Participating in the Roote Fellowship: Thoughts and Review from an EA perspective 2020-12-01T19:58:29.865Z 2019 - Year in Review 2020-06-08T13:04:48.642Z
Measuring happiness increases happiness 2020-04-15T15:08:37.248Z
Using Charity Performance Metrics as an Excuse Not to Give 2020-02-19T09:54:11.720Z
The Happy Culture: A Theoretical, Meta-Analytic, and Empirical Review of the Relationship Between Culture and Wealth and Subjective Well-Being 2019-07-16T09:25:20.228Z
Announcing plans for a German Effective Altruism Network focused on Community Building 2019-07-03T13:05:55.986Z
Online Fundraising, Self-Image, and the Long-TermImpact of Ask Avoidance 2019-06-26T08:01:56.150Z
Getting the Rich and Powerful to Give 2019-04-29T09:14:18.361Z


Comment by alexherwix on Descriptive Population Ethics and Its Relevance for Cause Prioritization · 2020-12-10T15:45:37.491Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the interesting post! I just wanted to ask if there are any updates on these research projects? I think work along these lines could be pretty promising. One potential partner for cooperation could be They already have a survey tool for intrinsic values and this seems to hit in a similar direction.

Comment by alexherwix on My mistakes on the path to impact · 2020-12-05T15:51:41.217Z · EA · GW

Also a big thank you from my side. It really feels like an open and honest account and to me it seems to shine the light on some very important challenges that the EA community faces in terms of making the best use of available talent. I hope that your story can inspire some voices in the community to become more self-reflective and critical about how some of the dynamics are playing out, right under our own noses. For a community that is dedicated to doing better, being able to learn from stories like yours seems like an important requirement.

In this light, I would love to see comments (or even better follow-up posts) address things like what their main takeaways are for the EA community. What can we do to help dedicated people who are starting out to make better decisions for themselves as well as the community?

Comment by alexherwix on An experiment to evaluate the value of one researcher's work · 2020-12-03T13:00:13.247Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the thoughtful answer. I agree that it's not clear that it is worse than other alternatives, in my comment I didn't give a reference solution to compare it to after all.

I just wanted to highlight the potential for problems that ought to be looked at while designing such solutions. So, if you consider working more on this in the future, it might be fruitful to think about how it would influence such feedback loops.

Comment by alexherwix on An experiment to evaluate the value of one researcher's work · 2020-12-03T12:55:13.059Z · EA · GW

In essence, I think that act of adding quantitative measures may lend a veil of "objectivity" to assessments of peoples work, which is intrinsically vulnerable to the success to the successful feedback loop.

Based on your comment, I had another look at the specific criteria of the rubric and agree that it seems possible that it could help to counteract something like the dynamic I outlined above, however, it would still have to be applied with care and recognizing the possibility of such dynamics.

The main problem I wanted to highlight is that something like this might obscure those dynamics and might be employed for political purposes such as justifying existing status hierarchies which might be simply circumstantial and not based on merit.

Comment by alexherwix on An experiment to evaluate the value of one researcher's work · 2020-12-02T15:30:42.494Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the interesting post.

One consideration that comes to my mind is if something like this type of evaluation further reinforces a "success to the successful" feedback loop which is inherently sensitive to initial conditions. As in people might be able to produce great work given the right support and conditions but don't have them in the beginning. Someone else is more lucky and gets picked up, then more supported, which then reinforces further success.

Thus, it seems generally pretty hard to use something like this kind of system to achieve "optimal" outcomes or, rather, let's say you have to be careful about how you implement such rating systems and be aware of such feedback loops.

What do you think about this?

Comment by alexherwix on Local priorities research: what is it, who should consider doing it, and why · 2020-11-23T17:58:03.910Z · EA · GW

I just wanted to leave a quick endorsement for the concept of "local priorities research". One thing that might be easy to forget is that at least some of the best opportunities for doing good don't just "exist", they are created by entrepreneurial efforts and "made to be". Thus, simply directing people to the, at the time, most impactful opportunities is likely not the best long-term strategy. Rather, it seems logical that we also have to invest a part of our resources into developing our capacity to make the best use of available resources at a specific location and create opportunities that didn't exist before. So thank you very much, for putting this idea on the EA concept map, I hope it receives some of the attention it deserves!

Comment by alexherwix on [Linkpost] Some Thoughts on Effective Altruism · 2020-09-30T14:18:29.065Z · EA · GW

One consideration that came to my mind at multiple times of the post was that I was trying to understand what your angle for writing the post was.  So while I think that the post was written with the goal of demarcating and pushing "your brand" of radical social justice from EA, you clearly seem to agree with the core "EA assumption" (i.e., that it's good to use careful reasoning and evidence to try to make the world better) even though you disagree on certain aspects about how to best implement this in practice. 

Thus, I would really encourage you to engage with the EA community in a collaborative and open spirit. As you can tell by the reactions here, criticism is well appreciated by the EA community if it is well reasoned and articulated. Of course there are some rules to this game (i.e., as mentioned elsewhere you should provide justification for your believes) but if you have good arguments for your position you might even affect systemic change in EA ;) 

Comment by alexherwix on Against neglectedness · 2020-09-29T16:30:21.582Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the quick reply! 

Yeah, an article or podcast on the framework and possible pitfalls would be great. I generally like ITN for broad cause assessments (i.e., is this interesting to look at?) but the quantitative version that 80k uses does seem to have some serious limitations if one digs more deeply into the topic. I would be mostly concerned about people new to EA either having false confidence in numbers or being turned off by an overly simplistic approach. But you obviously have much more insight into peoples reactions and I am looking forward to how you develop and improve on the content in the future!

