Announcing plans for a German Effective Altruism Network focused on Community Building

post by alexherwix · 2019-07-03T13:05:55.986Z · score: 32 (21 votes) · EA · GW · 14 comments

Contents

  Problem
  Solution
    Pooling Resources
    Coordinating a Structured Knowledge Exchange
  Why Now?
  Market Potential
  Competition / Alternatives
  Governance Model
  Business Model
  Team
  Financials
  References
None
14 comments

TLDR: In this post we present the current iteration of a business plan for a German Effective Altruism Network (GEAN) focused on community building. We aim to increase the inclination toward and awareness of Effective Altruism in Germany by coordinating the expertise and pooling the resources of local EA groups through a community-driven regional support network. Next to the announcement we are also conducting a survey with local EA groups in Germany and starting a series of workshops and events focused on the further refinement and development of our plans. To support our activities we are currently looking for feedback, funding and in-kind support.

Problem

Effective Altruism (EA) is an ambitious movement focused on having as much positive impact as possible on the lives of others. Towards this goal, EA has developed a sophisticated and ever-developing set of interrelated concepts and ideas that require in-depth engagement to fully understand and apply in practice [1]. Against this backdrop, local groups of aspiring and engaged effective altruists play major roles in helping to sustain and grow the EA movement. For example, local EA groups may…

However, running a local EA group is a challenging task, given, not only the complexity of EA concepts and ideas, but also general challenges inherent to community building [2,3]. For example, often times local groups are not founded or run by experienced EAs but by students or professionals who themselves are just starting to learn about EA and, thus, have to concurrently figure out how to run and engage a local community while still skilling up in terms of their knowledge about EA.

As a first step towards alleviating this challenging situation, general insights about EA community building have been started to be compiled by some of the major institutional actors in the EA movement, e.g., CEA [2], LEAN [4] and (until the beginning of this year) EAF [5]. Moreover, projects like the EA community building grants offered by CEA [6] can enable people interested in community building to dedicate more time this activity.

Although these resources and initiatives provide a basic foundation for local EA community building in general, due to the complex and context-specific (e.g., in terms of cultural or regional circumstances) nature of community building, we argue for the need of in-depth, high-fidelity support tailored to the specific regional contexts of local EA groups. Big questions that are regionally dependent and that almost all local EA groups struggle with at some point are, for example:

It is our working hypothesis that questions such as the above are currently best worked on and answered through collaborative work between local groups in similar regional contexts. The state of organizational infrastructure for supporting this kind of regional exchange is largely dependent on the actors and institutions in any given region. For example, while some countries already have national-level EA organizations focused on supporting a national network of local EA groups (e.g., EA Netherlands, EA France, EA Norway, etc.) such an organization is absent in Germany where community building was traditionally supported by the EAF but discontinued as of 2019. Thus, there is currently no professional organization explicitly engaging in regional support for local EA groups in Germany, which creates bottlenecks for local group growth as established institutional actors engaging in community building worldwide (i.e., CEA and LEAN) are in a difficult position to help address regional challenges in Germany.

For example, while CEA can fund promising EAs with community building grants or support local groups with monetary resources to do events (e.g., workshops) there is substantial overhead associated with the current practice of monetary transfers to individual bank accounts. As of yet, there seems to be no well-established way of handling money transfers that go beyond an occasional reimbursement for costs associated with small events. Moreover, existing organizations like CEA are in a comparatively bad position to change this situation and assist in managing local group finances as this requires a deeper insight into local day-to-day operations which is prohibitively expensive for such organizations to come by. At the same time, having well working financial management independent of individual people is very important for sustainable local groups that can survive multiple leadership transitions. Other examples of existing support are the EA Forum or the EA Hub which both aim to facilitate knowledge exchange within the EA community and between local groups but are limited in their accessibility to newcomers and cannot yet replace in-depth, context-aware, high-fidelity transmission of ideas and concepts afforded by personal interactions.

