How much will local/university groups benefit from targeted EA content creation?

post by Linch · 2020-02-15T21:46:49.090Z · score: 24 (11 votes) · EA · GW · 6 comments

This is a question post.

Contents

  Answers
    7 David_Moss
    6 EdoArad
    4 Khorton
None
6 comments

When I reflect back on my experiences at South Bay EA, the one thing that would save us so much time (that we can then use for non-scalable activities like 1:1s) is if we had high quality pre-made discussion sheets.

(To be clear, this is still an ongoing problem).

It takes us ~3-12 hours to make a typical discussion sheet for one meetup.

Naively, it would be really helpful if CEA or a crowdsourced group (eg, this forum) worked on creating high-quality discussion sheets that would save us 90% of the effort.

I could imagine other content being helpful as well, for example ("intro to EA" emails), event descriptions etc (though some of them are material you can easily crib from other EA groups listed on meetup.com and Facebook).

Reasons against this being particularly useful:

1. Heterogeneity of EA groups's needs: It might just be really hard to prepare useful sheets for an "EA local group (or university group)" in the abstract, since different local groups differ so much in knowledge of EA, demographic composition, schedules, timing preferences etc.

Ex. In South Bay, I've used examples from tech to illustrate cognitive biases in our instrumental rationality discussions (I think this is reasonable since ~100% of people who come to our EA events in Silicon Valley have a passing familiarity with tech). We also try to cater to people who have moderate familiarity and interest in EA, rather than try to "hard sell" EA to an unsympathetic audience, or be very useful to professional EAs (the latter because professional EAs rarely attend, rather than as a deliberate choice).

There's also a related problem where trying to serve an EA audience in the abstract might end up being just worse than local groups creating their own sheets and sharing knowledge, since there's more feedback from reality in the latter version.

2. The process of doing content creation is actually really good/necessary to develop organizer's understanding. I definitely learned a lot from making sheets/event introductions, especially in fields I had little prior knowledge in (eg, population ethics, moral uncertainty, systematized creativity). If we had pre-made sheets, maybe we'll have horrible illusions of transparency, and the organizers will convey a lot of wrong information about the topic or EA to our members.

3. Adoption concerns Even if {CEA, this forum} do end up creating material that's better than what 99% of groups can make for ourselves + save them 50-80% of the effort, it might still not be adopted and waste a lot of time.

Answers

answer by David_Moss · 2020-02-20T09:04:34.532Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The 2019 Local Group Organizers Survey [EA · GW] found large percentages of organizers reporting that more "written resources on how to run to run a group" and "written resources on EA thinking and concepts" would be highly useful.

comment by DavidNash · 2020-02-20T10:12:26.063Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Would that distinguish between people who knew about all the current resources and still wanted more versus those who hadn't been connected to what is currently available?

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2020-02-20T14:20:20.764Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't think there was an exact question on this (unless I'm mistaken), but as a proxy I'd be curious to see a breakdown of this question for new vs. older groups and more vs. less experienced group organisers. It wouldn't be a perfect proxy, since older groups may still not know about resources but also not need them, but might be worth considering.

comment by David_Moss · 2020-02-22T12:22:19.886Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

There was no way to ask whether people knew about all the resources that currently existed (although in the next survey we could ask whether they know about the EA Hub's resources specifically). We do know from other questions in this survey and in 2017's that many group leaders are not aware of existing services in general though.

answer by EdoArad · 2020-02-16T05:52:38.698Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

EAHub has a large and growing list of resources collected and written for local groups.

comment by Linch · 2020-02-16T07:37:33.255Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! Though this seems more like a comment than an answer.

comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2020-02-16T08:40:26.339Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

right, sorry 😊

comment by Linch · 2020-02-16T08:52:31.987Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

No worries, thanks for pointing out a resource.

answer by Khorton · 2020-02-16T00:29:57.460Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It looks like you're creating some pretty high-quality resources! I can see why they're fairly time intensive.

Have you shared these with other local groups before now? Have they been adopted or adapted there?

comment by Linch · 2020-02-16T08:14:23.132Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
Have you shared these with other local groups before now? Have they been adopted or adapted there?

I know Stanford EA sometimes use some of our old sheets with their modifications[1]. I believe they don't focus as much on the same type of discussion-focused meetups that we do anymore, so unclear if they have solid metrics on how helpful the sheets are for them (though at least we're saving them some time).

