: We were insufficiently transparent about our activities.
Steps taken: In October 2016, we began publishing monthly detailed updates on our blog and more frequent and more detailed updates on projects like EA Global.
Our shortcoming: We spread our resources across too many projects over the period 2014-2016.
Steps taken: We focused on fewer projects in 2017. Several of the projects we were running were closed (Philanthropic Advising team), merged into other projects or organizations (Global Priorities Project), or spun off into independent projects (Global Priorities Institute).
Our shortcoming: Slow and inadequate communication with donors, local group organizers, and EAGx conference organizers.
Steps taken: This largely stems from a practice of hiring slowly and generally having fewer operational and community-oriented staff than we would like, while running a lot of programs. While we hope to hire more operational staff soon, we recognise that the value we place on caution in hiring brings with it the likelihood of continuing to be understaffed here for some time. We've paused applications for new EAGx conferences.
Our shortcoming: Inadequate communication and supervision within CEA.
Particularly with remote teams, there was sometimes inadequate evaluation of staff performance and a lack of support or management for staff.
Steps taken: We've implemented quarterly 360-degree reviews of staff, weekly tracking of objectives and key results, and more regular staff retreats to coordinate with all remote staff.
Our shortcoming: Our marketing for Effective Altruism Global 2016 was overly aggressive. This was due to our misunderstanding of how emails would be delivered to applicants, resulting in lower ticket sales than expected and a last-minute rush to fill the conference.
Steps taken: In 2017 we began communicating about the conference dates earlier and began the ticketing process earlier rather than relying on a last-minute push.
Our shortcoming: Our communications with participants and speakers were often disorganized. For example, we did not provide save-the-date information sufficiently in advance of EA Global 2016. This was because we were unrealistically optimistic about when our website would be finalized and waited to put the information up there rather than sending it out by other means.
Steps taken: From 2017 we published save-the-date information as soon as event dates are confirmed, rather than waiting for all website information to be finished.
Our shortcoming: Speakers, and to a lesser degree attendees, at EA Global events in 2015 and 2016 reflected a fairly narrow demographic in terms of nationality, race, and gender that does not fully represent the diversity we'd like to see in the movement.
Steps taken: Our speaker selection process prioritizes people from groups we think are under-represented. We did see a more diverse range of speakers at EA Global 2016 than in 2015, and we hope to make more progress here.
Our shortcoming: We were often too slow to respond to organizers of EAGx conferences. This was largely because our main staff person handling EAGx was not working full-time on the project.
Steps taken: We have hired an additional events producer, who will be able to devote time to EAGx.
Our shortcoming: In 2017, our advertising around EA Global events, especially the London conference, was confusing. We made the decision to shift towards more advanced content aimed at existing members of the community midway through the five-month application period. This led to confusion about the intended audience for the conference and newer members of the EA community who were previously encouraged to attend our events felt shut out. This is a not good way of welcoming people to our community.
Steps taken: We are planning to design advertising, admissions and content for events further in advance, and communicate about this more consistently.
Our shortcoming: We were often too slow to respond to leaders of student and local groups.
Our shortcoming: We were too slow to distribute funds to student and local groups.
Our shortcoming: In 2015-2016 we had two projects working on student and local groups (Giving What We Can and EA Build), which created confusion.
Steps taken: In summer 2016 we combined Giving What We Can into CEA rather than having them function separately, with a single staff person handling chapters.
Our shortcoming: In 2017 we did not communicate our thinking on strategy sufficiently clearly.
Steps taken: We published the EA Groups leader guide.
Our shortcoming: In 2015 and 2016, we did not take enough action on several incidents involving disruptive behavior within the community where our involvement likely would have reduced the potential harm.
Our shortcoming: Some parameters of the Giving What We Can pledge were not spelled out in enough detail, leading to confusion in the community about what the Pledge entails.
Steps taken: In 2017 we published a more complete FAQ and a post clarifying the Pledge.
Our shortcoming: Giving What We Can research spent too many resources evaluating the same interventions and organizations that GiveWell was evaluating.
Steps taken: Giving What We Can's research program closed mid-2016, and we now recommend giving through EA Funds.
Our shortcoming: The Global Priorities Project was insufficiently focused as a team, leading to fragmented attention and an unclear medium-term trajectory.
Steps taken: The Global Priorities Project brand is no longer active. We have separated out the catastrophic risk policy activities, which have been folded into FHI, from the prioritization research, which has been folded into a more focused team within CEA.
Our shortcoming: In 2018 we published the second edition of the Effective Altruism Handbook which emphasized our view of cause prioritization without adequately consulting the community, and without adequately flagging that this was a project of CEA.
Steps taken: We consulted more broadly in the community, particularly amongst those who were critical of the 2nd edition. We also made it much clearer that this was a project of CEA, and that we had made several judgement calls. We plan to release an updated edition which incorporates the results of that consultation.
Our shortcoming: In 2017, our communication around EA Grants was confusing. We initially announced the process with little advertisement. Then, we advertised it on the EA Newsletter, but only shortly before the application deadline, and extended the deadline by two days.
Our shortcoming: There were delays in reaching decisions on EA Grants in 2017, which we did not adequately communicate to the applicants who were affected.
Our shortcoming: In February 2018 we stated in a comment on the EA Forum that we planned to re-open the EA Grants program by the end of that month. Shortly afterwards, we realized that we had underestimated how much work would be involved in running the open round of Grants. We did not issue a public update to our timeline. We opened public applications for EA Grants in September 2018.
Steps taken: We ran a smaller non-public round of EA Grants beginning in January 2018. We have hired a full-time grantmaker on EA Grants to be able to run the project more regularly. We will try not to indicate specific timelines about our projects to others if we are not sure about those timelines.
Our shortcoming: During the first 21 months of the EA Funds, some funds made regular disbursements of donations but others disbursed more rarely than was expected. Community members requested more transparency about how much money was in each fund and when it would likely be disbursed. In April 2018 we stated in a comment on the EA Forum that we expected to publish a post with more information in the next few weeks, but we did not publish more information until August 2018 (after an additional post from a community member expressing concerns).
Steps taken: In October 2018, we announced new management teams for most of the funds, and a new three-times-yearly regular grantmaking schedule. We implemented a dashboard for each fund, where the public can see how much money is in each fund.
Our shortcoming: Our donation processing system wasn’t sufficiently user-friendly. For example, we were often too slow to provide donation receipts and sent some receipts with incorrect information.
Steps taken: We have hired more operational staff to support this process.
Our shortcoming: We have sometimes been too slow to respond to general inquiries.
Steps taken: We have hired more operational staff to support this process.