Summary of Core Feedback Collected by CEA in Spring/Summer 2019

post by Ben_West · 2019-11-07T16:26:55.458Z · score: 98 (41 votes) · EA · GW · 30 comments

Contents

  Introduction
    CEA’s Feedback Process
    Solutions Mentioned in this Document
  Executive Summary
    Things Which Are Going Well
    Things Which Could Be Improved
  Things Which Are Going Well 
    CEA’s Projects
      Community Health
      Events
    EA Community Members are Smart, Talented, and Thoughtful
      Community Members are High Achievers
      Community Members Genuinely Care 
    EA Community Members are Kind
  Things Which Could Be Improved
    Execution Issues
      Grants
      Funds
      EAGx
      Groups
      General
    Communication and Branding Issues
      EA Global
      EA Forum
    EA Community
      Welcomingness
      Epistemic Humility
      Diversity
      Actually Doing EA
  Conclusion
    Credits
None
30 comments

Introduction

The Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) aims to grow and maintain the Effective Altruism (EA) movement. As part of that work, it is important for us to understand the needs, values, and concerns of members of the EA community.

CEA collects feedback from community members in a variety of ways (see “CEA’s Feedback Process” below). In the spring and summer of 2019, we reached out to about a dozen people who work in senior positions in EA-aligned organizations to solicit their feedback. We were particularly interested to get their take on execution, communication, and branding issues in EA. Despite this focus, the interviews were open-ended and tended to cover the areas each person felt was important.

This document is a summary of their feedback. The feedback is presented “as is,” without any endorsement by CEA. This feedback represents a small (albeit influential) portion of the EA community, and should be considered in context with other sources of feedback.

This post is the first in a series of upcoming posts where we aim to share summaries of the feedback we have received. The second is here [EA · GW].

CEA’s Feedback Process

CEA has, historically, been much better at collecting feedback than at publishing the results of what we collect. This post is part of our attempt to address that shortcoming and publish more feedback, but, until more can be published, we want to share more details about the types of feedback we collect.

As some examples of other sources of feedback CEA has collected this year:

The feedback summarized in this document sometimes agrees with other feedback we have received, and sometimes disagrees. This document generally presents feedback “as is” in an attempt to give an accurate summary of people’s responses, even if the feedback here disagreed with opinions we have gotten from other data sources.

Solutions Mentioned in this Document

In addition to examples of concerns respondents raised, this document contains efforts CEA has implemented which may address the concern. Efforts are ongoing, so these ideas are not intended to be final solutions, and we will continue to iterate as we gather more information about how things are working. Additionally, the solutions were not necessarily triggered by this feedback – many of these projects were started before the feedback round was run, were inspired by other feedback, etc.

Executive Summary

Things Which Are Going Well

  1. CEA’s Community Health and Events Projects. Respondents felt that the Community Health team does important work to keep the community safe, and there is a strong argument for a central entity like CEA to oversee community health. EA Global is the “flagship” event of the community, and smaller events run by CEA were also positively regarded.
  2. EA Community Members are Smart, Talented, and Thoughtful. Respondents frequently mentioned that the EA community is comprised of very smart, very promising community members who actually care about the world. They felt that EAs were generally focused on important questions, and genuinely trying to get the right answers.
  3. EA Community Members are Kind. Respondents also mentioned that EAs are “nice” or “kind” and have high integrity norms.

Things Which Could Be Improved

  1. Execution Issues. Respondents mentioned several times that CEA “overpromised and under delivered”. EA Grants is one example: CEA did not respond to applicants with grant decisions in the time we promised. Ensuring that we are able to make good on all of our promises has been a key focus of CEAs in 2019; for example, we did not have an open Grants round in 2019 to ensure that we were not stretched thin.
  2. Communication and Branding Issues. Respondents felt that some CEA projects, such as EA Global and the EA Forum, contain content which is not representative of what they feel is the best of EA. CEA has worked to make EA Global talks more representative, and to highlight the best content on the Forum.
  3. Community Welcomingness. Several respondents mentioned concerns with how welcoming the community is (or seems) to outsiders. Common concerns were a desire for more epistemic humility and welcomingness to outsiders. CEA has introduced several pilot projects, including the Guides program at EA Global, to begin to address these concerns in our own programs. For example, the Guides pilot project at EA Global matches first-time attendees with returning attendees, to create a warm welcome. 87% of attendees at EA Global SF 2019 stated that “EA Global is a place where I felt welcome.”
  4. Demographic Diversity. Respondents also mentioned concerns about demographic homogeneity in EA hampering the movement. CEA shares these concerns, as described in our statement on D&I. CEA has made some progress in this area. For example, when hiring CEA staff or recruiting EA Global speakers, we have processes in place to seek out excellent candidates from underrepresented groups. CEA staff and EA Global speakers are now approximately evenly gender balanced. However, we know we still have work to do here. We are piloting programs like Guides, Fellowships, and affinity group meetups at EA Global to build connections, solicit feedback, and further move the needle towards an EA that is more diverse.

