Which Community Building Projects Get Funded?

post by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-13T20:31:17.209Z · score: 79 (44 votes) · EA · GW · 56 comments

Contents

  EA Community Building Grants
    Background and process
    Grant outcomes
  EA Grants
    Background and process
    Grant outcomes
  EA Meta Fund
    Background and process
    Grant outcomes
  Conclusion
None
56 comments

Disclosure: This analysis is mine alone, and does not reflect the belief of any individuals or organizations I’m affiliated with. To protect my anonymity I’m not providing a full history of my experiences with the programs I’ve analyzed, but readers can assume that I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to get funding through one or more of the channels discussed below and could potentially benefit from changes to these grantmaking processes.

Most Effective Altruists (myself included) would agree that the stronger the EA community is, the more good it will be able to accomplish. This idea has motivated the development of multiple programs that have granted millions of dollars to dozens of organizations, groups, and individuals working on “community building” (CB).

This analysis examines the processes and grant history of three grantmaking channels: EA Community Building Grants (CBGs), EA Grants, and the EA Meta Fund. Evaluating the efficacy of specific grantees or grantmakers is not feasible given the large number of grants, their broad scope, and the lack of publicly available information about many of the projects that have been funded. While I don’t want to be critical of any particular grantee, grantmaker, or platform, I do want to call attention to concerning patterns revealed by a meta-analysis of these grantmaking channels in aggregate.

Below, I show that all three of these grantmaking channels use processes that implicitly or explicitly restrict the number and type of CB projects that are considered. The outcome of these processes have been grants that primarily fund CB projects in close geographical proximity to the grantmakers. Just over half of CB funding has gone to people or projects closely connected to “Oxbridge” (Oxford or Cambridge) or London, and 85% of funding has gone to European efforts.

As discussed in more detail in the section on the Meta Fund, this concentration isn’t simply a result of the largest CB organizations being based in Oxford or London. Nor is it the result of the EA community itself being geographically concentrated. While the community does have some large hubs, individual EAs (per the EA Survey [EA · GW]) and EA groups (per EA Hub) are significantly more dispersed than CB funding.

The landscape for CB funding is shifting rapidly. There’s been some turnover in the leadership of specific funding channels, CEA recently announced a new CEO, and the EA Grants program might be discontinued altogether [EA · GW]. This creates an opportunity to reflect on how CB funding can best be structured going forward. I hope my analysis helps ground this discussion in hard data and highlights some of the issues that new processes should try to resolve. If my findings are correct, there are likely valuable CB projects from certain geographic regions and/or interpersonal networks that are being neglected.

Note: It’s clear which locations are funded by EA Community Building Grants. However, more interpretation is required for the Meta Fund and EA Grants, as many grantees belong to multiple geographic networks. To highlight the patterns I’ve observed, the preceding table and subsequent analyses attribute grants to the Oxbridge/London network where grantees have, or previously had, strong ties to that area. For instance, a Meta Fund grant allowing an Oxford graduate to study at Harvard is attributed to the Oxbridge/London area, rather than the Rest of World or a split between Oxbridge/London and the Rest of World. Similarly, the Other Europe category is best thought of as “tied to Europe (but not Oxbridge/London)”, the Bay Area category as “tied to Bay (but not Europe)”, and the Rest of World as “no ties to Europe or Bay”. All calculations and categorizations can be found here.

EA Community Building Grants

Background and process

The EA Community Building Grant (CBG) program [? · GW] funds paid staff for local EA Groups. It is run by CEA’s Oxford-based groups team, and an Oxford grad is the main point person [EA(p) · GW(p)]. (I’m not using names throughout this report, as I don’t want to suggest that any individuals are doing anything wrong. As mentioned earlier, I’m trying to call attention to broader patterns that are not the responsibility of any one person.)

The availability of CBGs was announced via one post [EA · GW] on the EA Forum and one post in the EA Group Organizers Facebook group, but was not publicized on the main EA Facebook page or in the EA Newsletter. This limited publicity appears to have translated into limited awareness of the program, even in one of the EA community’s most active and connected hubs: after the winners of the first round of grants were announced, one well-connected EA reported [EA(p) · GW(p)] that “When I spoke to ~3 people about it in the Bay, none of them knew the grant existed or that there was an option for them to work on community building in the bay full time.”

The main announcement [EA · GW] of the second round of CBGs was made on the EA Forum on January 31, 2019, less than three weeks before the February 18 application deadline. Less than a week before the applications closed, it was also publicized through a February 13th post on the EA Group Organizers Facebook group. The announcements warned potential applicants that “this round is for highly promising, time-sensitive opportunities that we’d be willing to commit to before the completion of the impact evaluation. Given the above, the bar for successful applications will be higher than the previous round.” Accordingly, the announcement indicated that the grantmaking round would have “a budget cap of $150,000.” Presumably more groups would have been inclined to apply for funding had they known that in actuality that round would grant $463,000. (After seeing a preliminary version of this analysis, CEA clarified in a private communication that “$150k was the amount to be spent on *new* grants, though this wasn't explicitly stated in the post, and so it's seems plausible that potential applicants would have interpreted this as covering both new grants and renewals.”)

Most recently, in October 2019 CEA announced [EA · GW] that it would accept applications on a rolling basis. This announcement also emphasized that limited funding would be available:

“The bar for successful applications to EA Community Building Grants has risen since our first round of grants in 2018. This means that we expect to be making a smaller number of new grants and providing less total funding for new grants than previously. Our current best guess is that we’ll offer between $50,000 and $100,000 in new grants between now and the end of 2019, though these aren’t strict upper and lower bounds and it’s plausible that the amount we end up granting lies outside of this range. ‘New grants’ here does not include renewed funding for grants made during previous rounds.”

Grant outcomes

CEA has made ~$1.4 million in CBGs. While it hasn’t disclosed how much money went to each group, CEA has reported which groups got funding, for how long, and for how many employees. This data shows that CBGs have overwhelmingly gone to fund staff for European groups, which have received 89.5% of staff, including 24% for groups based in Oxford, Cambridge, or London. By contrast, North American groups and Australian groups received 9.6% and .8% respectively. Groups based in Geneva (15.3%) and Oxford (12.2%) each received funding for more staff than all non-European groups combined (10.5%); groups in Norway (10.2%) and the Czech Republic (9.8%) also came close.

Many, if not most, of the grantees from the lightly publicized first round appear to have been groups that participated in a CEA-run “EA Community Building retreat in the UK for organizers of European EA groups.” In that round, 91% of funded staff positions went to European groups, including all the grants for 12 month (vs. 6 month) positions and all the grants for full-time staff.

This Europe-centric grantmaking contrasts with the geographical distribution of EA Groups, where European groups account for only a modest plurality.

Note: When grant renewals were announced [EA · GW] in October 2019 a total dollar amount for those renewals was not included, so my figures assume these grants provided the same dollars per full time staff member as previous rounds. My analysis does not include smaller (<$5,000) “General Support” grants that some groups have received, but which are not considered part of the CBG program. The first four of these general grants (to a Cambridge summer program for math students, Oxford, the Bay Area Biosecurity group, and India) were announced in November 2018 [EA(p) · GW(p)]. In a private message, CEA provided additional information on general grants made “from February 2019 onwards.” These general grants were less concentrated than CBG (Europe received 21% of general funding), though they also provided much less funding (~$80,000 in general funding vs. ~$1.4 million in CBG).

EA Grants

Background and process

The EA Grants program has primarily been run by Bay Area-based staff at CEA US, though the initial round also involved an Oxford-based employee of CEA UK. The first round of this program distributed ~$480,000 in 2017. This analysis will focus on grants to projects CEA classified as “EA Community”, which received 65% of all funding. (Of the remainder, 33% went to “Long-term future”, while “Animal Welfare” and “Global Health and Development” projects each received 1%.)

