Requesting community input on the upcoming EA Projects Platform

post by Brendon_Wong · 2018-12-10T17:41:32.212Z · score: 23 (16 votes) · EA · GW · 14 comments

Contents

  Introduction
  Benefit 1: Discovery
  Benefit 2: Evaluation
  Benefit 3: Coordination
  Final Points and Related Community Initiatives
None
14 comments

Introduction

Benjamin Pence and I have been working on Altruism.vc, an initiative to make more high EV (expected value) projects possible. We originally focused on increasing funding for high impact ventures, sparked by my initial EA forum post [EA · GW] over the summer. After talking with Good Growth and other community members, we have broadened our scope to project success in general, of which project funding is still a major component.

In October, we announced the EA Angel Group [EA · GW], a group that helps individual EA funders share grant opportunities and grant evaluations with one another. The funders gain the benefits of sharing information and opportunities within a small community. We are interested in bringing these benefits to the EA community at large by creating an online platform that resolves major information and coordination gaps in the high EV project space. Benjamin and I have created an operational prototype of this platform and we are seeking feedback on our design choices.

Benefit 1: Discovery

It is very difficult for individual EA funders to discover projects to fund. With EA Grants, BERI Grants, the newly launched Effective Altruism Foundation Fund, the four EA Funds, the EA Angel Group, Let’s Fund, etc all seeking high impact ventures, we believe a central location for applicants to apply for funding and funders to discover grant opportunities would be very helpful, particularly to EA community members and smaller grantmakers.

The community has been asking for this on an ongoing basis: In the latest Long Term Future Fund grant discussion [EA(p) · GW(p)] in November, the latest EA Grants application round announcement [EA(p) · GW(p)] in September, and in a Facebook discussion on the EA Facebook group earlier this year, community members expressed support for the idea of sharing funding opportunities with the general public or with a subset of EAs.

Currently, it is challenging to request and offer other project-related opportunities such as volunteering, cofounder matching, and advising, as well as other opportunities like office space and web hosting.

We envision that the EA Project Platform will provide “opportunity boards.” For example, in the case of volunteering, a project lead may display volunteer openings or individuals interested in volunteering can specify the kinds of work they are willing to do such as graphic design and translation.

Regarding funding, some EAs have proposed to us that all grant opportunities should be made public, while other EAs have suggested hiding some grant opportunities that could pose risks due to the information they include or their potentially negative outcomes. In order to address these concerns, our current intent is to make our entire platform visible to EA community members only, and not publicly visible or indexable by search engines to encourage greater information sharing and reduce risks.

We will likely also impose a light review process (e.g. other EA funding organizations can delay or reject potentially harmful or concerning projects) or quality check (e.g. requiring at least 1 evaluation) before opportunities are publicly posted. While hiding potentially harmful grant opportunities may reduce risks, posting the rest of the funding opportunities with no way to share information regarding expected impact could be quite ineffective as well. That’s where the evaluation component of our platform comes in.

Benefit 2: Evaluation

Even more problematic than a lack of awareness regarding projects could be a lack of information about a project’s expected impact. Without awareness of expected impact, people could inadvertently execute low EV or even negative EV projects. Funders and volunteers could inadvertently back ineffective or harmful projects, which is especially relevant for an open platform.

We will support project evaluations on the platform. All users or a certain subset of users will be able to create an evaluation and we will strongly emphasize community norms around indicating the rigor that went into the evaluation (e.g. time spent) as well as the depth of relevant knowledge. We believe that publicly sharing all evaluation information makes it easier for potential funders and contributors to get a full sense of all of the relevant considerations around a project. However, a public evaluation system may encounter various pitfalls.

As projects progress and receive feedback, they will likely change in plan or personnel; therefore, the platform will likely strongly couple evaluations of a project with a stage in its development or a certain point in time to encourage project idea iteration, reduce biasing future evaluators, and avoid certain problems (e.g. a self-fulfilling prophecy where a project fails because it did not attract funding because an evaluation predicted it would fail).

Furthermore, it may be valuable to include other measures like anonymous project proposals to be evaluated, anonymous evaluations, and the possibility of limiting evaluation visibility to reduce the negative effects that gaining project feedback at too early of a stage or gaining feedback from the wrong evaluators may have on project success.

Benefit 3: Coordination

Earlier this week, someone pitched a project idea to me without knowing that it was previously an actual EA project with volunteers (a project that I had previously contributed to, in fact). There is currently no easy way for community members to discover active projects, past projects, and project ideas that are in the community. This has undesirable effects such as duplicated efforts, missed collaboration opportunities, and wasted time as people pursue project ideas that have already been tried unsuccessfully in the past.

Our project platform will revolve around projects. It will be easy to find projects that match specific criteria and all their related funding and volunteering opportunities. While we will not remove content from the platform, users will be able to filter by created and last modified metadata to ensure that they are seeing content that is still relevant.

