Pre-announcement and call for feedback: Operations Camp 2019
post by Jorgen_Ljones
What we have done so far
Call for feedback and expressions of interest
Eirin M. Evjen [EA · GW], Exec. Dir. EA Norway
Jørgen R. Ljønes [EA · GW], Ass. Exec. Dir. EA Norway
EA Norway plans an operations camp this summer with the long term goal of narrowing the operations talent gap in EA. In this post we announce our current plans and uncertainties, how we plan to resolve this uncertainty and we call for feedback and expressions of interest in participating. We want to emphasize that this is not an announcement of the event itself, and that any or all of the details stated here may change before we accept any applications.
To achieve the goal of narrowing the operations talent gap we envision three main mechanisms:
- Provide the participants a chance to test their fit and get to know the field of operations in organisations in the EA community.
- Aid the participants to get an introduction to relevant subfields, signpost great resources and help them grow as operations experts.
- Create a strong and reliable signal for participants to send to potential employers of their skill level, high fidelity EA understanding and adherence of EA values.
Other side objectives of this project include:
- Provide the wider EA community access to what we learn in organising this event.
- Engage the EA community in Norway, and Oslo in particular to help organise, network and get inspired by the project.
What we have done so far
We have followed the discussions of the operations talent gap in EA, and since October last year done some research to better understand the problem and what we could do to help out. Please read our previous posts on the topic here [EA · GW] and here [EA · GW] (two at the time of writing).
A main takeaway from our research is that practical operations experience is important. It is no better way of testing your inclination to plan well ahead, keep calm under pressure and not drop the ball, which are all essential traits for an operations professional. Having relevant projects in your portfolio is often more valuable than education or other formal training as a signal of fit to employees.
Another important takeaway that is particularly relevant for our idea of an Operations camp is that the talent gap is not merely about a lack of available candidates for the positions posted, but that there is significant friction in the hiring process. Especially for senior operations roles, the cost of a bad hire is high. Applicants’ talent, reliability, culture fit, and high fidelity EA understanding are very hard to estimate reliably through applications, interviews, and even work trials.
From what we have learned, and with further input from operations people, CEA and 80,000 hours, we came up with the idea of organising a camp for candidates interested in doing operations at an EA organisation. We believe we can provide value by reducing the coordination problem through helping candidates test their own fit for such positions, and furthermore figure out what EA organisation they would be a good fit for. Moreover, by creating a stronger signal for applicants to send to EA organisations, we can reduce the cost and resource-intensiveness of the hiring process.
We are now increasing our focus on this project and want to resolve our core uncertainties so that we may decide on a concept and start planning the details and call for applications.
We need to decide on a target group for the camp. We are currently considering two different target groups:
- Candidates for junior operations roles: People with little or no job experience (but preferably volunteer experience or equivalent) and an interest in doing ops at an EA organisation. These candidates are interested in testing their fit and gain relevant skills. For such a target group, the length of the camp would be 4-6 weeks and we would aim for 10-15 participants. The focus would be to test fit for operations roles, acquiring relevant skills, and creating a strong signal of level of skill and motivation. After the camp, we would facilitate further upskilling and connect candidates with organisations when relevant jobs are available.
- Candidates for senior operations roles: People who have several years or more experience in operations, project management or similar, that are interested in working at an EA organisation, but have less knowledge about what operations at EA organisations entail. For such a target group, the length of the camp would be 4-7 days with 5-8 participants. Here, the focus would be to learn about EA organisations, get to know their mission and culture, in addition to providing a strong signal of skill level and knowledge of EA. We imagine we would work closely with EA orgs before, during and after the camp to assess candidate fit and support them in applications or informal hiring at EA organisations.
Some crucial considerations to deciding the target group are:
- What will be the demand for junior and senior operations roles in EA organisations the next few years? Is there a discrepancy in expected, total talent gap between the two?
- How is the participant interest in attending the two versions of the camp? What are the main obstacles for increasing this interest?
- Is our capacity and fit more in line with organising a camp for one or the other target group?
- What are the estimated risks attached to organising such a camp for the two target groups?
Relative effectiveness of the different mechanisms
Another question is the relative importance of the different mechanisms for reaching our goal, mentioned at the beginning of this post. A camp with more weight on providing participants a way of testing their own fit for such roles might be very different than a camp emphasising providing future employees with a reliable signal of their skill level and motivation. There could also be other mechanisms and side objectives that we have not thought of, but that are very important.
When we are ready to call for applications, making sure that we get relevant applicants and have a fair, fast, and effective way of choosing between them seems crucial for the success of this project. Here we believe that many groups and organisations in the movement has experience with designing applications processes that don’t tax us or the applicants unnecessarily, and are effective in filtering the best applicants for the positions at the camp.