The first round of EA Grants [EA · GW] had “confusing” communication and accepted applications for only three weeks, but still attracted 722 applicants. However, the evaluation team reported [EA · GW] that “Many applicants had proposals for studies and charities we felt under-qualified to assess. Most of those applicants we turned down.”

While CEA publicly announced a $2.6 million EA Grants program with rolling applications in December 2017 [EA · GW] (and subsequently reiterated those plans in mid-February 2018 [EA(p) · GW(p)], April 2018, mid-August 2018 [EA · GW], and late August 2018), those plans never came to fruition. Instead, CEA ran a “referral round” of EA Grants (starting in January 2018), and a September 2018 round.

The referral round was, by its nature, non-public. While CEA has publicly described this as a “smaller” round, it in fact granted ~80% more money than the original round. When CEA re-opened EA Grants to public applications [EA · GW] in September 2018, they accepted applications for less than a month and since they began “evaluating applications before the application period ends, [it was] advantageous to submit your application sooner rather than later.” The September round was publicized in neither the EA Facebook group nor the EA newsletter. Even the main EA Grants page wasn’t updated when applications opened, so anyone visiting that page would have been under the impression that applications were still closed.

Grant outcomes

Looking at which “EA Community” projects received funding, a clear pattern emerges. The vast majority of money flowed to Bay Area-based rationality projects (56%) or Oxford-connected philosophy projects (27%). The largest grant (accounting for nearly a quarter of all EA Community funding) went to a project run by CEA US’s former Director of Strategy.

The referral round made [EA · GW] “22 grants for a total of ~$850,000”; corresponding numbers for the September 2018 round haven’t been made available. While CEA hasn’t published the grantees for either of these rounds, they have provided a couple of examples (a more comprehensive evaluation is apparently in progress [EA(p) · GW(p)]). This information, along with a few grantees named in other contexts (such as here [EA · GW] and here), provides a (very) limited picture of where this money has gone. This data suggests that the referral round relied heavily on Oxford (and to a lesser extent UK and Bay Area) related networks.

EA Meta Fund

Background and process

The original manager of this fund is based in the Bay Area but has numerous and longstanding Oxford ties. Under this management, the Meta Fund did not accept applications.

After concerns raised by the community [EA · GW], the fund adopted a management team [EA · GW] in October 2018. Since then, 4 of the 5 fund managers (including the Chair) have been based in London, with the 5th based in Hong Kong. (In June 2019 [EA · GW], the fund removed one London based manager and replaced them with another.)

Under the new management system, the Meta Fund welcomes applications for funding. However, despite multiple [EA(p) · GW(p)] community requests [EA(p) · GW(p)], the Meta Fund’s website does not indicate that this is the case or provide a link to apply (unlike the two other EA Funds that accept applications and the global health fund which explicitly states that it does not accept applications.)

Instead, the Meta Fund has solicited applications through posts on the EA Forum (which are tagged as “Community” posts, meaning they do not show up on the Forum’s front page). Per the 2018 EA Survey [EA · GW], only ~20% of the EA community uses the Forum. By comparison, 53% of respondents are in the EA Facebook group. However, applications for the Meta Fund have only been solicited once in the Facebook group, less than 24 hours before that round of applications closed. The Meta Fund has never solicited applications through the EA Newsletter.

Grant outcomes

Since its inception, the Meta Fund has predominantly supported organizations/individuals based in Oxbridge or London, and to a lesser extent other parts of Europe. EAs based in other areas have received minimal funding.

The concentration in grants isn’t just a function of the biggest meta organizations (CEA, 80K, Founders Pledge) being based near London. As the following table shows, even excluding ~$1.1 million in grants to those organizations the allocations to London and Europe are notably high. Non-European grants are modest (24%) and highly concentrated in Vancouver and the Bay. Edit: This perspective is also helpful for readers who are reluctant to classify CEA and 80,000 Hours as purely Oxford based organizations. CEA has its team split between Oxford and the Bay Area, and 80K was in the US (Bay Area) from November 2016 - April 2019.

Note: The Meta Fund’s managers reviewed a preliminary version of this analysis, and questioned whether it was appropriate to classify research grants (to GPI, Forethought Foundation, and two individual researchers) as “community building.” I think this is a borderline case, that reflects some of the ambiguity surrounding what counts as “community building”, what counts as “meta”, and to what extent these categories overlap. I took the approach of including all the Meta Fund’s grants in my analysis. One could argue that this overstates the amount of CB funding allocated to Oxford, but it does capture the important point that these grants to Oxford researchers reduce the amount of funding available for other CB projects.

Conclusion

Roughly 5 out of 6 dollars spent on CB has funded European efforts. How should we interpret this degree of concentration?

One hypothesis is that this is an efficient allocation of resources. If this were true, it would suggest that non-European CB projects are systematically less valuable than their European counterparts, and that European projects without close Oxbridge or London-ties are systematically less valuable than projects based in those locations. Even if you believe these implications are currently true, wouldn’t you want to broaden the base of locations capable of producing highly valuable work? And wouldn’t funding a broader set of CB projects be a natural way to do so?

An alternative hypothesis, which I find immensely more likely, is that CB resources are being allocated inefficiently. Under this view, CB funding is too reliant on overlapping grantmaker networks. This suggests it would be beneficial to incorporate grantmakers with different networks (such as by adding one or more North American based managers to the Meta Fund committee), to adopt CB funding mechanisms that are based less on people/personal relationships and more focused on processes or projects, and to extend the application periods and increase publicity for future grantmaking rounds.

If CB grantmakers are in fact exhibiting bias toward their people in their networks, this does not in any way mean that they are acting in bad faith or improperly trying to advantage their friends. It just means they are acting exactly how we should expect any human to behave. In-group favoritism is a well-known dynamic, which is precisely why it’s important to design systems that limit it.

I want to emphasize that there’s nothing inherently wrong with relationship-based grantmaking. But I do think its problematic when all the grantmaking channels in a cause area use this strategy, particularly when the decision makers have overlapping networks. In the same vein, the people making the grants all have good qualifications for doing so; the problem as I see it is that these grantmakers don’t complement each other as well as they could.

My findings largely support the idea that EA is “vetting constrained [EA · GW]” (at least with respect to CB), and that additional grantmaking capacity would be helpful. I suspect paid grantmakers would be particularly helpful: while we should applaud volunteer grantmakers (like the Meta Fund management committee) for their time and effort, there’s only so much capacity they can provide. The potential winddown of EA Grants will only exacerbate these vetting constraints. And if this winddown also reduces the amount of CB funding available, it will make it even harder for deserving projects to get funded.

The purpose of the EA community is to do as much good as possible. Improving how that community is built will make it more effective in pursuing that goal.

56 comments

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comment by JoanGass · 2019-11-15T20:12:20.981Z · score: 57 (21 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I’m Joan Gass, the Managing Director at CEA.

First, thank you for such a detailed, thoughtful criticism of CEA’s projects. It’s really valuable to hear from people about how we can improve our programs. This is also timely: we've recently hired a permanent Executive Director and we’re thinking through our strategy for this upcoming year.

CEA’s work, and CEA’s staff, have historically been mostly based in and focused on community building work in the US and the UK. We think that it may sometimes be legitimate to focus on the US, UK, and Europe more heavily, as these are areas that have a lot of EAs and a lot of global influence, and therefore may have lots of good EA grantmaking opportunities for high impact projects. At the same time, there are good grantmaking opportunities for EA in other parts of the world. Thus, we see two possible good goals for community building and grantmaking going forward: we’d like to see grantmakers actively building relationships and seeking out valuable grantmaking opportunities in more areas. But we don’t want to discourage people from giving “too many” grants to great projects in any one location. Getting this balance right requires careful analysis of trade offs and strategic goals. This post’s analysis is helpful as we evaluate our current programs and think through future strategy.