Things Which Are Going Well

CEA’s Projects

Community Health

Respondents were uniformly positive about CEA’s Community Health project. Julia Wise has been the contact person for the community for several years, and Sky Mayhew joined [EA · GW] in January 2019.

Some respondents compared the EA community to other communities they are a part of and felt that EA takes the safety and welfare of its constituents more seriously. Respondents noted that having someone whose full-time job it is to help the community be healthy makes a serious impact on the community’s welfare.

Several respondents had personally worked with CEA on previous community health cases, and felt that they were handled responsibly, professionally, and with a commitment to confidentiality and other best practices.

Events

Respondents appreciated CEA’s events, particularly EA Global. They felt that having an overall conference for the community was helpful and lends EA credibility.

Respondents mentioned that EA Global:

EA Community Members are Smart, Talented, and Thoughtful

Community Members are High Achievers

Respondents felt that the EA community is made up of extremely smart and talented people. EA has a large early-career demographic, and respondents felt that those people generally had promising careers ahead of them.

Respondents described community members as generally analytical and thoughtful. Community members have internalized ideas around how important it is to be careful, to be open to changing one’s mind, be driven by one’s best understanding of the world, and be accurate. Some respondents mentioned that EA leaders have especially strong epistemic rigor.

Respondents also stated that, because the EA community is doing such important work, EA has a very compelling pitch for a certain subset of people, and has been successful in attracting them.

Community Members Genuinely Care

Several respondents felt that one of the most remarkable aspects of the EA community is that people were not only asking important questions but also genuinely trying to get the right answers and take actions to make the world better based on those answers. These questions revolve around a genuine desire to help others and make the world a better place. EA community members are willing to make profound commitments to improve the world.

EA Community Members are Kind

Several respondents remarked that EA community members are “nice” or “kind”. EA community members combine analytical understanding with compassion and motivation to be good.

Some respondents felt that the EA community is better at talking things over and disagreeing than other communities they are part of.

Overall, respondents felt that the EA community serves as a “magnet” for people who both care about the world and have an analytic and thoughtful approach.

Things Which Could Be Improved

Execution Issues

Grants

Execution problems in EA Grants were notable to several respondents. Our current Grants staff member has a post forthcoming with a more in-depth review, and I will update this post with a link once that is published. Edit: that post is now published here [EA · GW].

Funds

Respondents mentioned two broad concerns about EA Funds:

  1. Funds did not adequately communicate with community members and donors.
  2. Funds was targeted to meet the needs of a small set of donors, but was advertised to the entire EA community.

The first concern is related to one listed on our mistakes page:

Our shortcoming: During the first 21 months of the EA Funds, some funds made regular disbursements of donations but others disbursed more rarely than was expected. Community members requested more transparency about how much money was in each fund and when it would likely be disbursed. In April 2018 we stated in a comment on the EA Forum that we expected to publish a post with more information in the next few weeks, but we did not publish more information until August 2018 (after an additional post from a community member expressing concerns).
Steps taken: In October 2018, we announced new management teams for most of the funds, and a new three-times-yearly regular grantmaking schedule. We implemented a dashboard for each fund, where the public can see how much money is in each fund.

In addition to the new management teams, schedule and dashboard, we have implemented a system for proactively emailing donors who opt in when distributions are made, and several funds teams have posted regular grant reports on the Forum, including the Long Term Future Fund April recommendation [EA · GW], which became one of the most commented Forum posts of all time.

On the second concern: our initial proposal for what the Funds might grant to included things like “Providing a funding stream for more unusual, risky, or time-sensitive projects, particularly where the Open Philanthropy Project might have brand-risk concerns.” Many donors may not want their donations going towards “unusual, risky, or time-sensitive projects”, and respondents were concerned that the Funds were advertised to too broad a set of donors, including those for whom the Funds may not have been a good fit.