Solution

We aim to address this challenging situation through the development and maintenance of a lean infrastructure that helps to coordinate and support the local EA groups in Germany by

A results chain (click this link to enlarge) summarizes our current thinking in a visual format. It is a succinct outline of how we expect to use the resources available to us to reach our desired objectives [7].

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Pooling Resources

We propose the pooling of regional resources as an effective way of improving the utility and efficiency of regionally available resources and expertise by making them easier available to a larger pool of users. For example, investments with high initial costs (e.g., setting up a non-profit with a bank account) or fixed costs (e.g., maintaining a regional website and newsletter, organizing a workshop) are often not viable for small local groups but become increasingly viable and useful for a larger regional network of local groups. Moreover, as the local groups in Germany mature and professionalize a danger of duplicating costly investments with limited returns increases.

Regarding IT infrastructure, we want to set up a common website as a central point of contact for people interested in regional EA activities. The website will aggregate information about all participating local EA groups in a given region with clear and up to date information about past and current activities and events as well as provide a clear pathway for interested parties to contact engaged core members of local groups or sign up for a regular regional newsletter. The relevant information will be updated by the participating local EA groups themselves who will in return get an easy to maintain and highly discoverable personalized website for their local group with a high chance of attracting potential new members. This incentive structure is designed to distribute costs and rewards fairly and keep the overall overhead of maintaining the website low.

In addition to the public facing website, internal activities of participating local EA groups are planned to be supported with easy-to-use digital customer-relationship management (CRM) software such as Odoo [8] or a less structured document oriented infrastructure such as NextCloud [9]. We aim to centralize the infrastructure for tasks that are highly similar between local EA groups in the same region but are often duplicated or reinvented (e.g., financial management or workshop organization). To make this kind of centralization viable, we...

Beyond IT infrastructure, we are planning to set up a sustainable organizational structure in the form of a non-profit registered association ("gemeinnütziger Verein") or a non-profit cooperative ("gemeinnützige Genossenschaft") with the medium-term (1-year) plan of becoming a possible target of tax-exempt donations in Germany. The expertise acquired in setting up the organizational structure shall enable us to become the central point of contact for financial reimbursements and associated questions in relation to EA community building efforts in Germany. Our main goal is to streamline the overall financial management of local groups in Germany and reduce the uncertainties and inefficiencies that currently still persist.

Coordinating a Structured Knowledge Exchange

We propose to coordinate a structured knowledge exchange between local groups and with the larger EA community as an effective way of improving the capacities and effectiveness of local groups. Our knowledge exchange strategy can broadly be divided into 5 components.

  1. The first component are topic-centered working groups that bring together individuals from from different local EA groups with the goal of harnessing multiplier effects across groups. First examples of this approach are the organization of a working group interested in specializing in career workshops, a working group for the development of a introductory workshop series to EA to be held by regional EA members and a working group for an advanced workshop series focused on recruiting high-profile speakers.
  2. The second component is the organization of regular local group retreats on a regional and national level. Retreats provide a great forum for in-depth, context-aware, high-fidelity transmission of ideas and concepts as well as human bonding.
  3. The third component is the participative development and organized collection of an appropriate repertoire of community metrics and good practices to gauge, benchmark and steer the overall development of constituent local EA groups and the EA movement in Germany.
  4. The fourth component is the streamlining of the knowledge exchange between local EA groups in Germany and the larger EA community. Through the bundling of expertise in working groups it will be easier to quickly disseminate new insights to local EAs on the ground, who are sometimes not aware of the most recent EA thinking (e.g., through a lack of knowledge or interest in the EA forum or the EA hub). Moreover, it will be easier and more efficient for EA community building organizations such as CEA or LEAN to interact with local groups that are well connected and already engaging in structured regional knowledge exchange.
  5. The fifth (and most tentative) component is the development of a structured incubation program for new local EA groups in which people interested in creating a new group are supported by more experienced organizers. By offering structured guidance together with personal assistance for new groups, we expect to speed up the evolution and improve the long-term sustainability of local EA groups.

Why Now?

