What are some potential coordination failures in our community?

post by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2020-12-12T08:00:25.858Z · EA · GW · 29 comments

This is a question post.

Do you have examples of systemic problems in the EA project that could be solved by targeted coordination mechanisms?
I'll give some answers as examples. I'd like to see answers even if you aren't sure if they are actually problems or not, or if they are partially solved, or even if you think that there might be a better solution - just mention it in the text.

I'm asking mostly because I'm curious about the extent to which we could use more coordination mechanisms, but I might also try to tackle something here - especially if it's related to local groups or to prioritization research (which I plan on learning more about).


answer by Linda Linsefors · 2020-12-13T22:02:02.002Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Funding is a mess. 

Distributing money is hard and we should not expect to have a good solution anytime soon. But it would be helpful if people where aware of how inadequate our current funding ecosystem is. Even though money supposedly exists, funding is still the main bottleneck for most new EA initiatives.

My current analysis is that grant evaluation is hard becasue is inherently low bandwidth. I would therefore recommend that people donate though their own personal networks rather than giving to one of the EA Funds. I'd also expect that we'll see a greater and healthier diversity of projects this way.

I know the argument for having centralized funding. We pool all the money and all the applications in one place, and then let some trusted people sort it out. In theory this both saves time and optimize money distribution. But in practice it has a lot of problems. It's slow, it's low bandwidth, and the biases of a few will effect everyone.

I've personally lost a lot of time to grant agencies. Waiting for answers what where late. Or waiting for a promised application opening, that where canceled. If you have not experienced these things yourself, it's hard for me to describe how much it can mess up everything. And that's just one of the problems. 

Dealing with individual funders has been sooooo much easier, and just overall a much nicer and more supportive experience. 

I have a lot more to say about this, but I have not found the best way to express it yet. But feel free to reach out for more of my thoughts. 

(An alternative hypotheses, is that EA is cash constrained. I.e. the bottle neck is not around distributing the money, it's about there not being enough of it. In that case we should upgrade the importance of earning to give.)

comment by FJehn · 2020-12-16T08:49:39.361Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That is indeed a problem, I also saw signs of this several times. Thank you for that comment. At least for initial funding lotteries might be a good idea, as they would allow much quicker grant applications and would remove bias. I recently asked a questions about this here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/XtxnLERQfampY7dhh/lotteries-for-everything [EA · GW]

While I do think that lotteries have some flaws, they still seem pretty good to me when it comes to initial funding. 

Replies from: Linda Linsefors
comment by Linda Linsefors · 2020-12-19T03:00:49.341Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

An aspect of the funding problem is that money allocation is bad everywhere. (On a larger scale, the market mostly woks, but if you get into the details of being a human wanting to trade your time for money, most things around job applications and grant applications, is more or less terrible.) If we design a system that don't suck, over time EA will attract people who are here for the money not for the mission. 

A solution should have the feature:
1) It don't suck if you are EA aligned
2) If you are not EA aligned it should not be easier to get money from us than from other places. (It is possible to get non EA aligned people to do EA aligned actions. But that require an very different level of oversight.)

I think a grant lottery, where the barrier to entry is to have done some significant amount of EA volunteer work or EA donation or similar, would be an awesome experiment.

answer by EdoArad · 2020-12-12T08:21:42.551Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Volunteer pipeline.

A good answer to What to do with people [EA · GW]. A system where it is easy to direct newcomers to potential relevant projects in EA globally.

answer by technicalities · 2020-12-12T08:24:34.725Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The cycle of people coming up with ideas about how to organise people into projects, or prevent redundant posts, or make the Forum more accretive, being forgotten a week later. i.e. We fail to coordinate on coordination projects.

answer by Denis Drescher · 2020-12-12T15:51:16.873Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Keeping people up-to-date.

I observe that a lot of people are still active and motivated in their problem area but seem to still associate EA with the sort of ideas that were associated with it around 2014, some of which are long since regarded as mistaken or oversimplified. (I’m not talking about people who drifted away from EA but rather ones for who new EA-related insights are still very action-relevant.)

There are surely a lot of things like the EA newsletter already going on that keep people up-to-date, but maybe there are more ideas that can be tried.

answer by Denis Drescher · 2020-12-12T15:44:49.059Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


I remember Chi mentioned [EA(p) · GW(p)] how well mentoring worked at Oxford. I’ve observed a number of EA efforts to get mentoring off the ground through better coordination, and I also replied to her comment with some ideas.

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2020-12-31T09:07:05.265Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think mentoring is very broad and different kinds achieve different goals. A basic definition of mentoring would be: someone who advises or trains another person on a ongoing basis for a period of time. As opposed a one-off activity - like a single call or interaction. 