CEA has several processes which address this: (1) we've updated the Fund pages to more clearly explain why someone may choose not to donate to a fund (e.g. the Long-Term Future Fund), (2) we have published past grants, and (3) we do not currently proactively advertise EA Funds.

EAGx

Respondents reported concerns that CEA promised support to EAGx organizers that was not delivered. For example, we took a long time to respond to questions from organizers, and did not provide them with content we had promised.

CEA has scaled back the number of EAGx’s from 11 in 2016 to 3 in 2019, and increased the number of staff working on events, to ensure that we can provide appropriate levels of support. Our mistakes page has more detail.

Groups

Respondents pointed out that most of our groups, including some of our strongest groups at key universities, have never received a visit from CEA staff and that the amount of support we provide to groups is limited. CEA has expanded our groups support, including making the newsletter monthly, and providing Community Building Grants. More information can be found in our 2019 update [EA · GW]. More information about mistakes can be found on our mistakes page.

General

A general theme running through all of these examples is that CEA promised more than we delivered. In 2019, we have made a concerted effort to be careful with our commitments and only agree to things we are confident we can deliver. This is reflected in internal processes, such as a commitments project in Asana where we record and regularly track progress on any commitments we have made, as well as external humility in scaling back the number of programs and promises we make.

Communication and Branding Issues

EA Global

Respondents mentioned two primary concerns with past EA Global events:

  1. CEA attempting to “push” ideas like longtermism on attendees without transparent reasoning.
  2. Demographic diversity at EA Global is not representative of what respondents want.

Dylan Matthews’ article about the EA Global SF 2015 conference is one notable example of the first concern: because AI Safety was simply presented as a crucial problem area for EA without background information and reasoning about why AI safety is so crucial, attendees (including Matthews himself) were turned off. Respondents also mentioned that some posters and themes at previous EAG’s felt insincere or paternalistic. Respondents generally felt that recent EAG’s were significantly better than earlier ones.

Our EA Global advisory board was mixed on the question of whether to have public themes, with the majority saying they “neither agree nor disagree” with our having public themes. In 2019 EA Global did not have public “themes”, and our content was chosen in line with our view [EA · GW] on representativeness. At EA Global SF 2019, for example: 9 talks were on AI, 7 on animal welfare, 7 on global health and development, 4 on horizon scanning and 9 on meta. We discussed the theme of “stewardship” with each speaker as a way to encourage them to think about welcomingness and humility in engaging with outside stakeholders.

Diversity is discussed below but respondents noted that, since EA Global is the “flagship” event of EA, demographic skews at the event are especially impactful.

EA Forum

Respondents felt that the quality of content on the Forum is mixed, and that the posts are not always representative of EA thinking. For example: there have been 12 posts on psychedelics on the forum in 2019, and only 4 on malaria, despite malaria being a much more mainstream cause within EA. Respondents were particularly concerned that newcomers may get an inaccurate picture of what the community values.

CEA has recently introduced the “community favorites” section to better highlight high-quality posts and is adapting the Effective Altruism Handbook [EA · GW] for the Forum, to lead new readers through key ideas in EA. Our monthly Forum prize [EA · GW] highlights what the moderators feel are the best posts and comments in that month. We also proactively reach out to high-quality contributors to encourage them to post content, and make it easy for people and organizations to crosspost to the EA forum.

EA Community

Welcomingness

Respondents reported that while EAs are generally kind, the EA community can be unwelcoming to people who are unfamiliar with EA. This seems particularly true of social events in the Berkeley area. Common concerns were people not making an effort to reach out to newcomers and get them involved in conversations, and people doing a “naïve consequentialist” evaluation of everyone they meet (an extreme version of this is something like: “I only want to be friends with people who are working on 80,000 Hours priority paths”).

There is a curious tension between respondents reporting the EA community as exceptionally nice while still reporting it as being sometimes unwelcoming. Respondents suggested a few possible explanations:

  1. Prioritization is an inherent part of EA, but it’s challenging to do in a way that is not offputting. Given this, EAs are welcoming, but that may still be unwelcoming to certain people.
  2. Similarly, EAs tend to use things like quantitative models in regular speech, in a way which could be perceived as “cold” to outsiders.
  3. Finally, respondents agreed that there was wide variation among EAs in welcomingness, and that this can explain people’s different experiences. Several respondents said something to the effect of “most of the people I would want to introduce a promising young person to are involved in EA, but many of the people involved in EA are not people I would want to introduce a promising young person to.” The EA Facebook group was frequently cited as an example source of offputting conversations, while people in leadership roles in EA organizations were cited as being unusually welcoming/friendly.