Based on the collective experience of a number of local EA groups in Germany there is a great opportunity and demand for increased coordination in EA community building activities in Germany which is only going to be amplified by EAF's recent withdrawal from community building activities. Given the results of the 2018 EA survey [10] and comparing the number of engaged EAs in Germany with the rest of the world, we see much room for growth in Germany. We argue that a systematic and coordinated approach to community building will help to lift this potential in a more effective and efficient way.

Market Potential

Germany has around 83 million inhabitants and, thus, is the second most populous state of Europe after Russia, the most populous state lying entirely in Europe, as well as the most populous member state of the European Union [11]. A recent survey highlighted that the percentage of donors in Germany is generally stable at around 25% of people but has been as high as 44% of people in 2005 when the Tsunami in South East Asia had a strong influence on donation behavior [12]. Nevertheless, the total amount of private donations has slightly increased and is currently at around 3.3 Billion € per annum. Private donors in Germany on average give around 6.8 times a year [13] with an average donation of around 38 € [14].

According to the 2018 EA survey [10], Germany has a relatively low number of 185 engaged EAs which leads to an EA density of ~ 0.000002 EAs/Population. Holding the UK and Norway as comparable to Germany in terms of relative market potential, a plausible estimate of the potential market of EAs in Germany would be ~ 0.000006 EAs/Population. Based on this estimation, we would expect at least a potential for a 200% increase in active EAs (who are engaged enough to fill out the EA survey) in Germany (~370 additional EAs).

Competition / Alternatives

Currently there seems to be no competing regional organization focused on supporting community building in Germany that we are aware of. Taking a global perspective, most tasks that we propose to take on are being coordinated by CEA, however, as we argue, in a more granular and less focused way. Alternatives to creating a new regional organization include staying with the status quo as well as creating a less community-driven organization that focuses on the aspects that we propose in this business plan. While the later may be quicker to set up and easier to control, we argue that substantive accountability towards the community is a great mechanism to ensure an overall alignment as well as the sustainability of activities.

Governance Model

We strive to build and sustain a participatory and democratic governing body for the organization by opening up membership to all EA community builders in Germany which pass a peer review by three existing members. Guidelines for peer review assessment will be developed in close relation with experienced EA community builders and be openly available for critical reflection and undergo regular revisions. Based on the developed guidelines structured training materials will be developed to guide the development of novice EA community builders and provide a clear path towards participation in the governing body of the organization.

The specific set up of the managing board ("Vorstand") of the organization still needs to be decided but the goal is to have an adequate representation of necessary organizational and important regional perspectives. Roles should be covered if at all possible but, due to limited resources (especially in the beginning), regional representation will be optional. Important roles and tasks that would need to be covered are as follows:

The managing board will be elected yearly by the general assembly ("Mitgliederversammlung") based on a presentation of a one year plan with associated outcome predictions and targets as well as a more general five year roadmap. The goal of requiring formal plans and predicitions as well as a more strategic roadmap is to balance short-term accountability with the possibility of advocating and planning for longer-term goals and visions. An early formation of possible management teams is encouraged and block voting for teams shall be made possible if legally possible to ensure a well-running managing board. Votes regarding personnel decisions shall be held anonymously. Currently, approval voting and quadratic voting are being investigated as possible voting mechanisms. Decisions within the managing board will be openly documented to ensure personal accountability.

Means for discussing and submitting proposals that concern the organization will be made openly available for all interested parties but endorsement by at least one ordinary member of the organization is required for them to be considered for official adoption. For official adoption, proposals which are not related to the organization's legal bylaws may be decided by normal vote of the general assembly. Proposals that affect the legal bylaws require a 3/4 majority in the general assembly.

Business Model

The main intended beneficiaries of the organization are all EAs that are living in or visiting Germany for any amount of time. Our vision is to make Germany an environment where all people interested in EA find EA-aligned activities and resources that fit their "engagement and potential profile". As resources are limited, careful considerations will need to be made in the development of our activity portfolio to ensure the sustainable growth and long-term engagement as well as overall effectiveness and impact of EAs in Germany.