I've also shared our sheets (notably none of them are designed for any group in mind other than SB) online a few times. A lot of other local group organizers appeared excited about them but nobody followed up, so my guess is that uptake elsewhere probably is nonexistent or pretty low [2].

[1] SB EA sort of grew out of Stanford EA so it makes a lot of sense that our structure/content is sufficiently similar that it's usable for their purposes.

[2] Notably I wasn't really tracking that Stanford EA used our sheets until I explicitly asked a few weeks ago, so I guess it's unlikely though not impossible if, eg, a few groups saw my posts on FB or our material on the EA Hub and adapted our sheets but never bothered contacting us.

comment by Khorton · 2020-02-16T14:59:42.094Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

If most other groups aren't using the resources that currently exist, I'm not sure it's a good use of time to create further "generic" resources - although I can appreciate your frustration with the amount of time it's taking you!

comment by Linch · 2020-02-16T21:54:41.085Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah I guess that's the null hypothesis, thought it's possible that people don't use the current resources because it's not "good" enough (eg, insufficiently accessible, too much jargon, too many local context specific stuff, etc).

Another thing to consider is "curriculum", ie, right now discussion sheets, etc are shared to the internet without tips on how to adapt them (since local groups who wrote the sheets have enough local context/institutional knowledge on how the sheets should be used).

An interesting analogy is the "instructor's edition" of textbooks, which iirc in the US K-12 system often has almost as much supplementary material as the textbook's content itself!

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2020-02-17T17:26:10.211Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Linch, we actually have a guide to using discussion sheets on the eahub now: https://resources.eahub.org/events/articles/discussion-tips/

I do think that currently there is low awareness of the Hub's contents, and we will be working to help improve knowledge of what exists so that group organisers can use the resources better.

comment by Linch · 2020-02-21T09:08:27.064Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the link and I agree that it's a valuable resource for a group starting out!

That said, I wonder if there is an illusion of transparency here and maybe we're talking past each other?

To be concrete, here are two problems I don't think the Hub's collection of resources currently fulfill.

1. My impression from looking through the content list on the EA Hub is that none of the sheets from the other groups can be directly adapted (even with significant modifications) for South Bay EA's audience, since the questions are either a) too broad and intro-level (like the CEA sheets) or b) have a lot of mandatory reading that's arguably not realistic for a heterogeneous group with many working professionals (eg the Harvard Arete stuff). I think SB EA is open to trying for more mandatory reading/high-engagement stuff among a subset of the members however. But right now if we are interested in an intermediate-level discussion on a topic that we haven't previously discussed (eg, geo-engineering, hinge of history), we basically have to make the sheets ourselves.

Historically we've found this to be true even for common topics that the online EA community has discussed for many years.

This isn't just a problem with the Hub to be clear; my group has been looking for a way to steal sheets from other groups since at least mid-2018. (It's possible our needs are really idiosyncratic but it'd be a bit of a surprise if that's true?)

2. I don't think of any of the existing sheets or guiding material as curriculum, per se. At least when we were creating the sheets, my co-organizers and I mostly did things that "seemed reasonable" through a combination of intuition and rough guesses/surveys about what our members liked. At no point did we have a strong educational theory or built things with an eye towards the latest advances in the educational literature. I suspect other local groups are similar to us in that when they created sheets and organized discussions, they tried their best with limited time and care, rather than have a strong theory of education or change.

If I were to design things from scratch, I'd probably want to work in collaboration with eg, educational or edutech professionals who are also very familiar with EA (some of whom have expressed interest in this). It's possible that EA material is so out-of-distribution that being familiar with the pedagogical literature isn't helpful, but I feel like it's at least worth trying?

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2020-02-22T03:05:34.783Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for clarifying, I get what you're saying now!

TL:DR: while I'm in agreement that these things would be valuable, in the current state it wouldn't make sense to prioritise them when there's a lot of value to be found in increasing awareness of existing resources, even if they are imperfect and writing about resources where there currently are none for common events.

  1. I agree that there is a severe lack of resources, we actually link to the South Bay discussion lists (unfortunately since you made the resources there isn't anything new regarding discussions sheets). We are also slowly adding and developing them as I am running a series of guided discusisons for the Philly group.