We believe it may be valuable to separate active projects and project ideas. Having a listing of ideas may positively influence the design of projects that are being actively executed as well as help EAs and EA organizations easily judge community sentiment around certain proposals, especially if ideas can be proposed anonymously. Good Growth mentioned to us that supporting project incubation with platform elements like expert-generated ideas, pre-funded project proposals, and pairing project proposals with teams that have the required background and expertise could be highly valuable.

Ideas could improve the evaluation potential of the platform. Project leads looking to get a quick check on community sentiment before starting a project can post an anonymous idea for feedback, and after a project gets off the ground, it can request in-depth evaluations by reaching out to community members and have evaluators post a summary of their evaluation of the project on the platform.

Thanks for reading! Any comments, questions, and evaluations are appreciated. The following paragraphs are my comments on related community initiatives.

It may be the case that an even broader platform that applies to the entire EA community, encompassing all community members and EA organizations, would be even better for increasing the impact of the effective altruism movement. Such a system could make it easy for EAs to share information and collaborate with other EAs in relevant areas, and for the community to see all of the initiatives happening across EA and collectively share evaluations of EA initiatives and provide funding and support. In my mind, such a platform would likely include a distinction between organizations, projects, local groups, ideas, and other entities, as well as provide strong social networking and collaboration features.

Any insights on whether a broader system would be valuable would be appreciated. I believe this is the ultimate vision Rethink Charity’s EA Hub team is working towards. After speaking with the EA Hub, my assessment is that our MVP (minimum viable product) concept and their MVP concept are quite different but may converge in the future; their MVP emphasizes community profiles and geolocation, whereas our MVP emphasizes projects, project evaluations, and project support opportunities. I hope our platform design and launch will provide valuable information for future attempts to improve community coordination with software and we can integrate with or port over all information to future community coordination software initiatives that gain traction.

Regarding more limited applications of our project platform idea, EA Tech Initiatives and the EA Work Club are the only currently active projects I am aware of. The .impact Hackpad is the only past project I am aware of.

EA Tech Initiatives is successful, but it only pertains to technology projects, and all of its project listings and opportunities are in a Google Spreadsheet. Our platform appears to help with the directory functionality of the Google Spreadsheet while enabling the EA Tech Initiatives community to continue collaborating across various mediums like Rethink Charity’s Slack team.

The EA Work Club focuses on work opportunities and differs from our intended platform in many ways. I view our evaluation system as an iteration of its upvote system, and our time-based filtering instead of automatic project listing removal is likely a better implementation that ensures users see relevant content while preserving data that could still be useful.

The .impact Hackpad validated that gathering information about active projects is possible and useful. I believe the ability for our platform to support filtering hundreds or thousands of projects and opportunities based on metadata like cause area, creation date, and stage of project will help it scale and allow users to better discover information.

14 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2018-12-11T08:49:08.621Z · score: 27 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I have a draft describing something very similar to what you propose (in non-public google form version, gathering comments), and would like to talk about it. Probably the main points of disagreement are in the way how you propose to do evaluations, tying it with funding, and also it may be possible "EA Angel Group" is not the best place in the organizational landscape to run such project.

(In summary I think apart from potential to create large positive impact, your project as proposed has also the risk of creating large negative impact by taking up the space and making it difficult to create possibly better versions of the idea. So I would recommend not launching any MVPs without consulting a lot)

comment by RyanCarey · 2018-12-11T14:10:39.189Z · score: 20 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah I agree with Jan that you should take things slowly. Also, my advice is that the following two bottlenecks are important, but also relatively easy to relieve: buy-in from community leaders, and support from EA institutions. So you should invest in these by having meetings and getting some people in relevant organizations take on advising roles.

Ultimately, I think you have the right general idea though. Current community-based orgs are capacity limited, and so some major projects like this should stand-alone.

comment by Brendon_Wong · 2018-12-11T22:15:04.379Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree that those bottlenecks are important and have reached out regarding how to best address them.

comment by Brendon_Wong · 2018-12-11T22:22:46.402Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I look forward to our upcoming call on Monday to compare platform designs!

I agree that talking with many individuals, which is what we have been doing and will continue to do, reduces the risk that we launch with a suboptimal version of the idea. We are very open to talking with anyone to hear their feedback (the primary reason for this post) as well as collaborating on the platform design with fellow EAs. I think our openness to incorporating insights on how to optimize the platform before and after launch reduces the chance this will have a "large negative impact."

comment by Michal_Trzesimiech · 2018-12-13T11:18:40.032Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
I believe this is the ultimate vision Rethink Charity’s EA Hub team is working towards. After speaking with the EA Hub, my assessment is that our MVP (minimum viable product) concept and their MVP concept are quite different but may converge in the future; their MVP emphasizes community profiles and geolocation, whereas our MVP emphasizes projects, project evaluations, and project support opportunities.

Our vision is much broader and includes not only profiles of individuals, groups and organisations, but also platforms for collaboration and volunteering, dashboards, and cross-platform search (to bridge eahub.org with forum.effectivealtruism.org and other platforms). At this point, none of these functionalities are meant to be focused primarily on funding.

EA Tech Initiatives is successful, but it only pertains to technology projects, and all of its project listings and opportunities are in a Google Spreadsheet.