To ensure the long-term viability of the organization, we aim to build on three complementary fundraising avenues, namely, grant seeking from EA-aligned foundations and initiatives (e.g., CEA community buildings grants), direct donations by our core beneficiaries (i.e., EAs in Germany) as well as the sale of services (e.g., tickets for events, etc.). We expect that especially in the beginning fundraising will be focused on grant seeking and sale of services and may shift to direct donations in the future when the value and impact of the organization will be easier to demonstrate to benefiting EAs in Germany. Our messaging to solicit donations would highlight the service nature of our work (i.e., it's more like a gym membership) and clearly state that we don’t expect donations to the organization to compete with donations to other high-impact cause areas. Over time we hope to establish a social norm for moderate support of local EA groups or regional networks of EA groups in one's area in addition to more substantial donations to the most effective causes. This three-pronged business model aims to set the incentives of the organization so as to favor a sustained focus on supporting the alignment of the global and the local level of the EA movement.

To assess the impact of our work several metrics are being considered for reporting at this time:

Team

We have already assembled a well-rounded diverse core-team of 7 active EA community builders. Together we combine a broad set of different backgrounds (e.g., information systems, physics, medicine, CFAR-alumni, CEA community building grant recipients, with experience running start-Ups, non-profits, workshops, and more) and have community building experience of 15+ years with 7+ years specifically focused on EA.

Alexander Herwix is a late stage PhD student in information systems and is generally motivated by the question how collective problem solving communities can be effectively supported. His research background allows him to provide a theory informed perspective to many aspects of the organization as well as provide direction for the ongoing development. He is currently co-organizing EA Cologne and has around 2 years of direct community building experience in the EA space as well as substantial project management experience in small to medium sized teams.

Max Schons is a freshly minted physician who is going into medical research to investigate infectious diseases with machine learning techniques. Besides his studies he has substantial experience in running a start up and co-founding a charity. He is currently co-organizing EA Cologne with around 2 years of direct community building experience in the EA and running a well-received EA workshop series of 4 events held in Cologne/Stanford with in total ~80 participants, 8 speakers, and an average rating of 1.5 to 2 on -3 to 3 scale compared to an average workshop.

Florian Zeidler is a software developer and entrepreneur with technical and strategy skills who has also worked with non-profit human rights organizations in the past. He is currently an organizer of EA Münster and very engaged in helping us set up a sound IT infrastructure.

Manuel Allgaier has done a bachelor of science in environmental science and is currently a CEA community building grant recipient as well as an organizer of EA Berlin. He has substantial experience in community building and event management which he plans to use to organize events such as unconferences, retreats and workshops. He is also interested in professionalizing and coordinating EA career coaching.

Tom Lieberum is a bachelor student in physics and currently organizing EA Aachen. He is interested in organizing workshops and collaborations between EAs. He also wants to help improve the personal exchange of EAs in Germany.

Luise Wolf is a pediatrician currently working in pediatric cardiology. She is the founder of EA Leipzig and interested in organizing a EAGx conference in Germany. She is advocating for equal rights and an inclusive strategy to community building.

Jasper Götting is a PhD Student in infection biology and virology. He has multiple years of community building experience running EA Osnabrück and now EA Hannover. He has also interned at EAF and done a EA speaker tour in 2017. He aims to contribute to the professional development of the organization.

Financials

As we are building a new type of organization for the EA movement in Germany as well as in general, it is very difficult for us to make accurate financial predictions. For example, on the one hand, we only have tentative ideas about how much funding is reasonably available to us via the traditional grant making bodies in EA (e.g., CEA, meta fund) and are basically clueless about our chances to attract large-scale donations by well-off individuals in the EA sphere. On the other hand, at this point, we can also only crudely estimate how quickly local EA groups will want to work with us (we are currently working on validating our assessments with a survey). Thus, we decided to embrace this uncertainty and use guesstimate sheets to calculate averages based on our best guesses of reasonable scenarios. If you have trouble interpreting the guesstimate sheets we are happy to provide feedback if you contact us at: info@eakoeln.de

