Effective Altruism London Strategy 2019

post by DavidNash · 2019-08-22T11:16:09.423Z · score: 32 (19 votes) · EA · GW · 10 comments


    Areas we are not focusing on
    Area we are focusing on - Coordination
  What we will be measuring
    Case studies
    Other metrics

This was written at the start of the year but I thought it may be worth sharing on the forum for other community organisers to see the thinking behind our plans

This post outlines a rough strategy for EA London in 2019, it has been informed by conversations with people involved in EA community building and many of the links in this document. This is quite specific to London and may not be as relevant to other local EA groups.


Our vision is an optimal world. This is purposefully nonspecific. There are many different factors to make the future as good as possible, many of which aren’t currently understood. We aim to help the world become more able to collectively work on problems. - This is similar to the vision of CEA


For 2019 our focus will be to:

"Coordinate and support people in London interested in effective altruism"

What do we mean by this?

We arrived at this focus by considering the following factors:


The above focus will guide our decision-making over the course of the next year. We are focusing on coordination but here are some examples of options we aren’t pursuing.

Areas we are not focusing on

Area we are focusing on - Coordination

In 2017 we caused a number of career changes and new projects, and much of what we did to cause this was facilitating networking. We put people considering moving out of teaching in touch with one another, connected people to high-impact job opportunities, ran events for people in policy, directed people to CEA. 80,000 Hours talk more about the benefits of coordination here.

In 2018 there are more case studies of people being connected to others via the EAL network, leading to people feeling more comfortable with their levels of giving, giving more or shifting cause areas. There are also people who heard about job opportunities and received advice on entering careers in the civil service, software, finance and research.

Whilst there is also value from increasing the size of the network of people in London, as there are more chances that relevant connections are possible, it may not make sense to prioritise growth alone. If there are more people in a network but they have less interest in EA ideas, it makes it harder to make connections that members will value. A community that is seen as less valuable to individuals or provides more overall value but less value per interaction can become unhealthy over time, and would be unable to retain people who have busy lives but lots to offer when there is a way to get involved. When connections are made, we want them to be value added connections that improve individuals decisions and maintain their trust in EA London. There is more about networks in this post [EA · GW].

An example of this problem happening is when we had EA Socials in 2017 with 70+ attendees, and quite a few were newer people, many who had little interest in either altruism or effectiveness (or both). This meant long term members and new people who were very interested in EA found it was harder to make connections they valued and would be less likely to come back for a second event or be as open to EA ideas they saw online.

The monthly newsletters are another example, these are a way of connecting people to ideas and resources. If the average quality of these links goes down, people are more likely to unsubscribe completely. Getting emails every week or links that make people regret clicking them (click-bait) might increase certain metrics, but reduce trust people have in EAL as a community that provides them value when they interact.

This suggests the following basic theory of change:

Connecting people interested in EA to people, ideas and resources that provide value

→ Increases the chance people find and choose more impactful careers/donations

→ More good gets done


Our focus means that we will put less effort into outreaching EA, immediate altruistic behaviour change/donations and upskilling of individuals

We expect to do less or not at all:

Under our focus, strategy and theory of change we are considering:



What we will be measuring

Case studies

We believe that our actions and support so far have led to a broad array of new projects and life changes (2017) by members of our community, as well as a deeper understanding of effective community building for staff and volunteers. We want to improve our tracking, analysis and communication of these case studies and expect that at the end of the year this will form a significant proportion of the evidence of our impact.

Success could look like people shifting into careers they think are more impactful, making connections with others in their field and also in other areas. People continuing to donate money and reflect on the best places to donate. People using their networks and influence to help improve the world. Also for people who don't turn up to events regularly to feel like they are part of a community.

Other metrics

We also will attempt to track the following metrics to inform strategy


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by richard_ngo · 2019-08-22T17:12:53.490Z · score: 16 (11 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Nice document overall, makes a lot of sense. A few small (slightly nit-picky) comments:

Our vision is an optimal world.

This slogan feels a bit off to me. Most EA activities are aimed towards avoiding clearly bad things; the idea of aiming for any specific conception of utopia doesn't seem to me to represent that very well. There's a lot of disagreement over what sort of worlds would be optimal, or whether that concept even makes sense.