Comment by alexherwix on Seed funding nonprofits: a high-risk, high-reward approach (Founders Pledge) · 2020-09-29T16:04:22.337Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the post, very interesting initiative! However, this investigation seems to be at least slightly in conflict/contrast with other Founderspledge investigations into "giving later" options such as DAFs. Could you elaborate how these projects relate and where Founderspledge priorities are pointing to?

Comment by alexherwix on Against neglectedness · 2020-09-29T12:32:58.793Z · EA · GW

I know this is a late reply to an old comment but it would be awesome to know in how far you think you have addressed the issues raised? Or if you did not address them what was you reason for discarding them?

I am working through the cause prio literature at the moment and I don't really feel that 80k addresses all (or most) of the substantial concerns raised. For instance, the assessments of climate change and AI safety are great examples where 80k's considerations can be quite easily attacked given conceptual difficulties in the underlying cause prio framework/argument.

Comment by alexherwix on The case for investing to give later · 2020-07-28T14:48:56.975Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the counterpoint, I think that's an interesting perspective and in the abstract valid.

Nevertheless, as far as I can tell, in practice these discussions here don't seem to focus on the assessment of whether "other people spend too much now and not enough later" beyond the general assertion that people tend to discount the feature and the conclusion that, thus, there are opportunities to gain comparatively by investing.

However, what I haven't really seen are good arguments that people are actually spending too much now and not enough later[1] or models which model this aspect in some way. In another comment I have outlined in more detail, why I think that it is important to explicitly consider the "nature" of problem solving when making such analyses and decisions.

Long story short, I think current models of giving now vs. giving later are way too simple and additional consideration about problem solving in general would lead me to believe that giving later should not become "the default" for longtermist giving - at least until we have set up an appropriate infrastructure to effectively identify and address problems as they arise. However, I don't want to misrepresent the position of giving later advocates who have often acknowledged that giving now that takes the form of "investments" (as I am suggesting) is somewhat exempt from the discussion. I agree that there might be substantial room for investments as part of wise philanthropic activity, I just don't think it's a winning strategy by itself. Thus, what I mostly seem to disagree with is the framing and emphasis of the debate.

Circling back to my comment on free riding. Simply postponing giving into the future under the assumption that other people will figure out what to do by then seems dangerous unless appropriate measures are taken to ensure that actual progress does happen at a reasonable rate as the world could also become much worse (e.g. climate change). However, postponing giving into the future, makes the individual who is postponing comparatively better of in the future, which would be a plus. Thus, there is in interesting dilemma situation here, where altruists who are not 100% aligned could get into conflict about who should invest when and how much to maximize overall expected value.

To avoid any potential conflicts as much as possible, care should be taken to communicate why specific decision to give now or later where made and how this is expected to affect the community as a whole. For instance, I would expect an organization considering giving later at a large scale like Founders Pledge to clearly articulate their strategy and what the EA community can expect from them now and in the future in a way that can be checked for value alignment over time. Otherwise, it seems totally plausible that opaque and non-transparent behavior could be perceived as free riding on the investments of the community as a whole.

  1. To me that notion actually seems to be a little bit paradoxical because the notion of giving later seems to imply that there will be better opportunities in the future but at the same time we seem to expect less giving then. Economics 101 would suggest that better opportunities would attract more buyers. Thus, wouldn't we need some other type of argument which considers the nature of the problem under consideration to justify giving later? ↩︎

Comment by alexherwix on Movement building and investing to give later · 2020-07-24T19:05:27.162Z · EA · GW

Thank you for raising some additional considerations against giving later. I think this is really valuable for the ongoing discussion that seems to be strongly tilted in favor of investing and giving later.

Even beyond your argument for movement growth, there seem to be many other intuitive considerations where similar arguments could be made. For instance, you consider that "converting" longtermists is an activity that is not only related to money but also to time and room for growth.

You need time to convert dollars into results given that there are generally strong limitations to room for more funding that is tied to the current allocation of resources in the world. I would guess one could model this as some kind of game where at each time point t you can effectively invest x amount into cause y where x is a function of cumulative money spent on cause y. It could be plausible to model this as a gaussian function (i.e., a bell curve) where money invested in the beginning leads to strong growth in room for more funding in the next round and then declines again at some point when full saturation (i.e., all money that could reasonable be spent is spent) is approached. Interestingly, this is both an argument for giving now and giving later as there is limited room where money could be spent effectively.

Going beyond this "simple" view, it would also be interesting to model how problems grow over time as they are not addressed. The most obvious example is climate change. If somehow a US president in the 80s could have been convinced to shift policy towards renewables... the problem would have likely required much less resources overall. This indicates that the money required to be spent on problems is a function of the time at which it is discovered and how much resources are directed to it over time.

I am not a mathematician but if any of this is remotely plausible, I am not sure that the thinking so far has considered such complications (i.e., at least I haven't seen models that model these things but I also haven't been searching in depth) and at least my intuition tells me that integrating such consideration could radically tip the balance toward a strong preference for giving as early as reasonable and provide a good argument for investing into infrastructure that would help us identify and address problems effectively as they emerge.

This could be an interesting topic for a PhD with simulations chops. Or even a benchmarking platform where different agent strategies can compete against each other.[1]

  1. See Ketter, W., Peters, M., Collins, J., and Gupta, A. 2016. “COMPETITIVE BENCHMARKING: AN IS RESEARCH APPROACH TO ADDRESS WICKED PROBLEMS WITH BIG DATA AND ANALYTICS,” MIS Quarterly (40:4), p. 34. ↩︎

Comment by alexherwix on The case for investing to give later · 2020-07-21T13:55:45.646Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the post, it is interesting to see how other people are thinking about this question and I see it as valuable, although I am also somewhat critical toward this whole endeavor.