Based on the success of Tech Initiatives (goo.gl/6vYCiF), we also launched Research Initiatives but halted that because we learned that the LessWrong 2.0 team already works on a similar product. We certainly are interested in making that into a single, growing ecosystem (you can join that discussion here: goo.gl/TYuFzj).

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2018-12-10T22:38:07.911Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's always great to see interesting new projects like this to improve the EA community! There might also be learnings for the project from EA Ventures [EA · GW] which tried to coordinate between speculative EA projects and funders.

comment by Brendon_Wong · 2018-12-10T23:03:24.702Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! I haven't been able to find a public retrospective on EA Ventures but I just reached out to Tyler Alterman to see if he has any insights. We've also been in communication with multiple EA Grants team members.

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2018-12-12T18:37:49.427Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Kerry Vaughan talks about his experience with EA Ventures in this panel discussion: https://youtu.be/Y4YrmltF2I0?t=169

comment by alexherwix · 2018-12-17T12:49:48.395Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Brendon,

I think there is definitely a need for something like a group platform if well managed and executed. What I am missing from your proposal are concrete details of how you want to run this project and what your strategy is. Who is paying for it? Who is running it? Are you open source? How will it look like? As others here I would caution against simply launching stuff without having clear answers to the big questions.

If you are willing to work openly with the community, why don't you set up a shared repo with the prototype, set up some open governance structure, and invite people interested in the project to contribute in sprint meetings, etc. I guess the EA hub and LW 2.0 teams would be pretty interested to coordinate. In the end, it may even make sense to fold your ideas into those projects as you pivoted from a specific focus to a more general one, which seems to be more in the domain of these already established players. If you have actual code to contribute that would probably help speed things up quite a bit :)

comment by Brendon_Wong · 2018-12-29T00:55:18.126Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Alex, thanks for sharing your thoughts! This article was meant to get community input on the design of the platform which is why we did not include other details like the governance structure.

Our prototype was not custom coded, so we did not set up a shared repo. I think that open development has a lot of potential, but there can be drawbacks, particularly slow development or even abandoned projects. My intuition is that a small but dedicated group (or even one person) would be more effective than a large but noncommitted group.

comment by alexherwix · 2019-01-31T19:29:43.778Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Brendon,

sorry, I missed your answer... still getting used to the new forum.

I think open development/management is orthogonal to how many people work on the project and I don't think that there is an inherent risk of a project being slow or abandoned just because it is open. I guess you are referring to working with other stakeholders and, yeah, that can drag you down sometimes, especially, if these organization are themselves not very open. All the more reason to try to be better and be the change you want to see in the world ;)

Cheers, Alex

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2018-12-10T22:50:48.716Z · score: 2 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted. As for any post of this length, I'd recommend a bullet-point summary at the top, alongside any action items you'd like readers to take.

I'm enthusiastic about the idea of a project platform. The EA survey might be a good place to gather data on what's out there (plus whatever info people upload directly to the site).

My impression is that most projects don't have lasting impact outside of skill-building, but a few volunteer-founded initiatives (the EA Newsletter, the Giving Tuesday Project) have really impressed me, and I'm sure there are good projects I haven't discovered yet.

comment by Brendon_Wong · 2018-12-10T23:19:50.217Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

That's a great idea, I'll include a summary with action items on future long posts. Do you think I should edit a summary into the current post?

I hadn't considered using the EA Survey as a data gathering mechanism. My initial thought is that the survey administrators might not want to include project-related questions in the survey because it might be beyond the scope of the survey, add a lot of additional questions to the survey, and not apply to many respondents. Did you have something specific in mind about what adding project-related info to the survey would look like?

Perhaps the word "project" has a different connotation than I intended. We're seeking to support the highest impact early ventures, and included in that classification would be the past early-stage versions of every currently existing EA organization. Do you think a different term would be appropriate? The naming is very much a work in progress; I was thinking of the EA Initiatives Platform, EA Coordination Platform, or simply the Altruism.vc Platform among many potential names.

The EA Angel Group has received proposals that would match "startup" more than "project." The majority of proposals have already received funding prior to applying to us, have teams actively working on the proposal, and have some degree of traction.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2018-12-11T01:04:37.382Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I definitely endorse editing summaries into long posts, both to help future readers and to establish good norms for other posters! :-)

For the EA Survey note, I was responding to this part of your post:

It may be the case that an even broader platform that applies to the entire EA community, encompassing all community members and EA organizations, would be even better for increasing the impact of the effective altruism movement.

I don't know whether the Survey would welcome questions about projects, but you could ask. I'm thinking of something like: "Have you ever worked on an independent/volunteer EA project that wasn't run by a larger EA organization, whether or not the project is still going?", and then, if they say "yes", a link to a spreadsheet/form where they can add some details. The exact wording of the question will be determined by the way you decide to define "project".

The purpose of a survey question would be to catch lesser-known projects, including some that failed -- there are still lessons to learn in those cases. Gathering data on something like the early history of currently successful orgs would look very different, I imagine.