A few different kinds:

  • Research Mentoring - Effective Thesis + opportunities through EA research organisations. AI Safety Support is also running/ran a mentorship program a few months back.
    • I think there are probably still more opportunities for general research mentoring but don't know enough about the EA Research landscape to comment further. (I'd be keen to hear others' thoughts)
  • Career Mentoring - Student Career Mentoring, WANBAM
    • A fair deal of work is going on in this space. 
    • I've deliberately not included 80K because I consider their services to fall under a one-off activity for the most part
    • Coordination Mechanisms: 
      • Centralizing knowledge/best practices for other groups to implement (e.g. WANBAM has compiled a bunch of excellent resources)
      • Mapping out the opportunities (e.g. a central EA Forum post that's maintained) could be valuable for more efficiency.
  • Expert Tutoring /Mentoring - (your proposal) It seems most valuable in somewhat narrow cases - e.g. an EA researcher trying to write on a new topic.
    • A subject matter expert who:
      • is good at teaching (possibly very rare depending on the subject)
      • wants to invest time in teaching/thinks it's valuable
    • A way for that expert to connect with potential tutees (and depending on demand to filter tutees)
    • Thus any coordination mechanism would need to 1) recruit SMEs and 2) pair them with tutees
  • Productivity/Life coaching/mentoring: There are a few EAs who offer life coaching services and there is also the EA Life Coaching exchange Facebook group.
    • Since this is a more professionalized service I don't expect it would make sense to offer this for free to the whole community, but many of the coaches offer substantial subsidies for EAs.
    • However, there may be a case for encouraging [EA · GW]it more
    • At best a coordination mechanism might just be a Forum Post which maintains all the active opportunities
  • (Applied) Rationality coaching: As far as I'm aware CFAR is the only group that officially offers training. I don't know if I'd call it mentoring, but its similar enough to productivity coaching that I thought I'd include for completeness
    • A very small group of people can actually attend in-person CFAR workshops. I have seen only a few events online, and they are not formal programs (e.g. an accountability group for doing the Hammertime [? · GW])
    • Could be opportunities here, but it also may be that this overlaps a lot with productivity coaching
    • I don't think this would benefit from coordination mechanisms
Replies from: Telofy
comment by Denis Drescher (Telofy) · 2021-01-02T11:38:21.485Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! :-D

answer by EdoArad · 2020-12-12T08:19:56.604Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A global "CRM".

It might be useful to have a global table of contact people who are sympathetic to the EA community and can offer help in their expertise or their position. Such a system can not demand too much out of any contact person, so some coordination there is needed.

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2020-12-31T08:07:56.114Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Edo (and responding to everyone's comments). This is late, but as far as internal EA community coordination goes, that is what the EA Hub is trying to do. 

I'm going to hijack this thread and give people a better sense of what we've been up to (upcoming top-level post to come!) :)

Vision: I want the Hub to be a central place where anyone with any level of involvement in the EA community (but who has some elementary knowledge of it, enough to know they want to learn more) can find valuable connections. 

Hub Community Directory

  • Currently users can contact each other via any social media links they've included
  • Within the next 1 month we will introduce messaging functionality that will allow users to receive messages (via an email) from others who wish to connect.

Some illustrative use cases of the Directory:

  • Someone reads Doing Good Better or listens to Sam Harris's podcast and wants to find a local group to meet other EAs
  • Local EA groups can find speakers for events
  • Any local, cause or career EA groups can use the Hub as a group directory using by filtering for members of their group (we are onboarding a few groups on this now, and will scale up if it's successful)
    • E.g. An ML Post-Doc in Zurich wants to connect with other ML people in Switzerland open to chatting
    • E.g. An aspiring consultant can find the EA Consulting Network and sign up for a practice case interview
  • EA organisations or projects can find volunteers with relevant skillsets and do active outreach to them
  • An EA visiting another country can see if there are any EAs to couch-surf with or maybe just grab a coffee (upcoming)
  • EA organisations can do personalized outreach to relevant candidates


Other things relevant to a CRM we are considering in the next 6 months (>50% probability):

EA Chats - 1-1 matching

Possible use-cases

  • Make a friend: 1-1 Random Matching with other EAs
  • 1-1 semi-random/intentional matching: Users may indicate preferred shared interests/language/needs & gives
    • E.g. users could be paired with accountability buddies
  • Subgroups matching
    • NEAD (German EA Network) wants to build nation-wide connections, so we run a round of matches for just German EAs
    • Effective Animal Advocacy Facebook moderators want to build cause-wide connections
  • EA Guides (example/illustrative only, the actual implementation will likely vary a lot from this)
    • New EAs are paired with 1 Guide for 1-3 sessions over a few months
    • Guides can indicate how many new people they want to be matched with per month. Guide selection TBD.
    • Depending on the number of guides, we could do more sophisticated matching - e.g. at least 1 cause area interest in common, or same time zone/country/language (especially for non-English speakers)

For EA Chats as with all our projects, we are keen to work with individuals or groups who have a specific need for these features. So if you have a need for EA Chats that's not captured in the above but are serious about using it, please do reach out. 

comment by evelynciara · 2020-12-12T15:54:25.857Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that's what EA Hub is trying to do

Replies from: Linda Linsefors
comment by Linda Linsefors · 2020-12-13T21:08:22.215Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

EA Hub has evolved a lot since last time I had a look. I was going to complain that it has limited usefulness since you can only search based on location and not interests and expertise, but that is no longer true. This is great!

comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2020-12-13T09:04:41.770Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Re Brian and evelynciara (is it Evelyn?) about EA Hub. Sorry about the ambiguity, but I was thinking more in terms of contacts who are one step removed from the community but might be of interest for collaboration/advice, like senior executives of important organizations, policy-makers, or domain experts. 