Cost estimation: https://www.getguesstimate.com/models/13653

Funding estimation: https://www.getguesstimate.com/models/13661

References

  1. https://concepts.effectivealtruism.org
  2. https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/models-of-community-building/
  3. https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/WAhFnueRgHkAf8KHc/making-ea-groups-more-welcoming [EA · GW]
  4. https://resources.eahub.org/
  5. https://effektiveraltruismus.de/lokalgruppen/ressourcen/
  6. https://www.effectivealtruism.org/community-building-grants/
  7. https://www.betterevaluation.org/en/evaluation-options/results_chain
  8. https://www.odoo.com
  9. https://nextcloud.com/
  10. https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/t2Wqszc4wpKxMinSs/ea-survey-2018-series-geographic-differences-in-ea [EA · GW]
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germany
  12. https://de.statista.com/infografik/16229/anteil-privater-spender-in-deutschland/
  13. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/182977/umfrage/spendenhaeufigkeit-pro-spender-in-deutschland/
  14. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/182976/umfrage/spendenhoehe-pro-spendenakt-in-deutschland/

14 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by tobiaspulver · 2019-07-04T17:03:30.091Z · score: 41 (14 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the thorough write-up! I'm glad to see this initiative taking shape. As we've briefly discussed earlier this year, I believe there are some low-hanging fruits to pluck with respect to community management in Germany, especially after we at EAF have deprioritised community building and local group support.

From the list of planned activities you describe, I am most excited about facilitating retreats, providing some support for new groups, and aiming to become a tax-exempt association to facilitate financial management. In general, facilitating coordination and exchange among local groups has often seemed valuable to me in the past.

At the same time, I'd caution against providing too many services too soon. My skepticism is grounded mainly in my experience that local groups often don't use tools offered to them--like a CRM or a website-- reliably. This is in part because turnover is usually high and non-essential things often don't get handed over, and in part because motivation and available time tends to fluctuate strongly. (On a side note: This may be hard, but ideally such effects are also taken into account when surveying groups about their needs.) I've often seen groups drop things after an initial burst of motivation and interest. This can have negative effects if they would counterfactually have focused more on more key aspects of local group management.

For these reasons I'd recommend using an iterative approach, focusing initially on the provision of fairly basic infrastructure and a small number of key events. If this goes well and you have more capacitiy and notice more demand, you can expand your activities step-by-step.

With respect to the idea of an introductory workshop series, and perhaps also relevant to other planned activities: I've become less optimistic about proactive outreach efforts by local groups since I wrote down my toughts on running a local group a little over a year ago (link). In particular, I probably wouldn't endorse several of the recommendations I made in the 'Outreach' section anymore, as well as the idea of running an 'EA seminar' for new members. With respect to the seminar/workshop series, I've become less sure about the value of efforts trying to "teach" EA ideas to potentially interested people. People who are a good fit for a group in the long run are often those who also have sufficient motivation to read about and engage with relevant ideas on their own. I'm not highly confident in this, though, and people who have themselves run such seminars are be in a better position to evaluate their value.


comment by alexherwix · 2019-07-05T07:24:20.751Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Dear Tobias,

thank you for your insightful remarks, I hope that you find some of the things that we talked about already reflected in the plan :) We try to listen and incorporate feedback, especially, when there is experience to back it up! Again, I am answering from own perspective and may not represent the full team.

Regarding your concerns for services, we are very aware of this and now that I think about it, it may have been useful to add our one-year roadmap to illustrate how we want to start our initiative. Rest assured we are very much following along the lines that you outline at the moment. We are organizing an Unconference style retreat, a community building retreat, additional advanced workshops and we are also considering to organize a EAGx in Germany again next year (this is still more dependent on what other players are doing, though). So, next to setting up the basic infrastructure most of our efforts are focused on delivering key events with high expected value.

Regarding your concerns for outreach, at the moment we seem to be following a very inward looking approach, trying to improve community building within EA in Germany ("the product"). Based on improving this "product" we hope to organically scale by word of mouth. However, there is also the possibility of investigating other outreach opportunities as time goes on.