The importance of EA community building outside the Bay and UK:

We agree with the author that there are good reasons to think that community-building opportunities exist outside of the locations where we've historically granted. For example, there are cities with strong finance industries which could be promising for earning to give. Individuals with cultural context in Sub Saharan Africa and Asia are important contributors in efforts to reduce global poverty. There’s growing need for animal welfare work in Asia and other areas where meat consumption is rising. 80,000 Hours has emphasized the importance of China specialist roles.

How CEA’s funding compares to where EA groups are located:

Currently, the majority of EAs appear to be based in the US, UK, or Europe by a significant margin The 2018 EA survey [EA · GW] says, “the majority of respondents reported being located in the United States (36%), followed by the UK (16%), Germany (7%), and Australia (6%). In total, there were responses from 74 different nations and 21 nations had 10 or more responses.” An EA local groups survey conducted by Rethink in March 2019 (Forum post forthcoming), analyzes responses from 146 groups. It finds that 79% of groups are based in Europe, the US, and Canada (53% in Europe, 25% in the USA and Canada, 7% in Asia, 10% in Australia / New Zealand, 2% in Latin America, and 3% in Africa).

Although there are obviously important factors beyond geographic representativeness in making funding decisions, we can check how we're doing on representativeness by comparing where groups are located with which groups have received funding, according to the author. [as a note: we haven’t checked the author’s categorization of numbers, and based on a quick skim think that in some cases we would categorize funding allocations by geographies differently.] This analysis shows that:

  • Europe is over-represented (85% funding received as categorized by the author vs. 53% proportion of local groups)
  • The locations in the US / Canada other than the San Francisco Bay are underrepresented (7% funding received vs. 25% proportion of local groups),
  • Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, Africa are underrepresented (9% funding received vs. 22% proportion of local groups).

Reasons for the current concentration of funding:

In addition to EA groups and individuals being concentrated in specific locations, some of the highest-performing groups are also concentrated in the UK and Europe. Two of the largest and most active groups are EA Oxford and EA London. These groups seemed especially strong when we assessed them for community-building grants, particularly on the number of members who took careers in priority roles. Most, although not all, of the most established national groups are in Europe (e.g. Czech Association for Effective Altruism, EA Norway, EA Sweden). Partly this is due to historical founder effects - the current EA community was started by people mostly in the US and UK, and these locations are more tightly connected with each other and Europe than with other regions of the world, so the ideas spread through the US and Europe first.

Another part of the reason for this seems to be the concentration of EA-affiliated organizations in certain locations (like FHI, GPI, 80,000 Hours, Effective Giving, Effective Altruism Foundation, Founders Pledge, GFI Europe, and Charity Entrepreneurship, among others in London and Oxford). We know it’s possible for people anywhere in the world to delve into EA ideas, or create useful projects, or commit to taking significant action to do good. We also recognize that individuals who live in the same locations and interact in person may find it easier to discuss new ideas, generate internship opportunities, learn from skilled researchers, identify opportunities to incubate new initiatives, etc. These factors, along with the geographic clustering of top global universities, means that the quantity of granting opportunities may be higher in certain geographic areas.

Some comments on grantmaking with specific CEA programs:

A claim within this post is that community building grantmakers are exhibiting bias in their network. This is an important thing to keep an eye out for. Bias could occur in two ways: i) the individuals that know about opportunities or ii) the way in which funding is allocated. Below we’ll reflect on these for each of the programs that CEA runs.

EA Funds: As the author notes, most of the Meta Fund team is based in London. On previous recruitment rounds, the Meta Fund has taken steps to seek Fund managers from a wider set of locations, and will continue to do so in the future. Of course, the decision to appoint Fund managers is contingent on finding suitable candidates, and the location was one of a number of factors under consideration. In terms of individuals knowing about opportunities i), the note about broadcasting applications more widely is well-taken – our understanding is that the Meta Fund team would welcome applications from a wider pool. We’ll take steps to ensure that when applications open, it’s broadcast more widely in the future, including adding the link to the Fund page, and potentially other places such as the EA Facebook group. In terms of ii), Fund management teams make individual grant recommendations independent of CEA, so we don’t think we’re best placed to comment on how individual grants are assessed or distributed by the Funds management teams.

EA Grants: We’ve recently written about some historical challenges and capacity constraints in our EA Grants post here [EA · GW]. We agree that previous closed-round versions of EA Grants over-relied on the grantmakers’ network, which was geographically clustered, to source grantmaking opportunities.

CBGs (Community Building Grants): This program is young (~18 months), and as a program we are still learning [EA · GW]/ experimenting [EA · GW].

i) In terms of access to opportunities, the first round of CBGs applications was announced on the Forum [EA · GW] in early 2018. The 2018 European Community Building Retreat occured in April, after the CBG applications were due in March. Invitations to the European Community Building retreat may have prompted some individuals to apply that wouldn’t otherwise have, although it’s hard to know this counterfactually. It is true that the networks of the project lead and CEA are largest in the UK, and have grown to include more locations in Europe. Over the history of the program we haven’t spent much time proactively encouraging specific groups (or groups from specific locations) to apply. The program lead anticipates that proactive outreach for the program to be counterfactually responsible for fewer than 5 applications. It is likely that our networks influenced the original batch of CBG applications. In addition to program lead networks, one additional explanation is that we’ve seen a larger concentration of national groups (i.e. groups that support multiple city / university groups within their country) in Europe than other regions of the world. These groups may have been in a more primed position to apply for CBGs (e.g. already had strategic plans in place).

In the early stage of this program, we have been focusing on questions whether the program should continue, what the evaluation process should look like, as opposed to focusing on increasing the number of applications to the program.

ii) In terms of funding allocation once we receive an application, below are the total number of CBG applications accepted vs. submitted by geography. UK - 80% acceptance, Rest of Europe - 60%, Bay - 50%, US excluding the Bay - 80%, Rest of the World - 65-70%*. (*One application we referred to another funder. This group received funding and is included in our total) Applications from European groups have typically been for a larger amount of funding than for groups in other locations, as it is more likely for ‘national groups’ with multiple staff to apply for grants.

Of applications to the program, the program lead estimates that he had previous interaction with (eg. at least a 10 minute conversation or similar ) half of applicants. 70% of the applicants he’d had prior interaction with were accepted, whereas 50% of the applicants he hadn’t had prior interaction with were accepted. One potential explanation of this is that individuals that speak with our program lead have a better sense of the program and whether they are a good fit. We’ve moved from a full application to an expression of interest form [EA · GW] to try to decrease barriers for individuals to have these conversations. We’ve written about the process to assess CBG applications in our recent update here [EA · GW].

We have a conflict of interest policy within CEA. For example, in one recent round this summer, our CBG lead identified that he had spent time socially with one of the applicants to a level that it might be considered a conflict of interest. As a result, the CBG application was assessed by other individuals in the organization.

As we’re in the midst of strategic planning for 2020, we’re don’t have specifics about the program next year. We would be excited to see expression of interest [EA · GW] from a wide variety of locations in the future.

Additional groups funding: In addition to CBGs, which fund community builders to work on groups on a part-time or full-time basis, we also provide group funding to groups to run specific projects (such as retreats or fellowships) or to cover running expenses, which has totaled to ~$83,000 this year. In terms of our groups funding this year 21% went to Europe, 53% went to the US, 6% went to Australia and New Zealand, and 20% went to Asia.

Some errors CEA has made:

While we think that there are some legitimate reasons for the current concentration of funding, we also think it’s true that CEA could have done a better job and could have benefited from building networks outside the San Francisco Bay area and the UK. We think that CEA previously tried to run too many programs, and that this spread our staff too thin. At times, we limited the scope of our projects given staff capacity or organizational priorities, but we didn’t communicate clearly enough about our limitations. Our lack of capacity contributed to us not investing more in creating networks across a wider variety of locations, which meant that we missed out on opportunities to support useful work outside of the areas and networks we were most familiar with.