Maybe I am too naive or not thinking deep enough but with all of these giving now vs. giving later discussions I am somewhat worried about the mindset which is underlying such considerations. While I appreciate people investing time and resources into trying to understand how to have the biggest impact, just taking the perspective of a single investor comes across as somewhat narrow minded and selfish. What you basically seem to be calculating is the optimal degree of free riding that you can get away with to maximize the impact of your own dollars. Maybe it's good knowledge to have where that optimal point seems to be but I am somewhat worried about this becoming the underlying philosophy of longtermist giving.

For instance, longtermism is itself a rather new idea and people thinking about how they can invest as little as possible seems... yes, to some degree rational but also pretty risky in terms of ensuring success giving the many options for failure that exist in our world. I note that "capacity building" interventions are often explicitly excluded from these giving later considerations but giving off the whole vibe of "let's freeride as much as possible" doesn't seem to bode well for such initiatives as well. There is something like image, perception, and momentum and it really feels like this is strongly neglected in these kinds of discussions.

Having said that I am in favor of longtermist thinking but I would encourage to take a broader "community level" perspective. Wouldn't it be more effective to think about optimal rates of investment into community growth and then look for ways to get to those numbers and distributing them fairly rather than focusing on the best outcome for an individual investor and then circle back to what this means for the community? I mean your whole calculation depends on the possible return of investment that you can get from giving now vs. giving later. If we don't have a clear sense of what that RoI is right now how can you make good individual decisions?

Open to be shown the errors in my thinking!

Comment by alexherwix on Long-term investment fund at Founders Pledge · 2020-06-30T14:24:32.440Z · EA · GW

Some simple but possible consideration against patient philanthropy that comes to my mind are:

  • Monetary investments are not necessarily value neutral but might actively cause harm, potentially over long time horizons (e.g., investments contributing to climate change). How do you account for this possible "mortage" of letting things run without taking action?
  • Climate change is a good example for a problem that could have been solved most effectively with early but heavy investment. How do you guard against missing those opportunities if your general strategy is to "wait things out"? If there is no pressure to "show results" overall results in general are going to depend very much on the estimates of the fund managers which is a crucial failure mode.
  • What is the actual value of having loads of money in the bank? There seem to be severe limits on how much money can effectively been used in a short time frame (without resorting to things like large indiscriminate payouts which are most likely not the most effective use of money). It already doesn't seem to make sense to spend too much even if your goal is to get rid of money (see OpenPhil). Thus, it seems like we actually have to invest in capacity building to be able to effectively absorb more funding in the future - this is somewhat contradictory to an explicitly patient perspective. I think this even holds somewhat for catastrophes which have been mentioned elsewhere. Good preparation is likely to be cheaper than getting out the checkbook at the last minute (e.g., see Taiwans response to Covid, climate change).

That's not to say that it seems not worthwhile to explore ways that one can profit from patience but I would personally prefer a term like "wise philanthropy" as a more appropriate goal that respects a more holistic perspective.

Comment by alexherwix on Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors · 2020-06-10T18:03:46.248Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this post, very interesting! I haven't read all of the comments but wanted to share one point that came to me over and over again while reading the post. Apologies if it has already been mentioned in another comment.

It seems like you assume a strong (and relatively simple) causal relationship from genetics to malevolent traits to bad behavior. I think this view might make the problem seem more tractable than it actually might be. Humans are complex systems that are nested in other complex systems and everything is driven by complex and interacting feedback loops. Thus, to me it seems very difficult to untangle causality here. To me it would be much more intuitive to think about malevolence as a dynamic phenomenon that is emergent based on a history of interactions rather than a static personality trait. If you accept this characterization as plausible the task of screening for malevolence in a valid and reliable way seems much more difficult than just designing a better personality test. I think the main difference between those two perspectives is that in the simple case you have a lot of corner cases to keep in mind (e.g., what is if people have malevolent traits but actually want to be good people?) whereas the complex case is more holistic but also much more, well, complex and likely less tractable.

Nevertheless, I agree with the general premise of the post that mental health is an important aspect in the context of X/S-risk related activities. I would go even further than this post and argue that mental health in the context of X/S-risk related activities in general is a very pressing cause area that would score quite well in terms of ITN-Analysis. Thus, I would really love to see an organization or network being set up dedicated to the serious exploration of this area because existing efforts in the mental health space seem only to be focus on happiness in the context of global development. If some interested in this topic reads this, don't hesitate to reach out, I would love to support such efforts.

Comment by alexherwix on 2019 - Year in Review · 2020-06-08T15:36:33.792Z · EA · GW

Thank you for the pointer. I updated the post to correct the typo.

Comment by alexherwix on Let’s Fund: annual review / fundraising / hiring / AMA · 2020-01-04T11:09:08.490Z · EA · GW

Maybe I am extending Khorton's point but in addition to this simple calculation it might be interesting to consider the marginal counterfactual impact of your operations. I imagine that most of the $300k raised would have been raised for other longtermist causes like the EA long term future fund or similar donation opportunities.

Do you have some reasonable evidence for actually having "grown the pie" and added to the overall donation volume?

Otherwise your marginal impact would be the expected value difference to other donation opportunities like EA funds, which I expect to be somewhat close to zero (e.g., you make the analogy to EA funds yourself in the post).

Comment by alexherwix on Announcing the launch of the German Effective Altruism Network: NEAD · 2019-11-18T20:53:25.101Z · EA · GW

If you have any questions or concerns regarding NEAD also feel free to comment on this post, we will keep checking and answer in somewhat regular intervals :)

Comment by alexherwix on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-15T13:27:57.898Z · EA · GW

As I have highlighted in another comment, I appreciate the post as a conversation starter for thinking about EA CB grants in general but somewhat disagree with the strength of the evidence presented here. Nevertheless, I do see a kernel of truth in the proposition that CB grants might be skewed towards specific trust networks and people outside of those trust networks seem to be disadvantaged.

