Podcast Discussion Meetings - A Potentially High-Value Event Template For Local Groups

post by TomBill · 2019-02-01T20:17:11.077Z · score: 16 (8 votes) · EA · GW · 4 comments

Contents

  Introduction:
  Lessons From The Southampton Template:
  How EA York’s Template Differs:
  Conclusion:
  General Advice:

(This post is based on a post I made on the EA Group Organisers Facebook group. I decided to post it here in order to ‘archive’ it for future reference, as well as hopefully show it to a few more people who may find it useful)

Introduction:

Podcast discussion meetings are an event template for local EA groups where attendees, all having listened to a previously designated podcast (relating to EA), meet up at a social area to discuss it. Usually there will be 1 person leading/ prompting the discussion. This is something a small number of local groups have been hosting and have seen as well worthwhile. This post is to explain podcast discussion meetings and what we have learnt from running them. The ultimate goal of this post is to encourage more groups to consider hosting similar events.

To give the brief version, if executed well, podcast discussions can prove to be a low-cost event with good value. Probably the main benefit we’ve found is that the format has added an extra layer to our group by providing a regular meeting space where more engaged members can discuss EA topics in greater depth than at other events. Other benefits are that it engages our core members in EA ‘literature’, it is particularly good at creating personal bonds within the group, and acts as a good tool for identifying more engaged members in a group.

You should note that I have not done any analysis of the effectiveness of podcast discussion meetings, and that this post is only meant to encourage other local groups to consider the format.

Lessons From The Southampton Template:

Since April 2018, EA Southampton has been meeting up around every Sunday in a local pub to discuss a predesignated, EA related podcast. These often last for 3-4 hours. We will aim to nominate a podcast at least 5 days in advance of the scheduled weekly meeting time (it’s only fair for people to have a good amount of time to take in what are usually quite large podcasts).

A major concern that we had before hosting these events was a lack of interest due to the commitment required. We worried that asking university students to listen to (sometimes close to 3 hours long) podcasts would lead to people not turning up or (even worse) turning up not having listened to the podcast. How we chose to combat this was by personally asking our more committed members if they would like to come to each podcast talk. As we do not post about them on our Facebook page, this makes podcast discussion meetings somewhat ‘invite only’. This, I think, has a lot of benefits. Firstly, personally inviting people has, for us, been very effective at ensuring they turn up having done all the required listening. It has also given us full control over how many people we involve. We have found that these events cap out at around 8 people (more would require multiple groups). Also, making these invite only adds another layer of interactivity for people who have been showing a lot of interest in the society, and can even act as a good tipping point for people who seem like they are considering becoming more involved. Multiple times we have had a member who seems to be especially interested in EA, but hasn’t fully integrated with the core group. Inviting these kinds of people to these more personal meetings has helped either tip them into becoming heavily involved, or (if they do not come) has flagged to me that they are not yet fully comfortable with more advanced-level EA discussion. I believe these events have advantage over other bonding events, as they can act as a ‘double-whammy’; enhancing a person’s feeling of community in a way that gets them to engage with EA ‘literature’.

Another key part of Southampton’s template is guiding the conversation through notes. I lead the conversations, and so I will try to listen to the podcast twice myself (though I do not always manage this), and one of those times I will write down all the thoughts, questions and objections that I can think of. I will then go through these notes and try and identify what could make interesting launching points for discussion. I will then bring these discussion points with me and use them to guide the event. We have found that my notes are the foundation of the eventual discussions, and I would definitely recommend making at least some notes. I will comment on this post with an example set of discussion points I have used in a previous podcast meet-up.

Another thing to consider is the meeting place. A location that is not too far away from main campus (for university groups) is probably a good place to start, as you know that everyone is able to get there. Also, it’s important to pick somewhere that isn’t going to be too busy (after all, you’ve got to be able to hear each other). Another priority for specifically student groups is that it is not too expensive. We have found that meeting at a local pub works for us.

How EA York’s Template Differs:

The only other group (I am aware of) that hosts regular podcast discussion meet-ups is EA York. This is their thoughts on running podcast discussion meetings:

Jamie: We have been running podcast discussions in York for around 4 months at the time of writing. I believe them to be some of the most valuable events we run and their success has led us to incorporate this format of discussion as a core component of our society’s event schedule. Thanks to the relaxed nature of meeting in a cafe at the weekend, the events have been great for getting to know the most engaged members of our (medium-sized) group better. Anecdotally, it also seems like the format is particularly successful compared to other types of event at getting members to both engage with new content and retain what they learn.