CEA hopes people will experience the EA community as exceptionally considerate. We are continually implementing changes to hold ourselves accountable to this internally. We think individuals and leaders can make a difference in their own communities and organizations in this regard, and hope that our efforts encourage others to do the same. As some examples:

  1. On the Forum, Aaron [EA · GW] posts friendly and engaged comments on posts from first-time authors, both to improve those authors’ experience as well as publicly display the kind of norms we want to see.
  2. EA Global SF 2019 piloted two programs: the Guides program, which connects first-time attendees with more experienced attendees, and the Fellowship program, which connects people interested in a career path with others further along in that career path. 87% of attendees at EAG “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that “EA Global is a place where I felt welcome.” Both pilots were successful and will be scaled up for EA Global London.
  3. Some CEA staff send a personal message to a newcomer once per week thanking them for being involved.

Epistemic Humility

Respondents felt that EAs sometimes come across as overconfident or arrogant, and that the community can be too inward-looking. They felt EAs should be patient and open to people with different views who are seriously and thoughtfully trying to engage in analysis of hard problems. We should be mindful of our relative inexperience about many things, and grateful for busy people who take the time to try to contribute their ideas.

Many of the projects referred to in the “welcomingness” section are also intended to help with humility, as CEA wants our programs to reflect our own commitments to the social norms we want to see, including both welcomingness and humility.

EA Global brings in thought leaders from outside the EA community to speak on issues relevant to our work, such as Philip Tetlock and Bonnie Jenkins.

Diversity

Respondents reported that the relative demographic homogeneity of the EA community is a concern. Respondents were aware that the EA community appears to be more young, white, irreligious, male, and from Europe and North America than the world as a whole, and generally they agreed with CEA’s stance on diversity and inclusion. They noted that underrepresentation from certain groups can contribute to EAs from some groups not feeling as welcome as other community members, and reduces the chances of achieving our shared goal for a better future.

Respondents also mentioned a desire for more diversity of intellectual backgrounds, skills, experience, and interests. Some respondents were concerned that EA selects too heavily for certain types of people (e.g. those interested in quantitative, totalizing moral frameworks) at the expense of selecting out people with other relevant skills and experience. Some respondents felt homogeneity in these areas is related to or causes demographic homogeneity (e.g. people with more experience tend to be older).

As mentioned above, this is a concern CEA shares. We do not yet know all the ways that CEA might contribute to addressing this concern, but we are very interested in exploring this question and continuing to support diversity and inclusion efforts in our organization and programs.

We think doing good work on diversity and inclusion should be about a lot more than mere numbers of people; it should focus on the experiences of individuals and groups. That said, we also think it can be helpful to have common knowledge about current data. As of this writing, CEA staff is 47% female. 49% of speakers at EA Global London 2019 were female (compared to 29% of respondents to the 2018 EA Survey who identified as female). 26% of speakers at EA Global London 2019 were people of color (compared to 22% [EA · GW] of EA Survey 2018 respondents who identified as nonwhite). For EA Global London (Oct 2019), we have added demographic questions to the registration form and post-event survey, in the hopes that we can better compare attendee data to EA Survey data in the future.

Actually Doing EA

Respondents pointed out that EA is hard: digging through sources and creating detailed models is laborious, time-consuming work. They were concerned that too few EAs are doing this work; for example, one person reported that ALLFED’s cost-effectiveness model [EA · GW] was the only cost-effectiveness model they could recall having been posted on the Forum in the past year, and it received relatively few comments.

The past several months have seen a significant uptick in the amount of detailed analysis on the Forum. Luisa Rodriguez’s work on nuclear war [EA · GW], Leopold Aschenbrenner’s work on existential risk and economic growth [EA · GW], and Saulius Šimčikas’ work on animal welfare commitments [EA · GW] are a few examples.

Conclusion

The EA community has accomplished a lot, but we have a long way to go. CEA greatly appreciates respondents taking the time to provide feedback, and you taking the time to read this.