I personally, have a slightly different perception regarding introductory workshops as we have had great experience with those. Things like basic rationality training combined with an EA touch or career workshops for beginners seem to be in high demand and are generally perceived as useful or interesting. I do agree, though, that only a small fraction of those people who attend make the jump across the chasm to become deeply involved EAs. That's an interesting phenomenon to study and I am not entirely sure what to make of it yet. There are many (competing) perspectives one can take regarding the "desirability" of this situation and how to move forward from here. I can't answer comprehensively in this comment, but it is delightful topic for a set of good conversations or even a series of blog posts ;)

I hope I could answer some of your concerns. If something needs further exploration, I am happy to try again :)

comment by casebash · 2019-07-04T21:51:47.655Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

What's EAF focusing on now and why did it decide to deprioritise community building?

comment by tobiaspulver · 2019-07-05T08:05:16.957Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

EAF deprioritised community building to focus more on its core priority: research on preventing s-risks from AI. Last year seemed to be a good time to hand over community building as CEA had recently increased its capacity in this area (with the community building grants, and additions to the groups team). EAF is still hosting a resource overview on the non-EAF-specific German EA landing page, though perhaps this can be transfered ot a GEAN website at some point.

You can read more about our EAF's plans for 2019 in this post [EA · GW].

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2019-07-04T15:20:05.909Z · score: 17 (14 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this detailed write-up! I appreciate that you're taking the initiative, especially considering that EAF has withdrawn from this area.

A few questions / inputs:

1. Have you considered trying to recruit a more demographically diverse team? To my knowledge, there are several women who would make excellent contributions and might be interested.

2. What are your plans for coordinating with the international EA community, especially CEA, and staying up to date with their inputs for community building strategy? My experience has been that important strategic update are often only propagated slowly to national/local groups, so having a very deliberate plan for doing that seems desirable (edit: you also write this in your post – sorry for the initial oversight). (As far as I know, there hasn't been an attempt to coordinate with EAF yet, which IMO could also be useful. Feel free to reach out if you haven't yet! – Edit: I stand corrected – there has actually been some coordination in the early stages, so thanks!)

3. I appreciate that you listed concrete metrics to evaluate your impact. Some of the metrics seem much more suitable to me than others – career changes, for example, seem really valuable and impactful, pledges taken seems useful, but money donated by students is unlikely to be significant and can be used as a way of getting people involved and engaged rather than as an outcome metric. Similarly, I'd recommend a stronger effort to track the quality of local groups and local group members rather than the quantities/numbers. These things have been elaborated on in several local group guides.

comment by alexherwix · 2019-07-05T07:42:10.927Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Dear Jonas,

thank you for your comment and inputs :) I am responding from my personal perspective and may not represent the full team.

  1. That's a great point! We would love to have a more diverse team and if you have interested people in mind, please direct them to the survey or our current email address: info@eakoeln.de. We are actively looking for new members and generally don't plan to have any limit on members if they fulfill some EA and CB related criteria. Thus, hopefully we will be more diverse soon :)

  2. As you mention there has been some coordination with the big players (CEA, EAF, LEAN) but it could obviously always be more and is generally limited by the time that we get from them. We also tried to coordinate with some community builders in Germany but have to say that we are rooted in a mostly regional phenomenon of cooperating local groups that has been slowly spreading from NRW. At the moment, we are trying to onboard and integrate the (interested) rest of Germany.

  3. The list is just a short list of some concrete things that we can measure. We are very much engaged with the question of how to track and improve quality in community building and over time this will hopefully become one of our key value propositions – that we are able to assess and advise what is likely to work in a given context. This is why we have added a special role for quality management.

I hope this answers the most relevant parts of your question. I am happy to elaborate in more detail if necessary :)

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2019-07-10T11:19:16.402Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW
We would love to have a more diverse team and if you have interested people in mind, please direct them to the survey or our current email address

I've sent you a PM with some suggestions! I haven't been in touch with them lately, so please reach out to them directly.

comment by aarongertler · 2019-07-04T01:29:23.121Z · score: 16 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this up! It's nice to see a detailed plan and cost estimates ahead of time for the kind of community-building project that is often treated more informally.