People for whom doing good is a goal in their life, who are open to changing their focus

I'm not sure either of these things is a crucial characteristic of the people you should be targeting. Consider someone working in an EA cause area who's not open to changing their focus, and who joined that area solely out of personal interest, but who nevertheless is interested in EA ideas and contributes a lot of useful things to the community (career guidance, support, etc).

We also will attempt to track the following metrics to inform strategy...

While I'm sure you'll have a holistic approach towards these metrics, they all fall into the broad bucket of "do more standard EA things". I have some concerns [EA · GW] that this leads to people overfitting to ingroup incentives. So I'd suggest also prioritising something like "promoting the general competence and skills of group members". For example, there are a bunch of EA London people currently working in government. If they informally gave each other advice and mentorship and advanced to more senior roles more rapidly, that would be pretty valuable, but not show up in any of the metrics you mention.

comment by OllieBase · 2019-08-23T08:33:56.460Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Just want to second Richard's point about the vision feeling 'off'. Having an ambitious vision makes sense and I'm somewhat more sympathetic about CEA having this vision but the scope seems disproportionate to the organisation. I would have expected the vision to at least be limited in scope to what can be achieved in London.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-09-17T09:22:14.760Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Relatedly, we've occasionally tried to think of better alternatives to "optimal world" language on CEA's website. I even tried some timed/targeted brainstorming, and nothing much came out of it. If anyone has suggestions for language that is a bit less utopian but still keeps the "get the best things done" idea, I'd love to hear them!

comment by DavidNash · 2019-08-22T19:25:11.454Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with everything you said, I guess those three points aren't things that I think about often but might make sense to update the document to better reflect that.

comment by casebash · 2019-08-22T22:42:18.108Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Interesting reading your strategy, particularly what you aren't focusing on. The one part I'd be somewhat skeptical of is decreasing upskilling. People, particularly the people that we want to join our community, want to grow and improve. It's important to be realistic about how much someone can upskill in a limited amount of time, but these kinds of events seem like a key draw.

comment by DavidNash · 2019-09-17T09:51:23.952Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's not that I don't want people to upskill, it's that I think it's best done by people who have experience in that area, whether that is via a course or workshop.

In terms of getting people to meet in person, I agree that certain talks/workshops/themes can help attract different people, but the best outcomes from that aren't usually what people learn, but the connections they make, and designing a workshop just to drive attendance may not be the most efficient way of getting people to attend.

comment by imben · 2019-08-23T11:36:05.734Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do “software for good” have a online presence? Hadn’t heard of them and would be interested to read more. Thanks!

comment by DavidNash · 2019-09-17T09:53:36.678Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

There is a Facebook group and a small page on the website.

comment by alexherwix · 2019-08-23T10:32:13.054Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the post! Good to see what other EA groups are up to and I generally like your network-centric and self-organizing approach to community building. Empowering people to engage in meaningful projects seems like a good way to keep people aligned and engaged in the long-term.

I have two questions:

  1. To me the plan reads a little bit like "let's do more of what works" is that a fair characterization? Do you maybe also have some more concrete plans to "take EA London to the next level" or do you think that innovation is not needed at the moment?

  2. Just a selfish request... I would be really curious to get your perspective/feedback on our plans for community building in Germany [1]. It seems like you are further along on a similar trajectory looking for a network-centric and self-organizing approach to community building. While we are on a national level and obviously much more distributed than EA London, I think a lot of things carry over. Would also be happy to schedule a call at some point if that's more convenient :)

1: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/9sCvoRupwK9xdiSPw/announcing-plans-for-a-german-effective-altruism-network [EA · GW]

comment by DavidNash · 2019-09-17T09:58:38.866Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

1. Most of my time will be spent doing similar things to last year, although I've only been working full time for 9 months. I think innovation, at least for me, happens over time rather than as a one off process, with ideas being formed and then being tested to see what people like. One recent example is the community spotlight, which was an idea a few weeks ago and now has become a regular post.

In terms of taking EA to the next level, there isn't a plan to grow or hire more people but rather coordinate and support nascent organisations in London that can start doing other work and grow independently.

2. I will have a look