We’ve also heard feedback that groups that are geographically father away from from ‘EA Hubs’ (the Bay, London/Oxford) find it harder to connect with CEA.

Recognizing these problems, we’ve tried to build networks this year:

  • Hosting a US community-building retreat in January to build networks with US organizers The vast majority of participants were from outside the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Our EA Grants staff person (who is based in the US) visited the Czech Republic and Sweden to expand her network
  • We sent one staff member to attend EAGx Australia and two staff members to the Doing Good Better conference in Singapore

We are also considering:

  • Increasing the amount that our groups team travels to different locations to build their networks and understanding of issues that community members face
  • Proactively reaching out to specific locations to encourage CBG applications [if we choose to expand the program]
  • Building stronger relationships with groups at top universities worldwide
  • Taking into account whether someone is an organizer from a more distant location for EA Global admissions decisions
  • Other suggestions generated by stakeholders or community members (please feel free to share thoughts!)

[note: these will depend on other capacity, funding, and other competing priorities and should not be viewed as commitments]

The following would be signals that we are making progress on this problem:

  • Grant information for EA Grants, EA Funds, and community-building grants is up to date on our websites
  • The EA Meta Fund has an application link on it’s webpage and broadcasts opportunities widely
  • Calls for applicants to open grant rounds are posted in more locations, with more advanced notice
  • The percentage of Community Building Grants going to non-European locations increases. This may include locations in the US, which are currently under-represented in CBGs.
  • Updates from the groups team (for example in CEA’s annual report or updates on the EA Forum) mention in-person visits to non-Bay/ non-UK locations and meetings or other engagement with organizers from non-Bay/ non-UK locations.

We welcome feedback and ideas for how we could do this better, for instance via this feedback form. We continue to encourage applications to EA Global, EA Funds, and Community Building Grants from a wider variety of locations, and appreciate the work that organizers are doing outside of the Bay and UK.

comment by David_Moss · 2019-11-16T10:39:04.400Z · score: 16 (9 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The Local Group Organizers Survey is now out here [EA · GW].

I will add that looking at the % of groups in each region somewhat understates Europe's size as a proportion of the community. 50% (88/176) of groups are in Europe, but European groups account for somewhat higher percentages of individuals who engaged with an EA group (62.25%), new attendees (71.94%), and group members considered "highly engaged in the EA community" (56.56%). As such the amount of funding that we might expect to see going to Europe were things proportionate, might well be higher than 50%.

The 2018 EA Survey's post on geographic differences [EA · GW] also has some more detailed information than the early demographics post. I think this map from that post highlights the concentration of EAs in Europe and a small number of locations in the US quite well. In the 2019 EA Survey post on geography we'll be repeating these analyses while also looking at different levels of engagement across regions.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-20T23:14:43.483Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree that your list of “signals that we are making progress on this problem” would all be positive developments. And I recognize that since CEA is resetting some of its strategy, it’s a difficult time to make firm commitments, especially around short-term priorities.

However, there’s one near-term step that I think would be relatively easy and particularly high impact. I’d love to see CEA publish how much money it has regranted through EA Grants and CBG in 2018 and 2019, and a rough estimated range for how much it expects to grant through those programs in 2020. As I commented [EA(p) · GW(p)] on the recent writeup on EA Grants, the public communication around these programs has indicated that they’d grant significantly more money than they appear to have granted in practice. For instance, CEA’s end of 2018 fundraising post [EA · GW] referred to “a regranting budget of $3.7M for EA Grants and EA Community Building Grants, which we use to fund other organizations, projects, individuals, and groups” but the grants that have been announced from those programs don’t even come close to that figure.

I think it’s critical for the EA community to get a more accurate understanding of how much funding has been/will be available, so that other funders and potential grantees can make informed decisions. As SiebeRozendal [EA · GW] writes [EA(p) · GW(p)]: “I'm afraid there is a dynamic where CB-efforts have trouble finding non-CEA funding because alternative funders believe CEA has got all the good opportunities covered.”

If CEA will be granting large amounts next year, that’s great: I think past grantees have mostly been good projects to fund, and as I argued in OP I think there are plenty more good opportunities out there. If CEA will only be making small grants, or doesn’t really know how much it will grant (due to uncertainty around the future of EA Grants, for example) other donors can adjust their behavior accordingly. But for that to happen, they need to be informed about CEA’s plans.

comment by JoanGass · 2020-01-14T15:23:35.142Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

We'll be releasing a write up of our 2019 review and 2020 plans in the near future, and will include historic spending for EA Grants and CBGs in 2019, as well as our projected spending in 2020. We spent $688,875 on CBGs in 2018. Because we didn’t have a separate accounting line item for EA Grants in 2018 and did not have consolidated internal documentation [EA · GW], it would take some time to come up with a specific amount. From our quick estimates, it is unlikely our EA grants spending was more than $1M, which would indicate we spent significantly less on EA Grants and CBGs in 2018 than the $3.7M announced in the 2018 fundraising post. We believe we were overly optimistic about the speed in which we could launch new programs historically and now are more conservative with our expectations related to launching new programs.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2020-01-14T22:28:07.428Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this Joan! I may have some followup questions related to this, but will wait to see if they’re addressed by the forthcoming writeup as I want to be respectful of your time. I look forward to reading it!

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-12-11T19:48:36.303Z · score: 13 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Re: information being up to date on websites being a signal that CEA is making progress on this problem...

I was glad to see that the Meta Fund page was updated to include a link where people can apply. And more generally, I’m happy CEA is working to improve EA Funds and expect the recent design changes to the EA Funds pages to improve users’ experience.

However, I’m quite frustrated that the new “Grantmaking and Impact” section is written in a way that’s likely to be confusing or misleading for donors. In the OP, I noted concerns about concentration in the Meta Fund’s grantmaking. The two largest grantees (by a wide margin) are Founders Pledge and 80K, which have each received roughly half a million in grants.

But the Grantmaking and Impact section doesn’t mention this, instead referring to grants of “$250k+ to 80,000 Hours” and “$120k+ to Founders Pledge”. It may be technically accurate to describe ~$500k grants as “$250k+” or “$120k+”, but it's hard to expect people to read those descriptions and get an accurate sense of how much money the largest grantees have received or how concentrated the Meta Fund’s grant history has been historically. If one reads only the Grantmaking and Impact section, they’d get the impression that the largest grants were a few hundred thousand out of a total of “several million” granted, when the reality is that Founders Pledge and 80K together account for about half of the $2.05 million the Meta Fund has granted to date.

The Grantmaking and Impact section is problematic for all the funds, not just the Meta Fund, and generally appears to give a distorted picture of what the largest grantees have been (and no information on “impact”):

  • The Animal Fund describes “$250k+ to support research related to improving animal welfare”. ACE and Rethink Priorities both focus on this type of research, and have received grants of $500k and $475k respectively which aren’t mentioned.
  • The Long-term Future Fund lists “$440k+ to support researchers working on relevant topics” as its largest category, and the copy clarifies that these grants “support individual researchers – both those working in academia, and alongside it – to skill up, and to work on key problems.” There’s no mention of MIRI (~$580k in grants) or CFAR (~$325k in grants, plus another $150k that was recommended but not granted since another funder stepped in before the grant was made).
  • The Global Development Fund mentions “$3m+ to malaria prevention”. This significantly overstates (by ~$1 million) the amount the fund has actually granted to malaria prevention ($1.7 million to Malaria Consortium and $330k to AMF).

I support the intention of trying to give donors more clarity on the types of grants each EA Fund makes, but the current implementation of the Grantmaking and Impact section doesn’t really achieve that. It will also likely be hard to keep up to date.