Taking this at my point of departure, I want to be constructive and propose to reconsider the structure of the CB funding pipeline. Currently, there are centralized funding bodies who make decisions about CB grants on an individual basis. No matter where you are from, you are judged to the standards of those grant makers and either you clear the bar or you don't. This might be problematic as CB is not like funding a start up that needs to survive in a global competitive market, rather CB is much more of an contextual effort whose effectiveness depends on the local circumstances. Thus, it stands to reason that simply through the nature of the problem, a centralized funding pipeline with very few grant makers might not be optimal.

To improve this situation, a reasonable strategy might be to consider more polycentric approaches to CB funding through the establishment of intermediate regional re-granting entities that are better positioned to appreciate the contextual nature of CB. The natural choice for these intermediate regional re-granting entities would be national EA organizations focused on regional CB. This set up would create a funding pipeline that is much more aligned with the nature of the problem. At the top is CEA which is contact with national CB organizations who in turn are in contact with local CB projects. Funding is allocated as a budget to national CB organizations based on aggregate metrics that are comparable across regions and allow for a fine-grained prioritization of funding across regions. Thus, national CB organizations are incentivized to consider their specific context and invest in those local CB projects which make the most sense for the region. Local CB would have a clear point of contact that is much more interested in them than a global entity ever could be. My hypothesis would be that a much more natural and distributed trust network would develop compared to the situation that we have at the moment.

If people here like these thoughts, I might be willing to write them up in a separate post. This thinking is inspired by prior work by other EAs and economics research which I would like to highlight more but don't have the time to right now. Anyhow, would love to discuss along those lines.

Comment by alexherwix on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-15T12:48:23.044Z · EA · GW

I totally agree! There are many factors that are relevant to CB funding decisions next to location of projects. For example, just because there are many local groups in a country doesn't mean that they actually require dedicated funding for personnel. It really depends on whether promising people and projects make sense for a specific context.

Thus, while I appreciate the effort and actually share some of the same intuitions about the CB funding situation, I fear that the argument made in the post is quite weak. That's a shame because I really think there is a discussion to be had here and hopefully the post can act as conversation starter. I do appreciate some of the comments here, who seem to take the discussion beyond the actual content of the post.

What I would love to see is a discussion on the general structure of the CB funding pipeline along the lines of Jan Kulveit's post on national level EA orgs. Wouldn't it make sense to work toward delegating CB funding to the people with the best information about CB efforts via regranting?

Comment by alexherwix on Only a few people decide about funding for community builders world-wide · 2019-10-24T13:10:17.607Z · EA · GW

This doesn't seem to be quite comparing things at the right level to me. It compares 'AI safety research' as a priority cause area to 'EA movement building', which seems very reasonable, but then says that 'EA movement building' constitutes only funding local groups of a particular type (for example, it seems to be leaving out student groups run by current students, who get funding from their university for doing it; it seems to leave out work being done on thinking through how effective altruism might grow in China).

I think the main point of the post is not to highlight that there are no other possible ways of doing EA community building related efforts except CB grants – of course there are many things that aspiring EAs can do to support the movement. Rather it seems to highlight the fact that the institutional funding mechanisms available for a broad range of CB (be it for local groups, national groups, or smaller CB related projects) are more centralized than might be ideal. CB grants are not everything but they do cover a very broad scope where they are the only meaningful option available as other funders regularly defer to the CB grants project for funding. This makes them a very powerful force for directing the development of the EA community which may or may not be intended by the broader EA community.

From my perspective, I am, first, glad that institutional funding mechanisms like CB grants exist and appreciate the efforts that have gone (and continue to go) into the program. Second, I also see value in having a discussion about how to further improve the overall funding pipeline for EA CB. One straightforward step mentioned in the post could be that funders outside of CEA are sensitized to also consider EA CB efforts for funding (maybe even in consultation with CEA).

Comment by alexherwix on How to Make Billions of Dollars Reducing Loneliness · 2019-08-27T07:52:48.076Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your reply.

I disagree with your statement that

For-profit businesses are accountable to their customers. They usually only stay in business if customers are satisfied with the service they provide. Non-profits are accountable to their donors. The impressions of donors correlate imperfectly with the extent to which real needs are being served.

This is per definition false. For-profit businesses are accountable to their shareholders which can but does not have to mean that they want to act accountable towards their customers for strategic reasons. Strategic reasons can also lead to irresponsible behavior towards customers. You make a good example with facebook and google.

In a similar vein, non-profits are not accountable to their donors but to their charter and members. However, non-profits may want to act accountable towards donors for strategic reasons. For example, if a non-profit is not tax-exempt it can act just as regular company.

Moreover, there are organization types between simple for-profit and standard non-profits, e.g., public benefit corporations [1] or cooperatives [2].

Having said that, I have nothing against well-calibrated for-profit companies but I think my point still stands that anyone who may follow your proposal and has a vested interest in making the world a better place for everyone (from a tentatively impartial and welfarist perspective) should really think about the incentive structure they get themselves into. At least investigate a little bit beyond the standard playbook of neoliberal start up 101.

1: 2:

Comment by alexherwix on How do you decide between upvoting and strong upvoting? · 2019-08-26T14:46:16.664Z · EA · GW

I generally upvote if I find myself agreeing with a well-made point or unusually surprised because I haven't thought about it this way before and I find it informative.