We have two requests:

  1. First, if you have any feedback for CEA as a whole, please feel free to email me (ben.west@centreforeffectivealtruism.org) or fill out this form. We are also happy to connect you to specific project owners.
  2. Second, we encourage you to be exemplars of the welcoming, humble, and intellectually rigorous community our respondents felt was important for success, and to keep encouraging us at CEA to do the same.

Credits

(Note: Unlike most of my posts on the forum, this is written in my official capacity at CEA.) Almost everyone at CEA contributed to writing this document, but I would like to especially thank Sky Mayhew, Julia Wise, and Amy Labenz for substantive edits. I would also like to thank the people who provided feedback for their careful thoughts and being generous with their time.

30 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2019-11-07T21:11:40.693Z · score: 42 (21 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks very much for writing this up and I'm really excited and hopeful to see CEA engaging with this.

Respondents mentioned several times that CEA “overpromised and under delivered”.

I think this has been my key frustration with CEA over the past many years. More frustratingly, I think CEA has frequently tried to "acquire" core activities from other organizations, sometimes using fairly overt pressure. In many cases this has turned out well, but in many cases this has pushed out another group that may have done a good job only for the newly acquired activity to end up "under delivered" by CEA. I'd be curious if you've thought any more about decentralizing some of what CEA does?

Of course, speaking only for myself here as a "concerned citizen", purely on an individual basis. Also apologies if this feels snipey - just something I needed to get off my chest.

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-08T03:35:19.984Z · score: 17 (6 votes) · EA · GW
I'd be curious if you've thought any more about decentralizing some of what CEA does?

I'm glad you raised this, Peter. We have been thinking carefully about where our comparative advantage lies and which projects we are best placed to do. As mentioned above:

In 2019, we have made a concerted effort to be careful with our commitments and only agree to things we are confident we can deliver. This is reflected in internal processes, such as a commitments project in Asana where we record and regularly track progress on any commitments we have made, as well as external humility in scaling back the number of programs and promises we make.

This has resulted in us taking on fewer projects in 2019, and I expect the trend to continue in 2020. If people have particular opinions about which aspects of our work would be most valuable to “decentralize” (and what “decentralization” looks like), we would love to hear that.

comment by Ozzie Gooen (oagr) · 2019-11-07T18:45:03.232Z · score: 33 (16 votes) · EA · GW

Also happy to see this and the mistakes page (which I just realized existed). CEA has a pretty important but difficult position.

I would also be excited about this eventually getting more specific, though I realize that honesty does come with challenges. For instance, on the mistakes page, there's the shortcoming "We were too slow to distribute funds to student and local groups." This is obviously quite vague. It doesn't say when this happened or how big of an issue this was.

Also, one quick idea: I could imagine it may be worthwhile to hire external consultants or eventually organize a semi-extensive project to better understand what the experience of "joining the Effective Altruism movement" is like and trying to improve it accordingly. Service design, for instance, is used to understand how people go through complex experiences, like finding out about, traveling to, and experiencing Disneyland. Here's a page on it's use for UK government services. Perhaps similar could be done to analyze all of the pain points for possible new enthusiasts. I imagine there are a lot of pain points that may not be obvious, even to people experienced with things.

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-08T03:34:52.417Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the suggestion, Ozzie! We agree it’s important that we understand community members’ experiences. I appreciate the pointer to Service Design.

We are working on an update to the mistakes page that will include more data and more recent issues, but I’m not certain if/when we’ll revise that particular item on the mistakes page. Still, I’ve noted the request - thanks.

comment by Khorton · 2019-11-07T19:20:17.688Z · score: 30 (13 votes) · EA · GW

I'm glad to see this! I feel a bit confused about some of the areas that were included in the discussion. Why did you decide to include EAs being considered nice, or EAs being considered unwelcoming, in a document that's primarily about CEA's successes and failures?

comment by anonymous_ea · 2019-11-07T20:32:51.485Z · score: 18 (9 votes) · EA · GW

I want to echo this. I would love to see CEA talk more about what they see as their mistakes and achievements, but this felt like a confusing mixture of feedback about some aspects of CEA (mostly EA Global, EA Forum, and the Community Health team) and some general feedback about the EA community that CEA only has partial control over. While CEA occupies an important position in EA, there are many factors beyond CEA that contribute to whether EA community members are smart and thoughtful or whether they're not welcoming enough.