I suggest creating a google sheet with: a list of all grants, the fund the grant came from, the date, a categorization (which would vary by fund but could be similar to the categories used in the Grantmaking and Impact section), and a subtotal for each category. That would make it easy to see all grants in one place (rather than clicking through each payout report), the categorization would be transparent, and the subtotals would update automatically as new grants were made.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-12-11T20:00:27.960Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
I suggest creating a google sheet with: a list of all grants, the fund the grant came from, the date, a categorization (which would vary by fund but could be similar to the categories used in the Grantmaking and Impact section), and a subtotal for each category. That would make it easy to see all grants in one place (rather than clicking through each payout report), the categorization would be transparent, and the subtotals would update automatically as new grants were made.

+1, this seems like a good idea & quick to implement.

comment by Habryka · 2019-12-11T20:17:29.348Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
The Long-term Future Fund lists “$440k+ to support researchers working on relevant topics” as its largest category, and the copy clarifies that these grants “support individual researchers – both those working in academia, and alongside it – to skill up, and to work on key problems.” There’s no mention of MIRI (~$580k in grants) or CFAR (~$325k in grants, plus another $150k that was recommended but not granted since another funder stepped in before the grant was made).

The $440k section is intended to refer to funding for individual researchers, so not mentioning MIRI is intentional there. The title should probably be adjusted to say "$440k+ to support individual researchers and small organizations working on relevant topics".

I feel a bit confused about how to list the $580k in grants to MIRI, since most of that was under the previous management of the fund (by Nick Beckstead) and the new fund team has given proportionally much less money to MIRI and other established organizations, and has instead focused more on funding smaller projects and individuals, since we think that area has larger room for funding, and higher expected value.

I think the current list is designed to help people get a sense of where their money is likely to go in the future, and so is mostly restricted to grants that were made under the current management. It seems good to make that more clear.

Listing the $300k recommended to CFAR under the current fund management seems reasonable to me.

I support having a spreadsheet with all the fund payouts. I actually would have found that useful myself a few times.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-12-11T20:51:07.620Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Distinguishing between grants made by the current management team and previous management makes sense (though it’d be good to state this methodology explicitly). If a spreadsheet does get built, the management regime would be a good piece of info to capture.

FWIW, for the Meta Fund “120k+ to Founders Pledge” looks quite reasonable if we only look at grants from the management team, but “250k+ to 80K” still seems like a poor way to describe the $415k granted to 80k by the team.

comment by SamDeere · 2020-01-20T19:32:44.308Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

[meta: apologies for the belated response]

Thanks again for the thoughtful comments. I agree that the numbers should have been higher; that was an oversight (and perhaps speaks to the difficulty of keeping these numbers accurate longer term). I’m not sure how I missed the extra 80K and Founders Pledge grants (I think they came from an earlier payout report that I forgot to include in my calculations). I’m sorry  that this wasn’t done correctly the first time around. 

I’ve since removed the grant amounts (leaving just the grantees/grant categories), and I might re-title the field to just be called ‘Past Grantmaking’ or something similar. We’ve also created a public spreadsheet of all of the EA Funds grants, so they’re accessible in once place.

I added the ‘Grantmaking and Impact’ section to the Funds pages in response to feedback that it was hard to get a feel for what each Fund did in a tangible way, especially for newer donors who hadn’t been following the Funds over time and hadn’t yet dived into the payout reports. The idea here was to give a flavour of the kinds of things that each Fund had granted to, rather than to provide an exhaustive list (that’s what the payout reports are for). I still think that this is valuable, but I agree that keeping the numbers accurate has some problems, so for now we’ll remove them.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2020-01-21T20:49:34.851Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for cleaning up this data Sam! I also appreciate your putting together that spreadsheet. It’d be great if the fund pages could link to it to make that info more easily accessible. And over time, I’d love to see that file evolve to include additional data about each funds’ grants with corresponding subtotals. I think that would be a big aid for donors trying to understand what types of grants each fund makes.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-18T19:11:48.565Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with your “Reasons for the current concentration of funding” directionally, but I’m somewhat skeptical about how much of the concentration they explain.

Some of the reasons you provide for concentration in London (founders effects, concentration of EA organizations) would also apply to the Bay, and some of your explanations for concentration in Europe-ex-London (long established groups, prevalence of elite schools) would also apply to the east coast of the US.

I think the application data you provided (thank you!) offers another explanation. The acceptance rates across regions are pretty similar. This suggests that high proportion of CBGs going to European groups relative to non-European groups is largely explained by a much larger number of European applicants. I think it’s very important to understand this application dynamic, and whether it’s driven by networks, publicity strategy around CBG, national groups being more likely to apply than regional/university groups, or something else.

In terms of funding allocation once we receive an application, below are the total number of CBG applications accepted vs. submitted by geography. UK - 80% acceptance, Rest of Europe - 60%, Bay - 50%, US excluding the Bay - 80%, Rest of the World - 65-70%*. (*One application we referred to another funder. This group received funding and is included in our total)
comment by Harri Besceli (harri.besceli@centreforeffectivealtruism.org) · 2019-11-21T17:46:16.207Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

(I'm the project lead of EA Community Building Grants at CEA) At the moment we don't have a good understanding of the cause of the distribution of the applications across regions. If for example this is due to an inappropriate publicity strategy or strong network effects this could mean that we're unnecessarily missing out on promising opportunities, so I agree with you that this is important to understand.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-22T18:47:25.882Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you Harri! As mentioned in the OP, I think a publicity strategy that promotes CBGs in more places and has longer (or rolling) application windows would help attract more applicants.

To understand the geographical distribution of applications better, I suggest asking some of the better established groups in places that didn’t see many applications why they didn’t apply. And it might be worth reviewing early communications with attendees/applicants to the European Group Retreat to see if they encouraged CBG applications, as this could explain why there were so many applications from Europe relative to everywhere else (though I take Joan’s point about the retreat itself happening after CBG applications closed).

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-18T19:10:54.963Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this thoughtful reply Joan. I appreciate your willingness to engage with the issues I’ve raised.

I’ll respond separately to several of the specific points you made for easier threading.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-18T19:13:35.353Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
As the author notes, most of the Meta Fund team is based in London. On previous recruitment rounds, the Meta Fund has taken steps to seek Fund managers from a wider set of locations, and will continue to do so in the future. Of course, the decision to appoint Fund managers is contingent on finding suitable candidates, and the location was one of a number of factors under consideration.

The management team system has been in place for over a year, so I think it’s pretty problematic that the Meta Fund’s team remains so concentrated geographically. Could you explain some of the specific steps that have been (or will be) taken to find managers from a wider set of locations?

I’m not really clear on how the manager selection process actually works, and how much of a role CEA takes relative to the Chair and other managers. And while I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, I’d be happy to set up a form where community members can nominate potential managers from a different location.

comment by SamDeere · 2019-11-21T14:50:00.814Z · score: 16 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Fund managers are appointed by CEA on the recommendation of the Fund Committee (in the case of the Meta Fund, my understanding is that currently all committee members have input on the decision, with equally-weighted votes, though this is not the case on all Fund teams). My understanding from conversations with members of the Meta Fund team is that the last recruitment round considered candidates from several locations, with an emphasis on trying to find someone from the Bay Area. At least two promising candidates (both based in the Bay) were approached, but were ultimately unable to take the position. While the appointee (Peter McIntyre) does live in London, he's originally from Australia, and has recently moved back from living in the Bay, and maintains strong connections there. 

As an aside, I'd note that the team is somewhat more geographically diverse than is being presented here. While the plurality of the team currently lives in London, with a member in Hong Kong and an advisor in the Bay, they also come from five different countries, and as far as I know most have lived in several different cities.