I strong-upvote if I feel strongly about my reason to upvote in the first place or if I want to support an opinion/person strategically.

Thus, I see voting pretty pragmatically. Moreover, I don't really think it is that important as my (strong) vote doesn't really carry that much weight at the moment.

Comment by alexherwix on How to Make Billions of Dollars Reducing Loneliness · 2019-08-24T14:19:14.768Z · EA · GW

Interesting ideas... the main thing I am struggeling with is the inherent danger of seeing this as for-profit business... You will start to optimize for your metrics and want hockeypuck growth figures to satisfy shareholders in the attempt to become the next WeWork unicorn. Quicker than you can say "Utopia" the whole thing will turn into a creepy shit show tracking your every move trying to upsell you on the next great product.

That's maybe a little harsh but I think you get my idea... there are some interesting aspects in your proposal but without a really well designed incentive system the whole thing will go up in flames. I warned you...

Comment by alexherwix on Keeping everyone motivated: a case for effective careers outside of the highest impact EA organizations · 2019-08-23T19:11:23.134Z · EA · GW

yeah, you could make the argument that your counterfactual impact in local community building might be higher than working at EA org X... I didn't (mean to) propose anything to contradict that assessment and I agree given the right circumstances. I just meant to mention that people who could reasonably expect to work at EA org X will likely do so as it IS a more prestigious thing to do than community building at the moment and will likely continue to be in the near future. I don't necessarily like this situation, I am just calling out how I see it.

I very much agree that community building is a worthwhile opportunity (that's why I am engaging in it myself) and I never said it's easy... it is just less specialized than some other things one would consider to be high-value. I think that's what you allude to in your third paragraph.

To argue a little bit more FOR community building, I would propose it's a very useful general skill set to have for any job. It's a lot about project and people management which is quite useful regardless the specific field you want to get into. Thus, I would be quite happy to see a more systematic approach to and support of community building than we generally see at the moment (although that might just be biased and based on my personal experiences in Germany so far).

Comment by alexherwix on Effective Altruism London Strategy 2019 · 2019-08-23T10:32:13.054Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the post! Good to see what other EA groups are up to and I generally like your network-centric and self-organizing approach to community building. Empowering people to engage in meaningful projects seems like a good way to keep people aligned and engaged in the long-term.

I have two questions:

  1. To me the plan reads a little bit like "let's do more of what works" is that a fair characterization? Do you maybe also have some more concrete plans to "take EA London to the next level" or do you think that innovation is not needed at the moment?

  2. Just a selfish request... I would be really curious to get your perspective/feedback on our plans for community building in Germany [1]. It seems like you are further along on a similar trajectory looking for a network-centric and self-organizing approach to community building. While we are on a national level and obviously much more distributed than EA London, I think a lot of things carry over. Would also be happy to schedule a call at some point if that's more convenient :)


Comment by alexherwix on Keeping everyone motivated: a case for effective careers outside of the highest impact EA organizations · 2019-08-23T10:02:06.791Z · EA · GW

Not the author but still tempted to reply as I was somewhat involved in the discussion leading to this post :)

Regarding your first point:

I somewhat disagree to your assessment of the situation. Most PhDs seem to don't even try to steer any stream but simply try to get through their studies. Imho there is no harm in trying to inject new thoughts and ideas through a paper here and there and hope for other researchers to pick up on it.

For example, I am by no means in a special position in my field but wrote a small workshop paper about what my field could learn from EA and have send that around quite heavily and now I am in a collaboration working to make it into a conference and then a journal paper. Time investment so far was maybe a week of fun work. Still I am by no means a sure hire at any of the top EA orgs and have trouble getting funding from anything EA related.

All in all, I think that trying to leverage what you already have and can influence is undervalued compared to trying to "hitchhike" impact (that's obviously "tongue-in-cheek"). A word one could use for this may be: micro-entrepreneurship.

Regarding your second point:

I guess you have a good point here, the post doesn't really add much in the role of concrete advice to local groups but I also think that it doesn't have to. Just highlighting that there is a connection between the role of local groups and what kind of careers we value is something which I haven't seen much discussion about.

As you highlight student groups are a specific form of a local group which is quite common but doesn't really respond to the needs outlined in the post. Thus, it would be interesting to start thinking about the systematic coordination of local groups in specific regions. Right now, it seems like groups are popping up and dwindeling along somewhat spontaneously. Some EA hotspots like Oxford, London, Boston, BayArea, etc. might be in a phase with more systematic networking and coordination going on but the vast majority of local groups is just starting to think about connecting and coordinating more systematically.

What I take away from this post is that this kind of regional coordination is important if we want to ensure motivation of EAs in the medium- and long-term. This perspective seems (at least based on personal experience) underdeveloped at the moment. Thus, I am quite happy about this post and your thoughtful engagement with it :)

Comment by alexherwix on Keeping everyone motivated: a case for effective careers outside of the highest impact EA organizations · 2019-08-23T09:16:16.876Z · EA · GW

I guess the position that this might be slightly controversial in the EA movement is based on the measures that are generally used to assess the quality of EA community building through EA grants. There is still a heavy emphasis on career plan changes [1] with a strong focus on the highest impact EA organizations.

While maybe nobody would generally disagree with the stated position, the systems in place seems to make it quite difficult to cater to these groups. At least based on personal experience and exchanges, CB grant recipients feel often somewhat constrained in what they think they can do. Moreover, again based on personal experience, it seems quite difficult to get funding for things that aim to tackle the outlined challenge directly.


Comment by alexherwix on Keeping everyone motivated: a case for effective careers outside of the highest impact EA organizations · 2019-08-22T08:31:58.413Z · EA · GW

Is this really a big question in real life? If you can get a prestigious job at an EA org that’s most likely the thing you will do as gives you more value (it pays a lot better and gives you more social status). On the other hand, working in a normal job and volunteering in a local group or full time community building are great options for people who don’t get (yet) to fill the select few positions (for whatever reason).