Providing a useful signal
We believe that helping with the coordination problem through reducing friction in the hiring process is particularly important and tractable. Our current thinking is that this might be the more important mechanism. Figuring out how to produce and communicate a strong and reliable signal will be crucial, and we are uncertain about how to do this effectively. We think that collaborating with people responsible for hiring at EA orgs when designing this part of the camp is essential. A major source of inspiration here we believe will be EA orgs actual hiring process, as the signal we want to give is the same as they are trying to measure through applications, interviews and work trials.
A potential failure mode is that applicants believe the camp is a guaranteed way of being hired. Participants should not expect that this camp is guaranteeing, or making any promises whatsoever, about increasing the chances of getting a relevant position. We acknowledge that communicating this is crucial, and would like to get input on how to ensure applicants understand this before applying.
Follow-up of alumni
As the overarching goal of the camp is to narrow the operations talent gap at EA organisations, we should have a good strategy of following alumni afterwards. This could provide value in strengthening the alumni network with each other and with EA orgs, as well as assisting alumni and orgs in a potential hiring process. We believe this is important both to assess the value of the camp, but also to increase the chances that an alumni gets a position that would otherwise not have been filled.
This is an exploratory project and we believe that most of the potential value comes from learning how to execute the camp effectively so that we may repeat it in the future. Documenting what we have learned and measuring the impact of the project is therefore especially crucial with this type of project. We have thought of different ways of measuring and estimating counterfactual value, but at this stage we want to encourage others to provide ideas and suggestions without hearing our thoughts first. In future posts we will discuss this further and share our plans of measuring impact, and of course later share the results.
Call for feedback and expressions of interest
We would greatly appreciate feedback on how we should select the best target group and the other uncertainties outlined above. Further, we are also interested in what you think are other crucial considerations in carrying out such a project successfully. Lastly, if attending an operations camp in Oslo this summer sounds interesting for you personally, feel free to send us an email at email@example.com. By doing this, we can email you more information about application dates and so on, and it would give us an indication of the general interest in the project. Please also send us tips about candidates you think we should invite to apply, or invite them to get in touch with us. To get a better sense of the demand for the two different versions of the camp as outlined above, please also indicate your level of experience.
Comments sorted by top scores.
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) ·
2019-02-19T20:06:43.828Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
When I see projects that involve teaching someone a skill or set of skills (especially for something nebulous and difficult-to-summarize like "operations"), I want to hear about people who successfully learned the skill, and which aspects of their experience they believe are replicable.
Are there any people currently working in an EA operations position who you think are a good example of this? That is, people who didn't have much in the way of innate operations talent, but managed to teach themselves one or more new skills and got hired as a result?
I did some EA ops work before starting my current role at CEA, but found that most of what I was doing had been honed over years and years of making from to-do lists, managing a variety of small projects, etc. -- I can't point to any single short-term experience that significantly "upgraded" my ops ability, so I'm especially curious to hear from people who did have an experience like that.
comment by Jorgen_Ljones ·
2019-02-20T15:21:17.394Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for your comment. In our previous posts [EA · GW] we explored the nature of the operations talent gap, and among other things surveyed EAs working in operations roles about what traits and skills they believed to be important in their job, and how these skills could be acquired.
From our previous post [part 2]:
"...work experience with operations, running logistics at events and workshops, and project management are mentioned as ways in which the respondents gained some of their skills. Furthermore, internships, volunteering and doing independent side projects were mentioned as concrete ways to gain certain skills, while also being less costly than taking a job somewhere."
"Other mentions in the survey were reading articles and books on business-related topics, trying to improve the organisations you work at, and getting feedback from colleagues and experienced operations people. [...] In terms of other ways which one could acquire these skills, the respondents proposed attending workshops, and work experience in the private sector or non-EA organisations. They also mentioned taking tutorials on relevant topics, coaching from others, and online courses."
We share your concern that short-term experience will not provide participants with a significant increase in skill level of any relevant skill. Still, we think that an intensive project with deliberate practice, supported by solid mentoring, could provide useful and enhance participants skills. At least if the target group of the camp is juniors. Also, we would add that given the third mechanism mentioned in our post, we believe that most of the value will come from finding already skilled people and help them signal their skill level and motivation reliably, rather than relying on significant up-skilling during the camp.
comment by Jan_Kulveit ·
2019-02-21T01:49:41.888Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
- It seems to me there is some inherent tension between the goals "helping the camp participants" and "helping the organizations". The later puts more pressure on selection, which may not be that good for learning.
- In case of the group nr.1, willingness to spend 4-6 weeks on such event is likely a credible signal of dedication to EA, but plausibly may be even slightly anti-correlated with ops talent (I would expect to find some of the best people organising something, and having higher opportunity costs).
- In case of the group nr.2 and 4 days event the whole setup seems more balanced and fair when considering interests of the participants. Many EA orgs are somewhat special and the job market is less one-sided in the senior roles side.