I'm happy to forward nominations for Fund managers (for any of the Funds) on to their respective Chairs. The best thing to do is send me an email at sam[at]centreforeffectivealtruism[dot]org.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-22T18:49:00.610Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this background info Sam! Glad to hear that people from more places were considered in the last recruitment round. Were there any candidates from the US-excluding-Bay (which has more EAs than the UK, Bay Area, and Australia combined)? Did the candidates from the Bay who were approached give any reasons for why they couldn’t/wouldn't take the position (e.g. is the volunteer nature of the role a limiting factor)?

I’ll email you some nominations (and FWIW, if the fund managers agree this is a priority it’d be great to also solicit nominations in higher profile places like the EA newsletter).

comment by Habryka · 2019-11-14T20:32:12.682Z · score: 29 (16 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
The largest grant (accounting for nearly a quarter of all EA Community funding) went to a project run by CEA’s former Director of Strategy.

Just as a more transparent reference, this refers to a grant to me and the LessWrong team to build the new LessWrong and EA Forum platforms. It's correct that we are located in the Bay Area, but importantly LessWrong and the EA Forum itself are not specific to a geographic location, and I actually think of them as key parts of having more distributed community-building infrastructure.

It's also important because there has been very little investment in Bay-Area EA community building in the past few years, even though it is one of the biggest EA hubs, and I don't want people to think this grant helped much with that. We do sometimes run events, but we are first and foremost an online-community building organization.

I also find it important to point out that I was the director of strategy for CEA US, not all of CEA. At the time I was at CEA the organization was much less integrated and I think CEA at the time was better modeled as two organizations, both of which were much smaller than CEA is now.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-14T21:18:35.525Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for providing these additional details. I’ve edited OP to reflect that your role was with CEA US, not CEA as a whole.

It's also important because there has been very little investment in Bay-Area EA community building in the past few years, even though it is one of the biggest EA hubs, and I don't want people to think this grant helped much with that.

Great point. I was surprised at how few resources went to CB efforts in the Bay Area relative to those in Oxbridge/London. Seems like adding a Bay Area based manager to the Meta Fund could help with this.

comment by Davidmanheim · 2019-11-14T12:56:49.397Z · score: 21 (11 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It seems that there is a critical endogenous factor for location; the people really interested in running EA projects, and who are capable of running them best, gravitate to EA hubs, and have moved there. Many of the most dedicated and capable EAs moved to these hubs and work at these organizations, while the less dedicated/capable ones did not try to do so, or weren't hired. It's clear that many of the groups are pulling in EAs from other parts of the world, so the concentration is in fact reflecting this movement. This doesn't explain the entire bias, and I agree that networks matter for funding and this can be very problematic, but it's a critical factor.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-14T16:19:20.718Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Good point, thanks for raising it!

I think this cuts both ways. Having many EA organizations near a hub means there are lots of people associated with those locations, and therefore more potential recipients of CB grants. However, it also means that there are lots of EA jobs in that area (relatively speaking), making people less reliant on “official” CB grants. For example, the EA London group has had paid staff since well before the CBG program [EA · GW] started, because it was a large enough group to fund its own staff.

I also wonder whether there’s a chicken-and-egg dynamic at play. If more funding were available to people outside of main hubs, would those hubs still attract so many people?

comment by Davidmanheim · 2019-11-15T09:19:44.408Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I haven't looked at the specific grants, but my understanding was that EA orgs with specific purposes would not usually fund many of the activities that EA grants are used for, since the purpose of the grants is to do something new or different than extant organizations. (Also, organizations usually have organizational and logistical constraints that make expanding to new areas of work inadvisable - look at how badly most mergers go in the corporate world, for instance.

But I agree there are some chicken-and-egg issues. I'm less sure, however, whether geographic diversity is as useful as it normally would be given the advantages of concentrating people in places with significant extant EA infrastructure and networks that enable collaboration.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-15T15:29:08.233Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
I'm less sure, however, whether geographic diversity is as useful as it normally would be given the advantages of concentrating people in places with significant extant EA infrastructure and networks that enable collaboration.

I agree there’s value to concentration, but I think a world where most dedicated and talented EAs feel compelled to move to London or the Bay is going too far in that direction. There are other locations that also have established infrastructure (albeit on a smaller scale), and have a comparative advantage for some types of work (e.g. policy work in Washington DC, finance earning to give in NYC, great powers conflict prevention in China, etc.)

comment by Davidmanheim · 2019-11-18T11:36:27.264Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

For those of us (like myself) who, for family reasons or otherwise, are unable to move to a hub or location with a comparative advantage for any type of EA work, there are local chapters in many places. (Even if mine is a 30 minute drive or 45 miute bus ride away.) Those can sometimes benefit from more support, but where it is most needed, and where there is capacity to do so, I understand that it is already happening, or at least starting to. But it doesn't mean it makes sense to fund EA orgs everywhere, because coordination costs and duplication are real issues. And communities that want EA infrastructure can build their own, and often have done so. On the other hand, if they are so small that they don't have locals that want to build a community and can support doing so, I don't think funding them from EA grants makes sense anyways.

Given that, I certainly agree that there are orgs that would benefit from being located in the "EA Diaspora" specifically in the places you listed. But in many cases, they DO have such organizations already, and a large EA community. Not coincidentally, they are also very well connected with the EA hubs, so that I'd guess many grants to those places would have been excluded in the analysis. S There is no lack of EA policy-focused orgs or EA community infrastructure in DC and the surrounding area, given the number of EA-aligned orgs that are working there - notably, Georgetown's CSET and Johns Hopkins' CHS. Similarly the NYC EA chapter is among the largest, and not only is it a vibrant community, but is also where GiveDirectly is located. China I'm less familiar with, and is a very different discussion but I don't see anything stopping people interested in those types of work from moving to those places instead of SF / Oxford to be involved in EA orgs. Otherwise, starting EA orgs that replicate work being done in the hubs seems like a low priority, ineffective activity.

comment by Kerry_Vaughan · 2019-11-14T10:40:43.325Z · score: 21 (14 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

An interesting comparison point is venture capital investing. VCs have a strong financial incentive to find and invest in all of the best companies regardless of location. Yet, as far as I know, networks matter a ton for getting VC funding and there are geographic clustering effects for companies get funded. We could conclude that VCs are allocating their capital inefficiently, and that there's a market opportunity for VC firms that have partners in many different locations all over the world.

I suspect that's not the right conclusion. Instead, I'd guess that the effect is created by lots of promising companies moving to a tech hub and the best companies being capable of networking their way to funders regardless of location. If you're a startup CEO and can't work out how to get a meeting with VCs, you might be in the wrong line of work.

Similarly, I think one conclusion that I'd like promising EA community leaders to reach from this analysis is that they should probably make sure to find ways to meet the people making grants in their areas. Being able to network seems like a core skill for a promising community builder, so this is an opportunity to exercise that skill. Of course, this doesn't mean that grantmakers shouldn't be working to expand the geographic scope of their grantmaking, it just means that if you're concerned that you're going to get left out of funding unfairly, there are steps you can take to prevent that.

comment by SiebeRozendal · 2019-11-14T15:49:49.978Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, there are steps to mitigate it. But community building is by its very nature location-constrained. A tech firm can move to a particular hub. A community can not.

Furthermore, if I recall correctly, the VC landscape was as efficient as it could be and VC's were overreliant on their networks. Organizations like Y Combinator stepped into that market gap by being more approachable. This is a step that CB grantmakers can also take.

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-14T18:16:44.138Z · score: 22 (11 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

YC doesn't seem like a good example of avoiding geographic clustering effects. You are required to move your company to the San Francisco area while you are going through YC, and PG (cofounder of YC) has written about why founders should move to startup hubs. One of the weirdest parts of my personal YC experience was how they paid to fly me to Mountain View and stay a couple nights in a (ridiculously overpriced, IMO) airbnb, just to have a short conversation with me because they think being in person is so important.