I think the post is just meant to broaden the horizon a little bit on what we consider as “impactful” or desirable positions in EA. Fact of the matter is that there seem to be more capable people out there than jobs at prestigious EA organizations and I don’t see this changing in the near term. Imho, we should dedicate at least a few minutes thinking about this situation :)

So thank you for the post! :)

Comment by alexherwix on Announcing plans for a German Effective Altruism Network focused on Community Building · 2019-07-31T11:19:03.146Z · EA · GW

Dear Jorgen,

thank you for your feedback! Given our background we are very familiar with start ups, agile planning, etc. So rest assured, we are not going to blindly follow a plan when evidence emerges that indicates that we need to adjust. Interestingly, our plans seem to hold up quite well for the time being but I can understand that a single post here makes it difficult to get a complete understanding of our plans and how we are going to execute (which is not really part of this post anyhow) – so I understand your concerns.

What would be really interesting to me, is if you have additional concrete aspects to criticize. For example, is there something you want to critique substantively in terms of "this is not a good idea because of reason x, y, z" or "your logic here is flawed"? We are always looking for insightful feedback and concerns we didn't know or prioritize before.

I am happy to talk and will write you an email to set something up.

Comment by alexherwix on The Happy Culture: A Theoretical, Meta-Analytic, and Empirical Review of the Relationship Between Culture and Wealth and Subjective Well-Being · 2019-07-17T11:28:01.442Z · EA · GW

They do not really address any specific interventions but provide some insights into factors influencing SWB and income. They also highlight that coming up with interventions might be a challenge given the complexity of the topic. Thus, this paper is more of a conversation starter and may provide some good inspiration for further inquiries.

Personally, I am not an expert in the field and wouldn't be able to make any informed suggestions beyond basic brainstorming. Hoped that other people deeper into the topic than me would be able to make good use of the paper.

Comment by alexherwix on Announcing plans for a German Effective Altruism Network focused on Community Building · 2019-07-05T07:42:10.927Z · EA · GW

Dear Jonas,

thank you for your comment and inputs :) I am responding from my personal perspective and may not represent the full team.

  1. That's a great point! We would love to have a more diverse team and if you have interested people in mind, please direct them to the survey or our current email address: We are actively looking for new members and generally don't plan to have any limit on members if they fulfill some EA and CB related criteria. Thus, hopefully we will be more diverse soon :)

  2. As you mention there has been some coordination with the big players (CEA, EAF, LEAN) but it could obviously always be more and is generally limited by the time that we get from them. We also tried to coordinate with some community builders in Germany but have to say that we are rooted in a mostly regional phenomenon of cooperating local groups that has been slowly spreading from NRW. At the moment, we are trying to onboard and integrate the (interested) rest of Germany.

  3. The list is just a short list of some concrete things that we can measure. We are very much engaged with the question of how to track and improve quality in community building and over time this will hopefully become one of our key value propositions – that we are able to assess and advise what is likely to work in a given context. This is why we have added a special role for quality management.

I hope this answers the most relevant parts of your question. I am happy to elaborate in more detail if necessary :)

Comment by alexherwix on Announcing plans for a German Effective Altruism Network focused on Community Building · 2019-07-05T07:24:20.751Z · EA · GW

Dear Tobias,

thank you for your insightful remarks, I hope that you find some of the things that we talked about already reflected in the plan :) We try to listen and incorporate feedback, especially, when there is experience to back it up! Again, I am answering from own perspective and may not represent the full team.

Regarding your concerns for services, we are very aware of this and now that I think about it, it may have been useful to add our one-year roadmap to illustrate how we want to start our initiative. Rest assured we are very much following along the lines that you outline at the moment. We are organizing an Unconference style retreat, a community building retreat, additional advanced workshops and we are also considering to organize a EAGx in Germany again next year (this is still more dependent on what other players are doing, though). So, next to setting up the basic infrastructure most of our efforts are focused on delivering key events with high expected value.

Regarding your concerns for outreach, at the moment we seem to be following a very inward looking approach, trying to improve community building within EA in Germany ("the product"). Based on improving this "product" we hope to organically scale by word of mouth. However, there is also the possibility of investigating other outreach opportunities as time goes on.

I personally, have a slightly different perception regarding introductory workshops as we have had great experience with those. Things like basic rationality training combined with an EA touch or career workshops for beginners seem to be in high demand and are generally perceived as useful or interesting. I do agree, though, that only a small fraction of those people who attend make the jump across the chasm to become deeply involved EAs. That's an interesting phenomenon to study and I am not entirely sure what to make of it yet. There are many (competing) perspectives one can take regarding the "desirability" of this situation and how to move forward from here. I can't answer comprehensively in this comment, but it is delightful topic for a set of good conversations or even a series of blog posts ;)

I hope I could answer some of your concerns. If something needs further exploration, I am happy to try again :)

Comment by alexherwix on Announcing plans for a German Effective Altruism Network focused on Community Building · 2019-07-04T10:50:35.217Z · EA · GW

Dear Michelle, thank you for the kind words. I am answering from my own perspective and may not represent the full team.

We are basically already running as an MVP for ~3 month now while putting this plan together. It's just a core team of people, coordinating and organizing events and working on a common infrastructure. We document quite a lot of what we do internally but it is not (yet) really accessible to people on the outside that's why we aim to publish more blog posts like this in the future. We have a great team and despite limited resources I am constantly amazed by what we can pull together :)

We are also executing towards additional layers of functionality as we speak. For example, we have launched a survey to test some of our core assumptions and will conduct a series of open workshops focused on developing GEAN further (first one is this weekend). In terms of organizational structure we are trying to stay lean but will have to take the plunge of incorporating as this is one of the very reasons that we are embarking on this project at all – just based on our own (limited) activities we already have the need for a proper legal set up.