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-08T03:35:41.852Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Ah, I can see why that question would come up! I didn't see this document as “primarily about CEA’s successes and failures” – about half of the questions I asked were targeted towards things CEA directly does, but as you have noticed, about half were about the EA community in general.

As our goal is to grow and maintain the EA community, it’s important for us to understand how that community is functioning - even the aspects not directly related to CEA.

We have another post forthcoming that's focused more specifically on CEA, and will cover the kinds of issues noted on our “mistakes” page.

comment by Khorton · 2019-11-08T08:58:17.870Z · score: 22 (10 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the explanation. I can understand why you'd want to publish all of the interview results in one post.

However, when that post is titled 'feedback for CEA', it looks like you believe that you're responsible for the friendliness of the EA community. It's... kind of offensive? In my view, CEA has very little to do with how friendly or unfriendly I am. This sort of information should be shared on the Forum as feedback for us, rather than treated primarily as feedback for CEA.

It would probably have been easiest to make the distinction between feedback on community health and feedback on CEA by posting to separate articles, but it could have also been accomplished in the introduction.

(Along the same lines, I'd like more detail on specific positives and negatives about community health, especially in London. I feel like local community members are the ones who need to take the feedback forward, so we need to have access to as much quality information as possible.)

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-08T22:05:20.351Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the feedback.

However, when that post is titled 'feedback for CEA', it looks like you believe that you're responsible for the friendliness of the EA community.

I think there may be a misunderstanding – the title of this post is “Feedback Collected by CEA”, not “for” CEA.

It would probably have been easiest to make the distinction between feedback on community health and feedback on CEA by posting to separate articles, but it could have also been accomplished in the introduction.

Thanks for the suggestion. I will keep this in mind for future articles.

(Along the same lines, I'd like more detail on specific positives and negatives about community health, especially in London. I feel like local community members are the ones who need to take the feedback forward, so we need to have access to as much quality information as possible.)

I agree that locale-specific information is important. You are probably already aware of this, but for other readers who are not: the EA Survey contains a bunch of data about geographic differences in EA [EA · GW]. Your posts on London [EA · GW] demographics [EA · GW] come to mind as one example of local analysis that I would like to see more of.

comment by anonymous_ea · 2019-11-12T18:58:13.248Z · score: 11 (6 votes) · EA · GW
I think there may be a misunderstanding – the title of this post is “Feedback Collected by CEA”, not “for” CEA.

This is fair, but I want to give some examples of why I thought this document was about feedback about CEA, with the hope of helping with communication around this in the future. Even after your clarification, the document still gives a strong impression to me of the feedback being about CEA, rather than about the community in general. Below are some quotes that make it sound that way to me, with emphasis added:

Summary of Core Feedback Collected by CEA in Spring/Summer 2019

The title doesn't mention what the feedback is about. I think most people would assume that it refers to feedback about CEA, rather than the community overall. That's what I assumed.

CEA collects feedback from community members in a variety of ways (see “CEA’s Feedback Process” below). In the spring and summer of 2019, we reached out to about a dozen people who work in senior positions in EA-aligned organizations to solicit their feedback. We were particularly interested to get their take on execution, communication, and branding issues in EA. Despite this focus, the interviews were open-ended and tended to cover the areas each person felt was important.
This document is a summary of their feedback. The feedback is presented “as is,” without any endorsement by CEA.

It's not clearly stated what the feedback is about ("CEA collects feedback", "solicit their feedback" without elaboration of what the feedback is about). The closest it gets to specifying what feedback might pertain to is when it's mentioned that CEA was particularly interested in feedback on execution, communication, and branding issues in EA. This is still fairly vague, and "branding" to me implies that the feedback is about CEA. It does say "...issues in EA", but I didn't pay that much importance.

This post is the first in a series of upcoming posts where we aim to share summaries of the feedback we have received.

In general, I assume that feedback to an organization is about the organization itself.

CEA has, historically, been much better at collecting feedback than at publishing the results of what we collect.

While unclear again about what "feedback" refers to, in general I would expect this to mean feedback about CEA.