We have recently experimented with the discussion format by swapping the podcast with a long-form article and, following the success of the first event (based around Greg Lewis’ EA Forum post on Epistemic Modesty), we are now running these on alternating weeks with the podcast discussions. I would note that we differ from EA Southampton in the way that we invite members to the events. We use a Facebook messenger group which we find makes it easy to add interested people, link relevant content and set event reminders.

Morgan: To prepare for each discussion I produce a list of questions based on the topics discussed in the respective podcast or long-form article and note them down on flash cards. I try to loosely guide the discussion by presenting these questions to the group; that said if I feel as though the discussion is going in a productive direction which I didn’t initially intend, I try to limit my interference. The conversation is tracked by the growing number of ordered cards visible to the group. For any unexpected areas of discussion that occur, I try to make a note of what was discussed on blank flash cards and then insert them into the relevant position in the ordered group of cards. I think this provides a good structure to the events and makes it easy to review what was discussed once they end.

Conclusion:

This is quite a long post for what shapes up to be quite a simple concept, but podcast talks are something I think are worth their modest prep-time. They act well as community building exercises (off-hours meet-ups), as a way to get people involved more in EA ‘literature’, and providing an opportunity to have deeper conversations about effective altruism where you are assured everyone shares a basis of knowledge. I would love if more groups were to adopt a similar event and would be very interested to hear from anyone that had any thoughts/advice for this kind of event. Thanks for reading.

Below is general advice for groups planning to host podcast discussion meetings. I would recommend you read on if you fall into this category.

General Advice:

This section acts to be a comprehensive list of all the advice I would have for groups doing podcast discussion meet-ups (that was not already covered in the main body of this post).

This post was written by Thomas Billington (Southampton Society), with sections from Jamie Gittins (York Society) and Morgan Simpson (York Society). Editing credits go to Jamie Gittins and Vicky Cox (Southampton Society).

4 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by finnhambly · 2019-02-01T20:56:36.791Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I would happily vouch for the value of these events, as an attendee of the York group. They're fun, engaging, and definitely give an opportunity for members to dive into EA concepts.

It's just fun to hang out with a group of engaged EAs in nice cafés regularly (with interesting topics to talk about)!

comment by TomBill · 2019-02-01T20:47:42.682Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Here are some individual podcasts I would recommend as being especially good sources of conversation for podcast discussion meetings:

From The 80,000 Hours Podcast:

  • #45 - Prof Tyler Cowen's stubborn attachments to maximising economic growth, making civilization more stable & respecting human rights
  • #25 - Prof Robin Hanson on why we have to lie to ourselves about why we do what we do
  • #24 - Stefan Schubert on why it’s a bad idea to break the rules, even if it’s for a good cause

Also,

  • Sam Harris' Waking Up - #44 - Being Good and Doing Good with Will MacAskill
comment by TomBill · 2019-02-01T20:31:49.374Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Here are some of the notes I thought would make good discussion points from our event on the 80,000 Hours' podcast episode. 25 'Why we have to lie to ourselves about why we do what we do, according to Prof Robin Hanson':
- Are we at university just to show off?
- Should we all cave to religion for practical reasons? If it is practically useful, why isn't everyone religious?
- How does EA incorporate for people wanting to show they care? Wear badges?
- Showing we care vs big-headedness
- Are we EAs to show off?
- Should we be saving all our money till we hit a peak point of effectiveness in our 40s?
- Should we start an NGO interested in streamlining marginal charity?
(I'm a big fan of posing ideas for NGOs within the podcast talk)
- Should we all start a pact that we will put all our money together and in 200 years time give it all away? What would be the optimal amount of time to wait?
(Interestingly, this question sparked a movement in the group where about half of us were convinced that this was highly effective, and for the next few weeks we would bring it up. The idea was only quelled when we saw a stat about how much more charities valued a donation now against the same amount next year - it was more than any interest rate we could hope to get on our stored cash)
- Would you pay $50 to know hospital death rates for the surgery you're about to undergo?
- Should we be selling EA to everyone?
- Are we a youth movement?
- Is identity the most important part of EA?

comment by aarongertler · 2019-02-01T21:13:24.076Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I love this idea! Thanks for cross-posting it from Facebook to a place where CEA can more easily link to it (as I suspect we will in future lists of resources for groups), and where it's more likely to keep getting comments.

Having seen EA reading groups in action, I like that podcasts are:

1) A shorter time commitment.

2) Much easier to consume (people can listen while walking, or in the car, and be able to get through it even if they aren't in a position to take notes).

3) Easier to annotate (having a document or notebook open while you listen > having to switch back and forth between a book and a screen, or two book-shaped things).