I love the efforts going into EA Hub though and I think that it is exactly the kind of coordination mechanisms I had in mind, so thank you both for the comments :)

Replies from: vaidehi_agarwalla, BrianTan
comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2020-12-31T08:38:04.752Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


contacts who are one step removed from the community but might be of interest for collaboration/advice, like senior executives of important organizations, policy-makers, or domain experts.

  • In it's current state the Hub is not equipped to deal with people who aren't opting in to being listed there.
  •  I imagine such people would not want to be publicly listed unless they were already onboard with EA and willing to be a resource, so some kind of closed/private list would probably be more realistic 
  • One option is that you could have profiles listed as viewable only to other users, and Brian's idea seems reasonable too
  • I am not optimistic most versions of these solutions would be practically feasible to implement on a scale that's cost effective. I imagine people would just be connected to EAs who have those connections, can vet them and then connect to experts
comment by BrianTan · 2020-12-14T02:50:55.770Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ah I think that's a good and interesting suggestion. I think this could be mixed into the EA Hub still though so that the contacts are linked to specific EAs who are in contact with them.

comment by BrianTan · 2020-12-12T15:53:43.640Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I believe the EA Hub is supposed to be this, but I don't think it's at this level yet (both in terms of use and of features). Vaidehi can talk more about this

Replies from: DonyChristie
comment by DonyChristie · 2020-12-13T03:14:13.549Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah I tried contacting people on it and it was pretty hard.

answer by jushy (sanjush) · 2020-12-19T12:38:06.382Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Not enough industry-specific EA networks / industry-specific EA networks aren't active / visible enough. 

answer by Jon_Behar · 2020-12-16T21:57:16.553Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Search engine optimization.

Based on my very limited understanding, links are critical for SEO (though not as important as a few years ago). So conventions like “EA blogs should generally have blogrolls (i.e. lists of links to related blogs)” or “references to organizations (e.g AMF) on the EA Forum should generally link to them” would probably help the entire community.

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2020-12-27T05:03:47.939Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, links from external sites, especially those with a high domain rating themselves (trusted sources - e.g. prominent websites, news outlets etc.) help improve a websites overall SEO ranking. 80,000 Hours or GiveWell are examples of high ranked websites within the EA community. 

answer by EdoArad · 2020-12-20T13:12:32.376Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Salius posted a list of potential projects [EA · GW]. One (three, actually) relevant suggested project is about coordinating research activities - link to doc.

answer by EdoArad · 2020-12-12T08:15:55.183Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Tool support for groups and individuals. 

Some tools for productivity / project management might be bought with a bulk discount for hundreds of people at a time. Some tools might be developed or customized.

For example, we in EA Israel are working on improving our Airtable HR system. We are in the process of getting a charity discount and in customizing automations for the system. We will naturally share here it when we will have some more experience with it, but perhaps a concentrated effort on a general tool like this for any local group might have been more worthwhile.

Also, personal productivity tools like Complice might be worth buying at a bulk discount (I was in contact with Complice, and they seem open to that if it will be for enough people, but I didn't follow through).  

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2020-12-27T05:00:14.383Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Some other widely used tools 

Replies from: eFish
comment by nil (eFish) · 2021-01-05T21:06:35.822Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

There's a new free open-source alternative called Logseq ("inspired by Roam Research, Org Mode, Tiddlywiki, Workflowy and Cuekeeper").

answer by EdoArad · 2020-12-20T15:31:04.274Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

"Moral Career Trade"

If people generally work on what their best at, even if that's not their favorite cause, as a community we might be able to do the most good. A sample project-

  1. Find people whose skills are best suited for one cause area but they care most about another. Match them to see if they can agree to each work on the other’s favorite cause.
  2. E.g, a CS PhD who cares mostly about farmed animal welfare and a Biology PhD who cares mostly about AI Safety can trade and each work in their own profession in the other’s field.
comment by Denise_Melchin · 2020-12-20T18:44:35.782Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I wrote a post on the subject here [EA · GW]!

Replies from: edoarad
comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2020-12-20T20:30:44.220Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that I should just go and read everything you wrote :)

comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2020-12-20T15:35:12.839Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Obvious problems:

  1. This will reduce motivation.
  2. This might shift the balance of how much EAs are in different fields. Perhaps it makes more sense to have more people in a more widely acknowledged-as-effective field.
  3. This reduces the incentive of people to think about cause prioritization.
  4. This is probably a piece of wrong advice for people in their early or middle career, and may cause long-term problems if understood poorly


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