As some examples of other sources of feedback CEA has collected this year:
We have received about 2,000 questions, comments and suggestions via Intercom (a chat widget on many of CEA’s websites) so far this year
We hosted a group leaders retreat (27 attendees), a community builders retreat (33 attendees), and had calls with organizers from 20 EA groups asking about what’s currently going on in their groups and how CEA can be helpful
Calls with 18 of our most prolific EA Forum users, to ask how the Forum can be made better.
A “medium-term events” survey, where we asked everyone who had attended an Individual Outreach retreat how the retreat impacted them 6-12 months later. (53 responses)
EA Global has an advisory board of ~25 people who are asked for opinions about content, conference size, format, etc., and we receive 200-400 responses to the EA Global survey from attendees each time.

All of these are examples of feedback about CEA or its events and activities. There are no examples of feedback about the community.

I think the confusion comes from the lack of clear elaboration in the title and/or beginning of the document of what the scope of the feedback was. Clarifying this in the future should eliminate this problem.

comment by Ben Pace · 2019-11-12T19:56:28.023Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Just to add to this

Summary of Core Feedback Collected by CEA in Spring/Summer 2019

I understand CEA to have ask people questions about EA broadly and CEA specifically, and this heading says to me that the OP contains a summary of both types of feedback, not just the former. If that wasn't intended then please edit to say something closer to

Summary of Broad Feedback About EA, Collected in Spring/Summer 2019
comment by Khorton · 2019-11-08T22:23:33.940Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for responding Ben :)

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2019-11-08T11:00:20.614Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I was glad to see this included in the post, although I can see why it could seem weird / surprising. Since an important part of CEA's role is to grow the EA community in a healthy way, it seems like an important outcome measure of whether CEA is doing its job is whether the EA community is in fact growing in a healthy way (and more specifically what parts of that are going well and badly). That seems like a particularly hard outcome to measure, and it would seem easy and understandable to blame others the parts that aren't going well rather than taking responsibility and thinking about how to improve things. It's great that you're finding ways to get a sense of how things are going, and figuring out what CEA can do to improve things.

comment by HaydnBelfield · 2019-11-07T17:17:33.749Z · score: 24 (14 votes) · EA · GW

Really really good to see CEA engaging with and accepting criticism, and showing how it's trying and is changing policies.

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-08T03:36:56.149Z · score: 4 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, Haydn!

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2019-11-08T11:13:48.756Z · score: 16 (10 votes) · EA · GW

> We think individuals and leaders can make a difference in their own communities and organizations in this regard, and hope that our efforts encourage others to do the same. As some examples:

I particularly appreciate this, and the specific examples given. Something I struggle with is that I would like the EA community to be welcoming to new people, and for it to be easy for people who have been around it for ages to mix with people who have just starting to explore it. But I'm somewhat shy, and typically find it tiring talking to new people. Since my day job involves talking to a lot of new people (I'm an adviser at 80,000 Hours), going to meet ups for new EAs outside of work typically feels daunting rather than appealing. I worry that a lot of EAs are similar to me in being somewhat geeky and introverted, and so finding it hard and tiring to do a lot of meeting people new to EA outside work. This makes me really grateful that CEA is taking this on as a project, and thinking through systematically how to make the community more welcoming and friendly.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-11-07T23:38:26.156Z · score: 16 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this; I think engagement like this is great & would be excited to see more of it!


For example: there have been 12 posts on psychedelics on the forum in 2019, and only 4 on malaria, despite malaria being a much more mainstream cause within EA. Respondents were particularly concerned that newcomers may get an inaccurate picture of what the community values.

There's a general dynamic whereby new & controversial stuff gets more attention than old & agreed-upon stuff.

Given that the Forum is a clearinghouse for new EA thought, I wouldn't expect Forum content to reflect the distribution of what the community values.

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-08T03:38:15.611Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, Milan! I agree that one impact of the Forum is sharing new ideas, and there are other impacts as well – my colleagues JP and Aaron have written some of these here [EA · GW].

I think our respondents were pointing out that, regardless of what the forum “should” be for, newcomers are going to assume that the content is representative of EA. One project we are working on is putting a new version of the handbook [EA · GW] on the Forum, which we hope will provide newcomers with a more representative introduction to EA, while still keeping the existing aspects of the Forum for those who want new articles.

If you have more feedback on the goals of the Forum [EA · GW], we would be excited to hear them!

comment by robint · 2019-11-07T20:32:47.144Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Ben. I'm very happy to see CEA gathering and publishing all this detailed feedback.

I imagine it is easier to get feedback from the people that are already communicating the most with you. I was wondering whether or how much you have tried to get feedback from people and groups in the EA community who you have less contact with.