Given where we were at with the resources up until recently, the most valuable and time efficient thing to do was to organise existing resources and then evaluate what the most pressing gaps in knowledge were. i.e. it was better to have some resources for all the basic group activities - be that running discussions, how to host events, moderating talks, venue, food and logistics, leadership structure etc. As you can see, a long list of topics! the goal was to consolidate movement-wide knowledge, and have resources well-organised and accessible.

I don't think your group was unique with regards to needing resources, although I think other groups may do more socials and other kinds of meetups that require less preparation.

  1. I agree that there isn't a curriculum, and that taking lessons from education science would be very useful and valuable. I think that we can definitely work to make EA principles and ideas more accessible by a large margin. Currently, there aren't enough people working on group building resources to do something like this, and I believe that just improving the knowledge of existing resources will provide the most value to group organisers. That being said, Catherine, who is in charge of the Resources team, does have an education background, and I think that has definitely influenced our work positively!

6 comments

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comment by cafelow · 2020-02-16T09:02:55.631Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Linch for this question. This is half an answer and half a comment! Many group leaders have expressed the need for high quality resources for events, so I think YES this is a very good idea. Some of the reasons against providing these resources can be reduced by having good supporting material such as suggestions for group organisers on how they could modify the resource to fit their group, suggested readings for group organisers, explanations of who this resource would be useful for, and more frequent sharing of resources!

I've been coordinating the EA Hub Resources over the last few months. We are still in the early stages of compiling events resources, so our team hopes to continue to use the Hub to compile more resources from group leaders around the world, and have the hub as the main repository for group resources. And we'd love your help, and the help of many other group organisers!

The current aim is to put on resources that 1) have enough supporting information for group organisers to work out how to use the resource 2) have been successfully used by at least one group, to improve quality but also to ensure this resource is something that at least some groups would want to use, and 3) aren't too similar to other resources so there isn't too much content to wade through, and 4) completely modifiable. So as a result we aren't having people put resources directly onto the Hub. Instead they can suggest changes to the Hub Resources pages on the google drive here, submit resources on this google drive, or just give me an email on catherine@eahub.org. We also have a team on slack you can join if you want to help review and compile resources!

comment by Linch · 2020-02-16T22:03:21.763Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do you have a sense of whether/how much new material is needed vs. we already have all the existing material and it's just a question of compiling everything together?

If the former, a follow-up question is which new material will be helpful. Would be excited you (or anybody else) also answer this related question:

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/prrKzvCXuyRn4MHbu/what-types-of-content-creation-would-be-useful-for-local [EA · GW]

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2020-02-17T17:13:29.804Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

(Catherine, feel free to correct this) I think as of now, we don't really need much new material, since we the resources we have up and things that will be done soon cover most of the commonly used/standard events (discussion syllabi, intro presentations etc.) and considerations (i.e. community health or managing group dynamics).

We definitely spend most of our time compiling material, but I wouldn't say that compiling is much less time intensive than creating new material from scratch. Compiling can take quite a while, because you still need to determine a good structure, need to incorporate conflicting advice, and often contextualise the advice.

comment by Miriam · 2020-03-01T05:08:02.619Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

MIT EA has used modified discussion sheets from South Bay EA for several of our events, and they've saved us a lot of time when planning discussions.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-02-20T02:16:14.063Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Meta-comment: I hope that as the Forum becomes more popular, it becomes an easy way for group organizers and other people who run events to ask questions like this (and be directed to EA Hub/other resources). The movement as a whole can save a lot of effort if we get used to thinking: "There's a good chance someone did/tried this; I'll ask a Forum question to see if anyone can help me avoid reinventing the wheel."

(Of course, Facebook groups are also great for this; I just want someone's first instinct in cases where this much time is at stake to be "huh, let's see who's done this before", whichever online communities they are a part of.)

comment by vaidehi_agarwalla · 2020-02-20T14:17:20.622Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think people usually do ask what resources exist, they tend to use the Group Organisers Facebook or Slack to ask those questions. I think it makes sense so that only interested people see those questions, but that information is not easily available to organisers who aren't in those groups.

We are working on an FAQ series for EA Hub resources, which will include information on how to start a group, run events, find key content, contact people, graphics and more. The aim is that all basic questions about group resources can by a quick search and reduce community time asking/answering questions. (of course, people can always comment and ask more detailed questions!)