I hope this answers at least a substantial part of your question :)

Comment by alexherwix on Announcing plans for a German Effective Altruism Network focused on Community Building · 2019-07-04T07:08:27.287Z · EA · GW

Dear Aaron, thanks for taking the time to comment. I will answer your points quickly from my personal perspective, however, we will also collect all feedback to discuss it in the team as well which we may then collectively discuss in a future post or comment.

  1. We are modeling after many different resources that we have access to (e.g., CEA thinking, posts on the EA forum, some personal conversations, personal experience and last but not least academic literature). For the sake of conveying „what we want to do“ and „why we want to do it“ rather than „why we want to do it the way we want to do“, we decided to not make this an academic paper but a more informal business plan. But if there is general interest in the whys we can write up a more academic exposition soon. We also really want to get in the habit of writing up our reasoning early and often... thus, thanks for providing some initiative ;)
  • Regarding IT infrastructure. We are not yet set on a specific tool or set of tools but are currently investigating different alternatives. Rest assured, we are very diligent at this task and really take a lot of care to find (or even develop) solutions that satisfy our (and the communities) requirements. For example, we are working on separate posts to justify and outline some of the values that guide our decisions here. However, while we have a great team with IT experience, we are somewhat bound by our financial situation and priorities. We may need to start with of the shelf components but migrate as we gain stability and resources.
  1. This is a great point! Yes, we are ambitious and there is much to do! We are generally working on this on a volunteer basis at the moment which works out well to organize workshops and smaller events. However, setting up and running the legal and organizational infrastructure for an organization such as the one we outline in the business plan is better handled by one or two people working on this in at least part-time (better full-time) capacity. Thus, we would likely invest in funding appropriate people to be able to execute at an accelerated but sustainable pace. I hope this answer is precise enough, if not, I am happy to elaborate in more detail.

  2. Based on my personal experience, I believe that there is a strong demand for coordination which is evident in the diverse team that we have already assembled. These are all people who value the exchange with other local groups and are motivated by working together in something larger than their local groups. Regarding movement growth, I believe that having „fun but valuable things to do“ besides reading, discussions and skill building will attract more people to community building activities, which in turn will make the reading, discussing and skill building more attractive. To grow sustainably there needs to be a self-supporting ecology of opportunities that fits to the local resource distribution.

  • Regarding outreach, I believe that I have covered the gist of it in my previous paragraph. Content-wise we are working on formats that are highly self-supporting, scalable and transferable to different regional contexts. While this is not an outreach activity per se, it‘s about setting up the infrastructure to be able to scale once momentum is there. I would hope to mainly use word of mouth to scale organically over time.

I think one of the main points that differentiates EA from other movements like F4F is that we want to have a better sense of what we are doing rather than just winging it. That‘s what we are working on and I thank you for helping us reflect more on this :)

Comment by alexherwix on Requesting community input on the upcoming EA Projects Platform · 2019-01-31T19:29:43.778Z · EA · GW

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 alexherwix on EA Meta Fund AMA: 20th Dec 2018 · 2018-12-20T09:42:21.159Z · EA · GW


as a person working on meta-projects I would be interested if there are any plans to broaden the amount of projects that you are considering for funding?

Your grants demonstrate that you seem to only fund very much established players and focus on "very safe" bets – probably due to time limitations. Have you considered pitching opportunities for project proposals, putting out requests for proposals regarding specific challenges, or topping up EA Grants so that more proposal have the chance of being considered and funded?

My concerns is that right now it is still pretty difficult to get funding if you are not an established player and I don't really see any path for new players to emerge other than by personal connections which is strongly dependent on serendipity or physical location. Something like EA Grants is by far not a perfect solution (e.g., it's too open which leads to unclear criteria and there is no feedback at all which disallows iterative improvements and learning) but at least more projects are even considered for funding.

Comment by alexherwix on Requesting community input on the upcoming EA Projects Platform · 2018-12-17T12:49:48.395Z · EA · GW

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 alexherwix on EA Forum 2.0 Initial Announcement · 2018-07-22T14:41:17.547Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your comment Sam!

Regarding the funding project, this was just meant to be one example of a possible project which could profit from integration. So I wasn't really trying to argue the merits of the projects in any detailed manner. However, to somewhat counterbalance your argument, the way I see it, it seems to make sense to try to aggregate resources around existing funding opportunities to help people try to understand the space better. From my own experience it takes some time to wrap your head around who is offering what, in what format, etc. So there seems to be room for improved coordination which may or may not involve new artifacts/software/platform to be developed. Moreover, having people be interested in this kind of topic seems to be a win for the community to me, I don't think we are at the point where returns are diminishing drastically (i.e., one CEA grant evaluator is not gonna fix everything). If you want to talk in more depth about the topic I would love for you to join the slack channel or contact me by mail: alex{at}

Regarding the meta point, this really was the gist of my post. I appreciate the positive attitude you seem to have towards a somewhat "open" model as I think that this would be an important step for the community from a technological point of view. As you say there are lots of cool things that could be done, once we have sorted out some of the basic infrastructure questions. CEA being open to integrating pull requests in this direction would be an awesome first step :)

Comment by alexherwix on EA Forum 2.0 Initial Announcement · 2018-07-20T10:22:37.076Z · EA · GW

Thank you Marek and the whole CEA team for taking on this project! I love your initiative and what you outline seems like a very valuable and necessary step for the EA community. If things work out as you imagine, EA could be one of the first science-driven communities with a strong "community-reviewed" journal type offering (in this vein it may make sense to introduce different types of "publications" – idea, project report, scientific publication, etc. – with different standards for review and moderation). Very inspiring!