One thing which did differentiate YC when they started is that they had "soft" adds: they offer you a lot of connections and advice, in addition to just money. Possibly more grantmakers should do this, but I'm not sure.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-14T16:56:43.036Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sure, “networks matter a ton for getting VC funding.” But in the VC world, business plans also matter a ton. I think in EA funding decisions, networks are overweighted and “business plans” are underweighted.

Even before EA Grants launched its referral round, it had [EA · GW] a “plan to move the evaluation processes even further in the direction of mostly evaluating the merits of the applicants themselves rather than their specific plans.” This shift doesn’t seem to have been motivated by a belief that this is a way to identify the best projects. Rather, it seems like the grantmakers’ vetting constraints played a large part of the motivation: “We are time and resource-constrained in how continuously we can monitor projects, so we need to make sure we have high confidence in grantees. And we do not think we can develop expertise in all possible projects, but we can develop expertise in evaluating the applicants.”

Also, while the VC industry has a large presence in the Bay, it’s more geographically dispersed than you might think. The Bay accounts for ~25% of global VC investment, and the top 20 metro areas account for ~64%. And global capital markets (which I’d guess are a better reference point for the EA community and its multiple causes than the tech-centric VC industry) are even more dispersed.

comment by Kerry_Vaughan · 2019-11-14T20:11:21.309Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

"Business plans" aren't really a part of VC evaluations as far as I am aware. It certainly wasn't a part of YC's evaluation process. Eye-popping metrics that show growth are relevant as are the past experiencers of the founders, but VCs don't seem to rely much on abstract plans for what one intends to do as a component of evaluations.

comment by Khorton · 2019-11-14T12:55:42.883Z · score: 18 (10 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I upvoted this because I think this data is a good way to start an important conversation, although I'm uncertain about the conclusions.

comment by Khorton · 2019-11-14T13:08:44.292Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd be interested to understand the numbers particularly for local group leader funding as well. I don't really care if all the psychology researchers are located in Oxford, but I really care if all the local group leaders are.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2019-11-15T20:49:50.020Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Agree here

comment by alexherwix · 2019-11-15T13:27:57.898Z · score: 14 (10 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

As I have highlighted in another comment, I appreciate the post as a conversation starter for thinking about EA CB grants in general but somewhat disagree with the strength of the evidence presented here. Nevertheless, I do see a kernel of truth in the proposition that CB grants might be skewed towards specific trust networks and people outside of those trust networks seem to be disadvantaged.

Taking this at my point of departure, I want to be constructive and propose to reconsider the structure of the CB funding pipeline. Currently, there are centralized funding bodies who make decisions about CB grants on an individual basis. No matter where you are from, you are judged to the standards of those grant makers and either you clear the bar or you don't. This might be problematic as CB is not like funding a start up that needs to survive in a global competitive market, rather CB is much more of an contextual effort whose effectiveness depends on the local circumstances. Thus, it stands to reason that simply through the nature of the problem, a centralized funding pipeline with very few grant makers might not be optimal.

To improve this situation, a reasonable strategy might be to consider more polycentric approaches to CB funding through the establishment of intermediate regional re-granting entities that are better positioned to appreciate the contextual nature of CB. The natural choice for these intermediate regional re-granting entities would be national EA organizations focused on regional CB. This set up would create a funding pipeline that is much more aligned with the nature of the problem. At the top is CEA which is contact with national CB organizations who in turn are in contact with local CB projects. Funding is allocated as a budget to national CB organizations based on aggregate metrics that are comparable across regions and allow for a fine-grained prioritization of funding across regions. Thus, national CB organizations are incentivized to consider their specific context and invest in those local CB projects which make the most sense for the region. Local CB would have a clear point of contact that is much more interested in them than a global entity ever could be. My hypothesis would be that a much more natural and distributed trust network would develop compared to the situation that we have at the moment.

If people here like these thoughts, I might be willing to write them up in a separate post. This thinking is inspired by prior work by other EAs and economics research which I would like to highlight more but don't have the time to right now. Anyhow, would love to discuss along those lines.

comment by Khorton · 2019-11-15T21:45:49.495Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm a little surprised this has been downvoted. I don't have strong feelings either way about regional/national EA groups regranting to local community building, instead of CEA.

comment by Kerry_Vaughan · 2019-11-14T11:11:25.985Z · score: 13 (9 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

My guess is that optimal grantmaking in EA community building is going to be heavily network-based for several reasons.

  1. Running an excellent EA community is a social activity.

Grantmakers gain tons of information about how capable someone is likely to be at doing this by interacting with them socially and that requires meeting them through your networks.

  1. There are some signficant downside risks in funding an EA community builder and network-based funding derisks this.

If an EA community builder does something bad, having been funded by CEA means that it now reflects on the community as a whole and not just on the specific people involved. This means that funders need to both protect against the downside risks as well as fund promising projects. Having someone you know and trust vouch for someone you don't know is, per unit of time involved, one of the best ways I know of to figure out who is and isn't like to accidentally cause harm.

  1. There aren't good objective criteria for evaluating newer community builders.

For someone who has just started running an EA group, it's hard to provide objective numbers that show that you should be funded. Group size, for example, isn't a good proxy becuase small groups of highly dedicated, capable people are likely to be more valuable than large groups of less dedicated, less capable people. An evaluation of the community builders themselves is probably required and information from people in your network helps with this.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-14T17:38:35.071Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
1. Running an excellent EA community is a social activity.

True, but “running an excellent EA community” is only one of the many types of work that have received CB funding. For instance, only 7% of the EA Grants funding classified as “EA Community” went to support group-related work. Most of the money went to fund philosophical or rationality work, which isn’t as inherently social.

2. There are some signficant downside risks in funding an EA community builder and network-based funding derisks this.
If an EA community builder does something bad, having been funded by CEA means that it now reflects on the community as a whole and not just on the specific people involved. This means that funders need to both protect against the downside risks as well as fund promising projects. Having someone you know and trust vouch for someone you don't know is, per unit of time involved, one of the best ways I know of to figure out who is and isn't like to accidentally cause harm.

An easier way to mitigate this type of risk is to avoid plans [EA · GW] like “using EAGrants to place bets on risky, unusual, or controversial projects that seem plausibly very valuable in expectation.” Projects that seem risky on an ex-ante basis probably are, even if someone vouches for the person in charge. These projects might still be worth funding, but if they’re funded by non-CEA mechanisms it reduces the reputational risk you describe.

3. There aren't good objective criteria for evaluating newer community builders.

Agree. But it’s easier to evaluate more established community builders. And even when those established community builders have positive track records, they don’t seem to be getting much funding.

For example, there are plans [EA · GW] to run EAGx events at four locations next year that “have been prioritised as they have established and active EA populations”: US (East Coast), Australia, Europe, and Asia. The East Coast of the US and Australia each got one CBG grant for ~1% of total staffing, Asia got none, while Europe got most of the funding as described in OP.


comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2019-11-15T21:38:29.929Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

To point 3), there have been recent efforts made by to develop systematic metrics for groups in new/emerging locations here [EA · GW]. While this is a first step, it has suggested several proxies for measuring the potential of both group organizers and different locations.

comment by SiebeRozendal · 2019-11-14T17:24:28.851Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I liked this post, but I had expected another one given the title.

The post only describes the location of the projects, but not so much what they are doing. I think it would be very valuable to see which type of projects are getting funded. What are e.g. EA Oxford and EA Geneva doing that warrants more support relative to other projects?

I have the intuition that what they are primarily being funded for is more likely to be network-building (increasing the community's connections to influential people, including making community members more influential) than community-building (a longer-term investment into tight networks that facilitate mutual support). I am not sure about how funding is actually distributed between these two types and what the optimal allocation would be though. Without more information it's hard to discuss.

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2019-11-15T22:32:51.214Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I played around with the data and added categories here.