A couple of notes/questions:

  • I may have missed this, but are you modeling the proposed organization of your network after any of the other national-level EA groups? It seems like there should be many lessons to learn, but I didn't see any explicit mention of groups you're emulating or groups you've spoken to.
    • I'm especially curious about this in regards to the IT infrastructure section of the proposal; it can be difficult to set up and maintain websites that require participation/input from many different groups, and I wonder how much of the event information could be handled with off-the-shelf tools (as you plan to use for your CRM software).
  • You have a lot of different projects and priorities. If this project were to be funded, what would you do first?
  • To what extent do you believe that EA movement growth in Germany has been hampered by a lack of coordination?
    • You mention that the population density of EAs is lower there than in the UK or Norway; I'm not sure how much of this is based on difficulty retaining members vs. difficulty reaching people in the first place. A coordination system seems especially helpful for retention (as interacting with a badly-run group is a really easy way for someone to lose involvement with EA), but I'm less clear on how much it would help with outreach.

----

i work for CEA, but these views are my own.


comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2019-07-04T10:08:21.442Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · EA · GW

As Aaron says, it seems that the team is doing a great job of forming a thorough and considered plan. Have you thought much about what a minimum viable product (as described eg in the Lean Start-up) would look like, and how to use that to test your assumptions? That might be particularly useful given the complexity of the project.

comment by alexherwix · 2019-07-04T10:50:35.217Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Dear Michelle, thank you for the kind words. I am answering from my own perspective and may not represent the full team.

We are basically already running as an MVP for ~3 month now while putting this plan together. It's just a core team of people, coordinating and organizing events and working on a common infrastructure. We document quite a lot of what we do internally but it is not (yet) really accessible to people on the outside that's why we aim to publish more blog posts like this in the future. We have a great team and despite limited resources I am constantly amazed by what we can pull together :)

We are also executing towards additional layers of functionality as we speak. For example, we have launched a survey to test some of our core assumptions and will conduct a series of open workshops focused on developing GEAN further (first one is this weekend). In terms of organizational structure we are trying to stay lean but will have to take the plunge of incorporating as this is one of the very reasons that we are embarking on this project at all – just based on our own (limited) activities we already have the need for a proper legal set up.

I hope this answers at least a substantial part of your question :)

comment by alexherwix · 2019-07-04T07:08:27.287Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Dear Aaron, thanks for taking the time to comment. I will answer your points quickly from my personal perspective, however, we will also collect all feedback to discuss it in the team as well which we may then collectively discuss in a future post or comment.

  1. We are modeling after many different resources that we have access to (e.g., CEA thinking, posts on the EA forum, some personal conversations, personal experience and last but not least academic literature). For the sake of conveying „what we want to do“ and „why we want to do it“ rather than „why we want to do it the way we want to do“, we decided to not make this an academic paper but a more informal business plan. But if there is general interest in the whys we can write up a more academic exposition soon. We also really want to get in the habit of writing up our reasoning early and often... thus, thanks for providing some initiative ;)
  • Regarding IT infrastructure. We are not yet set on a specific tool or set of tools but are currently investigating different alternatives. Rest assured, we are very diligent at this task and really take a lot of care to find (or even develop) solutions that satisfy our (and the communities) requirements. For example, we are working on separate posts to justify and outline some of the values that guide our decisions here. However, while we have a great team with IT experience, we are somewhat bound by our financial situation and priorities. We may need to start with of the shelf components but migrate as we gain stability and resources.
  1. This is a great point! Yes, we are ambitious and there is much to do! We are generally working on this on a volunteer basis at the moment which works out well to organize workshops and smaller events. However, setting up and running the legal and organizational infrastructure for an organization such as the one we outline in the business plan is better handled by one or two people working on this in at least part-time (better full-time) capacity. Thus, we would likely invest in funding appropriate people to be able to execute at an accelerated but sustainable pace. I hope this answer is precise enough, if not, I am happy to elaborate in more detail.