A question that comes to my mind would be your plans and stance on making user profiles/data accessible to external partners and integrations. For example, I am investing some time into thinking about the funding pipeline in EA right now, in particular with a focus on small scale projects which seem to be falling through the cracks right now. Having a funding platform integrate with the community system and trust measures of the EA forum could be a game changer for this (for people interest in this topic get in touch on the rethink slack #ti-funding or – it's not much put down right now, but there are already some people interested in this space). Given that the Less Wrong 2.0 codebase is open source it should be possible to develop secure means of integration between different platforms if the provider of the forum enables it. Did you consider these kind of long-term use cases in your planning so far? Do you have a vision for how collaboration with "non-CEA" affiliated projects could look in the future?

Comment by alexherwix on EA Forum 2.0 Initial Announcement · 2018-07-20T10:06:53.972Z · EA · GW

Thank you for your very interesting and thoughtful comment!

I just want to extend your thinking a little bit further into possible solutions. The blockchain space in particular has provided some interesting new ideas in terms of trust and how to organize communities around it. For example, Stellars Consensus Protocol works with "Quorum Slices" that are determined by people you trust to give you a "personal" view on the overall state. Similar you could nominate a "Member Slice" where some member votes are excluded/weighted down or weighted up in the calculation of your post weights. This would allow you to tailor what you see to your needs as your thinking evolves. So if a tyranny ensues you have the possibility of "navigating around". And depending on how you implement it, people could subscribe to your view of the forum and thus, propagate this new algorithm for weighting posts. Hope this is not too complicated... (for those interested in more details, here is a link to a graphic novel explaining the Stellar CSP:

my main point was just to agree with you that having a very hierarchical voting system may profit from some "countermeasures" that can be used in times of misuse or tyranny.

Comment by alexherwix on EA Forum 2.0 Initial Announcement · 2018-07-20T09:39:17.191Z · EA · GW

I really want to highlight the small point that you made in the end:

Digital institution design is a very high leverage problem for civilization as a whole, and should probably receive EA attention on those grounds.

I am personally very interested in this topic and there is a lot of depth to it. It would be awesome if this topic could gain more traction in the EA community as it seems to be one of the most important challenges for the near-to-medium term future. It may receive some conceptual attention in terms of AI alignment and more practical considerations in terms of AI development coordination but it is actually a much broader challenge than that with implications for all areas of (digital) live. If I find the time, I will try to put a comprehensive post on this together. Whoever is also interested in this topic please get in touch with me! (PM or alex{at}

Comment by alexherwix on New research on effective climate charities · 2018-07-12T10:28:11.240Z · EA · GW

Thank you for your reply :)

I will have a deeper look at it when I find the time! So the main take away from my previous comment could be that it may be useful to highlight the "surprises" in the executive summary for people who don't have the time to engage in depth and maybe provide a stronger summary of your process for reaching your recommendation (e.g., have comparative metrics like we have for poverty/health related interventions). Or maybe that's good content for a summarizing blog post?

Anyhow, thanks again for your effort to update the EA community on this topic :)

Comment by alexherwix on New research on effective climate charities · 2018-07-11T14:47:56.987Z · EA · GW

Dear Halstead,

thank you for the effort updated information on effective climate charities is a great and valuable thing to me and probably many other EAs.

However, I had a look at the website and the report but I couldn't really find the discussion of why you do not recommend Cool Earth (searched for the name Cool Earth and only found one unrelated mention). As a past donor to that charity it would be awesome to have a direct link to that information.

Additionally, without having read the report in detail, I think it would be a great addition if you wouldn't exclusively focus on the selected recommendations but position them in context to the other options. That way I could more easily understand if I agree with your selection.

Anyhow, thank you for posting this and investing the time and effort to make this information accessible to a broader audience!

Cheers, Alex

Comment by alexherwix on Ideas for Improving Funding for Individual EAs, EA Projects, and New EA Organizations · 2018-07-10T11:21:26.125Z · EA · GW

I generally agree but I think there may be value in coordinating different parties and part-solutions under "one roof". If you are sill in contact with the people interested in this topic, maybe direct them here to get some knowledge exchange and coordination going? Or provide more detailed information about organizations/people interested in the topic so that they can be reached out to :)

Comment by alexherwix on Ideas for Improving Funding for Individual EAs, EA Projects, and New EA Organizations · 2018-07-10T10:50:03.568Z · EA · GW

Hey Brendon,

I love your enthusiasm and creativity as well as a great job for putting it into words and out there! :) Writing a post like this and gaining feedback from the community seems to me to be a great first step for actually making progress on an important topic like this.

I have thought about ideas like this myself quite a lot as well and as someone experiencing funding constraints/difficulties myself I see it is a worthwhile cause to pursue (I might be biased, though ;) ).

I was also in the tech-talk and I would love to be kept in the loop on this as well as contribute where it makes sense. Maybe it makes sense to use on of the slack channels for more in-depth discussions or let's set up a special interest group call around the topic! It may also make sense to start something like a git project and use the wiki features to integrate all the valuable ideas and feedback that start pouring in this thread. Short-term it might make sense to create a project plan and look for funding to make this happen in a sustainable way. I imagine Open Phil or EA Grants may actually be interested in something like this.

I have experience in web development as well as scientific approaches to solution development (e.g., Moreover, I am working on the topic of knowledge management/integration in the context of communities which would likely be an important part of actually making this work.