Some interesting results from the top 3 categories:

  1. Community Building 30.23% of all grants for Community building (local) go to European groups, 10.20% to Oxbridge/London, 4.31% to the rest of the world and 0.72% to the Bay
  2. EA Organisations 34.18% to London/Oxbridge based organisations: 16% of all grants have gone to EA pledge organisations (fundraising), 14.82% to 80K, 1.21% to HIPE. The remaining 3.08% to the Rest of the World (RCForward and Rethink Priorities).
  3. Academic Research 7.33% to London/Oxbridge, 1.08% to the Bay, 0.58% to the Rest of the World

To Siebe's question of what EA Geneva and EA Oxford is doing: Geneva received a grant to do local policy research (0.54% of total funding, 7.7% of Geneva's total funding received - the remaining 92.3% went to community building). EA Oxford's most recent grant went towards student career planning in addition to community building.

Note: I used the same regional categories and method for calculating CBG allocations as OP. I've filtered out the $120,000 grant that went from CBG from the meta fund to avoid double counting. I've also labeled community infrastructure as separate from community building to differentiate between local community building and building community tools like the EA Forum, Effective Thesis, etc.

comment by Jon_Behar · 2019-11-18T20:58:35.660Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I like this additional categorization, the "community infrastructure" distinction seems valuable. Thanks for sharing!

comment by alexherwix · 2019-11-15T12:48:23.044Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I totally agree! There are many factors that are relevant to CB funding decisions next to location of projects. For example, just because there are many local groups in a country doesn't mean that they actually require dedicated funding for personnel. It really depends on whether promising people and projects make sense for a specific context.

Thus, while I appreciate the effort and actually share some of the same intuitions about the CB funding situation, I fear that the argument made in the post is quite weak. That's a shame because I really think there is a discussion to be had here and hopefully the post can act as conversation starter. I do appreciate some of the comments here, who seem to take the discussion beyond the actual content of the post.

What I would love to see is a discussion on the general structure of the CB funding pipeline along the lines of Jan Kulveit's post on national level EA orgs [EA · GW]. Wouldn't it make sense to work toward delegating CB funding to the people with the best information about CB efforts via regranting?

comment by Davidmanheim · 2019-11-15T09:21:26.589Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree that this seems like a useful analysis - any chance you have time to read through the grants and write it up?

comment by Kerry_Vaughan · 2019-11-14T10:36:07.461Z · score: 12 (9 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Just to add a datapoint to this analysis. I was in charge of the referral-based round of EA Grants in 2018. At that time I was based in Fort Worth, Texas for personal reasons. My networks probably had some of the geographic biases that you're concerned about, but for more complex reasons than my physical location.

(Note: I no longer work at CEA and do not speak on CEA's behalf)

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-14T17:55:29.811Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for clarifying!

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2019-11-16T15:48:46.887Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

As a side-note: In case of the Bay area, I'd expect some funding-displacement effects. BERI grant-making is strongly correlated with geography and historically BERI funded some things which could be classified as community building. LTFF is also somewhat Bay-centric, and also there seem to be some LTFF grants which could be hypothetically funded by several orgs. Also some things were likely funded informally by local philantrophists.

To make the model more realistic one should note

  • there is some underlying distribution of "worthy things to fund"
  • some of the good projects could be likely funded from multiple sources; all other things being equal, I would expect the funding to come more likely from the nearest source

comment by mschons · 2019-11-15T07:30:20.581Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Very much appreciate the time and effort you put into this analysis. This sort of investigative journalism within the EA community seems worth funding ;)

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-15T15:34:40.309Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you very much!

For what it’s worth, I think of this analysis less as “investigative journalism”, and more as “independent vetting.” And in general, I’d like to see more resources available to support both grantmakers doing their own vetting, and independent analysts doing vetting from another perspective.

comment by agdfoster · 2019-11-15T18:59:06.985Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing this! I’m on the meta fund team and open to feedback.

First I want to quickly flag that we no longer do community building grants due to their complexity and instead intend to fund CEA CBG. Community building projects are very hard to properly evaluate, track and support and I applaud CEAs team for working so hard at this. However, at each round CBG sends us a proposal on what additional funding can achieve in terms of fulfilling existing commitments and new applications, to help inform our funding decision to them (if any).

Addressing the sourcing-through-networks point, I just went through our early stage grants in the last year quickly and it looks like the majority were people we met through our various funding processes as opposed to people we knew already. Late stage grants we did of course have connections to already but I think that’s to be expected, and these organisations are quite well known in any case.

We could say that people don’t apply because they haven’t heard of us, that could be true. Thanks for the idea to share to FB groups and newsletter, we will try that and see if it affects application quality. We are very keen for more applications and any suggestions most welcome.

There’s a separate question of secondary network effects like people getting better talent, better mentoring and stronger referrals based on geographical networks. I won’t address that here now but can have a go if interesting.

I can only speak for myself but I think we already have a slightly lower bar for funding project proposals in further flung locations and I’m not convinced it would be worth it to lower it further.

I could imagine a scenario where it became clear we were missing lots of really strong opportunities further afield but I'd be surprised we weren't seeing more signs of it already with many strong projects appearing just through the application forms and intros. The very very early stage work of getting local groups going and that sort of thing falls outside of what the Meta Fund can realistically include within its remit. We also don't have so much funding that funding projects without clear merit for the sake of stimulating growth in a region would make sense any time soon.

I do think ideally we would have a Bay Area based committee member. Peter M was there until earlier this year and we are all fairly well connected there.

Thanks again

comment by Habryka · 2019-11-15T19:25:17.049Z · score: 19 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am confused by this. I consider it a key responsibility of the meta fund to independently fund community building grants, and this is a major update downwards on the value of the meta fund for me.

I would strongly urge you to consider investing more into evaluating and vetting community-building grants. I don't think it's healthy for CEA to be the only funder in this space.

comment by Julia_Wise · 2019-11-15T21:51:36.920Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm wondering if there's confusion around what's meant by "community building grants." I'm imagining that Alex means something like "If EA Macedonia wants funding, we're going to refer them to CEA's CBG program because they specialize in local and national groups. But if someone wants to do something like mental health resources for the community, the Meta Fund would still consider that our remit." Is that right?

comment by agdfoster · 2019-11-15T22:45:14.332Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes that's right, thanks Julia and apologies for any confusion. I use the term differently to how the OP has used it. We are still looking at anything that falls outside of the remit of CBG but are unable to offer the level of vetting and direct support that we think is necessary to fund local groups well and so are funding that via CBG. We have still been looking at special projects by local groups that fall outside of the remit of CBG also.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-11-15T19:54:25.648Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
First I want to quickly flag that we no longer do community building grants due to their complexity and instead intend to fund CEA CBG.

Wait, given Nicole's recent post [EA · GW], does this mean that both the Meta Fund & CEA are moving away from making community grants?

(From Nicole's post: "At this stage, I think it is fairly likely that EA Grants won’t continue in its current form, and that we will instead encourage individuals to apply to EA Funds.")

comment by JoanGass · 2019-11-15T22:40:03.043Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

CEA’s Community Building Grants Program is planning to continue. You can see our most recent update about it here [EA · GW].

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-11-16T17:02:29.323Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Oh right, thanks!

Also just saw this good comment [EA(p) · GW(p)] on the same topic.

comment by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2019-11-18T19:15:14.893Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for engaging and providing this helpful info Alex!

Addressing the sourcing-through-networks point, I just went through our early stage grants in the last year quickly and it looks like the majority were people we met through our various funding processes as opposed to people we knew already. Late stage grants we did of course have connections to already but I think that’s to be expected, and these organisations are quite well known in any case.

Using Open Phil’s framework of categorizing grantmaking methods as people-based, process-based, or project-based, how would you classify the “various funding processes” meta fund managers use in their other grantmaking? To the extent managers are using people-based methods, I think that would exacerbate some of the concerns I’ve raised, while if they’re sourcing ideas through process or project based methods that would mitigate my concerns on the margins.