  2. Based on my personal experience, I believe that there is a strong demand for coordination which is evident in the diverse team that we have already assembled. These are all people who value the exchange with other local groups and are motivated by working together in something larger than their local groups. Regarding movement growth, I believe that having „fun but valuable things to do“ besides reading, discussions and skill building will attract more people to community building activities, which in turn will make the reading, discussing and skill building more attractive. To grow sustainably there needs to be a self-supporting ecology of opportunities that fits to the local resource distribution.

  • Regarding outreach, I believe that I have covered the gist of it in my previous paragraph. Content-wise we are working on formats that are highly self-supporting, scalable and transferable to different regional contexts. While this is not an outreach activity per se, it‘s about setting up the infrastructure to be able to scale once momentum is there. I would hope to mainly use word of mouth to scale organically over time.

I think one of the main points that differentiates EA from other movements like F4F is that we want to have a better sense of what we are doing rather than just winging it. That‘s what we are working on and I thank you for helping us reflect more on this :)

comment by DavidNash · 2019-11-15T13:34:02.552Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think that this is a good plan and it would be interesting to hear if there have been any updates in the last 4 months.

I agree with a lot of the other comments but one thing I haven't noticed is how to provide value to the wider network of people in Germany who have an interest in EA but may not want to go to events or become heavily engaged.

comment by Jorgen_Ljones · 2019-07-30T12:19:33.620Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry we're late to reply, but we hope it's still valuable.

Thanks for our detailed post and willingness to be transparent about our plans! Regional and national EA groups in Germany seems like potentially a very valuable initiative.

Based on our experience building the national EA group in Norway, we want to echo the feedback previously given here by EAF, Michelle and Aaron. Especially the notion of not planning too much in advance, as reality will always be merciless to any plans. Adopting an agile approach with rapid feedback cycles is really important. We've found much of the advice in the Startup Playbook (Y Combinator) really useful: https://playbook.samaltman.com/

Here's a relevant extract from their chapter about great products:

"Understand your users as well as you possibly can. Really figure out what they need, where to find them, and what makes them tick.

“Do things that don’t scale” has rightfully become a mantra for startups. You usually need to recruit initial users one at a time (Ben Silbermann used to approach strangers in coffee shops in Palo Alto and ask them to try Pinterest) and then build things they ask for. Many founders hate this part, and just want to announce their product in the press. But that almost never works. Recruit users manually, and make the product so good the users you recruit tell their friends.

You also need to break things into very small pieces, and iterate and adapt as you go. Don’t try to plan too far out, and definitely don’t batch everything into one big public release. You want to start with something very simple—as little surface area as possible—and launch it sooner than you’d think. In fact, simplicity is always good, and you should always keep your product and company as simple as possible."

May be it's a good idea to select just a few of the activities you mention, starting with North Rhine-Westphalia or Greater Berlin before expanding? NRW is 18 million people, about the size of Sweden, Norway and Denmark combined.

We would very much be interested in discussing EA community building and new regional and national groups further. We regularly collaborate and share experience and best practices with other EA groups so please don't hesitate to reach out.

comment by alexherwix · 2019-07-31T11:19:03.146Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Dear Jorgen,

thank you for your feedback! Given our background we are very familiar with start ups, agile planning, etc. So rest assured, we are not going to blindly follow a plan when evidence emerges that indicates that we need to adjust. Interestingly, our plans seem to hold up quite well for the time being but I can understand that a single post here makes it difficult to get a complete understanding of our plans and how we are going to execute (which is not really part of this post anyhow) – so I understand your concerns.

What would be really interesting to me, is if you have additional concrete aspects to criticize. For example, is there something you want to critique substantively in terms of "this is not a good idea because of reason x, y, z" or "your logic here is flawed"? We are always looking for insightful feedback and concerns we didn't know or prioritize before.

I am happy to talk and will write you an email to set something up.