For example, I imagine that the group leaders attending the retreats (and possibly those having the calls) may be the group leaders that already get the most support from CEA. The comment that made think this was

most of our groups, including some of our strongest groups at key universities, have never received a visit from CEA staff

While it would be wonderful if CEA was able to visit groups in person, that seems like an unusually large ask, so I was surprised it was singled out in the feedback. I believe there are groups who have had little or no personal contact with CEA (email or call), and this seems like a more important and easier thing to address.

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-08T03:37:40.684Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for asking about that. I agree that calls and emails are valuable, in addition to in-person visits. I think it's accurate that there are groups who would say they'd like more support from CEA, of various forms. The respondents here weren't current group leaders, though, so I believe the comment you're pointing to might not provide much data for your question. But it's a good question, and we've invested this year in building connections with more groups.

For example: Alex Barry, our Groups Associate, worked with LEAN on a group organizers survey this year, so we could get feedback from a wide range of groups and update our list of contacts. Alex has also had about 100 calls with group organizers this year, answered ~500 emails from group organizers, and had about 50 meetings during EA Globals. He can be booked by emailing groups@effectivealtruism.org.

We also have a Slack channel for group organizers, as well as a Facebook group. This post [EA · GW] on our groups support has more information – if you are a group organizer, please check out the resources listed there or let others know about them!

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-11-07T23:49:09.968Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW
49% of speakers at EA Global London 2019 were female (compared to 29% of respondents to the 2018 EA Survey who identified as female). 26% of speakers at EA Global London 2019 were people of color (compared to 22% [EA · GW] of EA Survey 2018 respondents who identified as nonwhite).

Do you have analogous stats for EA Global SF 2019?

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-08T03:38:38.163Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the question! 38% of confirmed speakers at EAG SF 2019 were female and 27% were people of color. (NB: The final numbers may have been slightly different than the confirmed count, due to last-minute cancellations.)

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-08T03:37:20.013Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry, fixed to be less jargony! CEA's former Individual Outreach (IO) team did a series of retreats on different topics in 2018. For example, the Ops Retreat brought together a group of people interested in finding EA operations roles; it included a workshop aimed at improving ops skills and chances to talk with different orgs that were planning to hire for ops positions.

comment by jpaddison · 2019-11-08T00:41:12.693Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Individual outreach.

comment by anonymous_ea · 2019-11-09T21:13:14.894Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Note: The comment you and Ben replied to seems to have disappeared

comment by jpaddison · 2019-11-10T02:11:47.244Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

That's not supposed to happen, thanks for the report 

comment by ofer · 2019-11-07T22:41:28.918Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for publishing this!

Respondents mentioned two broad concerns about EA Funds:

...

  1. Funds was targeted to meet the needs of a small set of donors, but was advertised to the entire EA community.

.

Many donors may not want their donations going towards “unusual, risky, or time-sensitive projects”, and respondents were concerned that the Funds were advertised to too broad a set of donors, including those for whom the Funds may not have been a good fit.

.

we do not currently proactively advertise EA Funds.

I'd be happy to learn more about these considerations/concerns. It seems to me that many of the interventions that are a good idea from a 'long-term future perspective' are unusual, risky, or time-sensitive. Is this an unusual view in the EA sphere?

comment by Ben_West · 2019-11-08T03:39:14.918Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the question! There are different degrees and types of unusual-ness and riskiness. For example, as a reason why someone may choose not to donate to the Long-Term Future Fund we state:

First, they may prefer to support established organizations. The fund's most recent grants have mostly funded newer organizations and individual researchers. This trend is likely to continue, provided that promising opportunities continue to exist.

Established organizations focused on the long-term future such as the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) are, in some ways, “unusual” and “risky”, but some donors may still prefer to donate to FHI instead of an independent researcher with a short track record, and those donors may not be a good fit for donating to the Long-Term Future Fund.

As a side note: we have been brainstorming internally about the correct adjective which would differentiate between e.g. FHI and an independent researcher. As you noted, “risk” is not exactly the dimension along which these two donation targets differ – if anyone has a better suggestion, we would appreciate hearing it.

comment by ofer · 2019-11-08T11:24:10.889Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this helpful explanation!

To clarify my view, I do think there is a large variance in risk among 'long-term future interventions' (such as donating to FHI, or donating to fund an independent researcher with a short track record).