- General comment regarding all efforts related to talent: in the whole EA talent ecosystem people should think carefully about creating strange incentive landscapes and possibly moral hazards. I recommend spending a lot of thoughts on that, not necessarily in a public way.
comment by eirine ·
2019-02-21T10:35:22.745Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thank you for your comments! You've particularly made us think about the length of camp for the first group. We're now leaning towards something between 5-10 days. Your comment about potential risks is also greatly appreciated, and we will think carefully about how much we will make public moving forward.
comment by RyanCarey ·
2019-02-20T01:29:01.249Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
A potential failure mode is that applicants believe the camp is a guaranteed way of being hired. Participants should not expect that this camp is guaranteeing, or making any promises whatsoever, about increasing the chances of getting a relevant position.
Yep! Although I'd emphasise that issue can also be solved by being more selective. If you pick some combo of: 1) reasonably strong candidates straight out of university who are happy to work on entry-level admin jobs, and 2) candidates with some PM experience, who are prepared to work as a PM at an EA org, including a community org, then that cohort is reasonably likely to leave happy (versus, I don't know, if you pick a bunch of people with lower levels of employment, who are strongly location restricted or are otherwise particular about the kinds of jobs they would accept). I think the impact from recruiting, identifying, filtering, and referring the already--semi-strong candidates is already something to get excited about!
comment by Jorgen_Ljones ·
2019-02-20T15:42:01.033Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thank you for an interesting comment. Would you say that we should expect more impact from the fact that we are identifying and referring strong candidates, and providing them with a strong signal of their competence, motivation and EA understanding, than from any learning and experience they might build during the camp?
comment by RyanCarey ·
2019-02-20T17:47:57.424Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
That would honestly be my guess. Some people would call this cynical, but I think the amount of skills you're going to impart in 4 days, or even with a very long ~5 week camp, are pretty limited compared to the variation in people's innate dispositions, and the experience gained in their whole lifetime beforehand.
comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley3) ·
2019-02-19T20:04:51.587Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
This project sounds pretty exciting! My time is occupied by a lot of other things right now, but if you would like I'd be happy to talk about operations things (especially as they relate to organizational development and culture) at the camp. Depending on timing and cost I might not be able to show up in person, but happy to do something over Skype. This seems like a great opportunity to share what I've learned about this stuff so that it can help others as they contribute to effective causes.
comment by Jorgen_Ljones ·
2019-02-20T15:06:07.697Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
That's great! Thanks for the offer! We'll add your name to a list of resources we'll consider for the camp. That being said, developing the content is not a priority in the next month.
comment by Aisha_Khan ·
2019-02-28T08:36:55.195Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
The concept of an EA Norway camp sounds interesting!
I would agree with @Jan_Kulveit that 4-6 weeks would be too long, and agree on a shorter revised time, possibly initially over a weekend(s).
I would refer back to the ongoing questions of the intrinsic motivations and goals of the camp - or more precisely; Where it may fit in an overall employment / professional development stream for EA Norway.
There could be a few motivations models here to test;
Creating a Pre-Event Weekend Camp in order to test a number of assumptions, gain community feedback, give talks and gather learnings of expectations, needs & requirements from all involved. As a loose-style event, the focus at this stage is on information gathering - to inform EA Norway’s future decision making, processes & events.
Creating a dual-purpose camp to cover the following:
- Learning & development of pre-employed individuals interested in joining the EA movement as employees / interns.
- Professional development of existing employees.
- Allowing these two groups to mix and learn from each other over the course of the camp.
Using the camp as an ongoing event for the professional development of new & existing EA employees, while directing potential employees / interns to an online platform for learning & development first (see below).
Note | Developing an Online Learning Management System (LMS) / Resource Wiki
Just a note here about adding this to the above models; if such a resource could be developed, it may be able to cover a lot of initial and beginning-stage requirements and needs of individuals interested in working within EA orgs and for new EA hires themselves.
This may help to cut costs, standardise learnings and feedback. It may also be used to help to aid both individuals’ and organisations’ HR decision-making processes. It could take some of the ambiguity away from both sides of the equation - and take some of the pressure off of camp attendees if they know they have a digital ‘next-step’ to take, or have already done so or in the process.
Whatever is decided, learnings & experience will surely come out of the event!
I won’t be able to be there in person, but keep me in the loop - I’m more than happy to help if only online / remotely.
comment by eirine ·
2019-03-14T15:28:03.658Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for your feedback! We have ended up going for a 4-7 day camp for people with 1-2 years of experience. I've noted down your ideas for a future iteration of the camp.
And thanks for your offer! You've been very helpful so far, and it would be great to discuss more at a later time.
comment by Aisha_Khan ·
2019-03-25T02:38:07.500Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I am always happy to help where (& if) I can! Otherwise, absolutely make sure to post updates and learnings from the camp, I’m sure it will be insightful and a great exercise in community strengthening and team building.
Best of luck!