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Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? 2019-11-13T20:31:17.209Z · score: 79 (44 votes)

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Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Update on CEA's EA Grants Program · 2020-02-04T21:35:29.275Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Nicole!

My strong prior (which it sounds like you disagree with), is that we should generally expect funding needs to increase over time. If that’s true, then EA Funds would need to grow by more than enough to offset EA Grants in order to keep pace with needs. More reliance on EA Funds would shift the mix of funding too: for instance, relatively more funding going to established organizations (which EA Grants doesn’t fund) and no natural source of funding for individuals working on Global Poverty (as that fund doesn’t grant to individuals).

I agree it would be helpful for Fund management teams to explicitly make it known if they think there are a lot of strong opportunities going unfunded. Similarly, if Fund managers think they have limited opportunities to make strong grants with additional funds, it would be good to know that too. I’ve been operating on the assumption that the funds all believe they have room for more funding; if that’s not the case, seems like an important thing to share.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2020-01-24T19:00:58.517Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

OK, thanks for explaining how this works!

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2020-01-21T20:49:34.851Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for cleaning up this data Sam! I also appreciate your putting together that spreadsheet. It’d be great if the fund pages could link to it to make that info more easily accessible. And over time, I’d love to see that file evolve to include additional data about each funds’ grants with corresponding subtotals. I think that would be a big aid for donors trying to understand what types of grants each fund makes.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2020-01-14T22:28:07.428Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this Joan! I may have some followup questions related to this, but will wait to see if they’re addressed by the forthcoming writeup as I want to be respectful of your time. I look forward to reading it!

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2020-01-14T22:24:43.941Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I was asking about the end of November balances that were displayed throughout December. It sounds like those did not reflect grants instructed in November if I’m correctly understanding what you mean by “the current balances don’t account from the latest round that were only paid out last month”. Can you clarify the timing of when grants do get reflected in the fund balances? Do the fund balances get updated when the grants are recommended to CEA? Approved by CEA? Disbursed by CEA? When the payout reports are published? FWIW, I’d find it most helpful if they were updated when the payout reports are published, since that would make the information on the fund pages internally consistent.

Thanks for the update on the Global Development Fund!

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2020-01-14T22:24:06.838Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

1. Thanks for sharing this data!

2. Ah, that makes sense re: privacy issues. However, I’m a bit confused by this: “we do send out email newsletters with updates about how money from EA Funds has been spent.” Is this something new? I’ve given to EA Funds and organizations through the Funds platform for quite some time, and the only non-receipt email I’ve ever gotten from EA Funds was a message in late December soliciting donations and sharing the OP. To be clear, I’d love to see more updates and solicitations for donors (and not just during giving season), as I believe not asking past donors to renew their giving is likely leaving money on the table.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2020-01-14T22:23:05.013Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Got it, thanks for clarifying!

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2020-01-14T22:22:33.799Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I was asking about how large the EA Funds organization itself should be, but nice to get your thoughts on the management teams as well. Thank you!

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2020-01-14T22:22:01.128Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW
I basically tried to come up with an ontology that would make intuitive sense to the average donor, and then tried to address the shortcomings by using examples on our risk page. I agree with Oli that it doesn’t fully capture things, but I think it’s a reasonable attempt to capture an important sentiment (albeit in a very reductive way), especially for donors who are newer to the product and to EA.

Yeah, I think the current ontology is a pretty reasonable/intuitive way to address a complex issue. I’d update if I learned that concerns about “risk of abuse” more common among donors than concerns about other types of risk, but my suspicion is that concerns about “risk of abuse” is mostly an issue for the LTFF since it makes more grants to individuals and the grant that was recommended to Lauren serves as something of a lightning rod.

I do think, per my original question about the LTFF’s classification, that the LTFF is meaningfully more risky than the other funds along multiple dimensions of risk: relatively more funding of individuals vs. established organizations, more convoluted paths to impact (even for more established grantees), and more risk of abuse (largely due to funding more individuals and perhaps a less consensus based grantmaking process).

everyone will have their own sense of what they consider too risky, which is why we encourage donors to read through past grant reports and see how comfortable they feel before donating.

Now that the new Grantmaking and Impact section lists illustrative grants for each fund, I expect donors will turn to that section rather than clicking through each grant report and trying to mentally aggregate the results. But as I pointed out in another discussion, that section is problematic in that the grants it lists are often misrepresentative and/or incorrect, and even if it were accurate to begin with the information would quickly grow stale.

As a solution (which other people seemed interested in), I suggested a spreadsheet that would list and categorize grants. If I created such a spreadsheet, would you be willing to embed it in the fund pages and keep it up to date as new grants are made? The maintenance is the kind of thing a (paid?) secretariat could help with.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Update on CEA's EA Grants Program · 2020-01-09T23:30:49.907Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW
It’s unclear to me how much of a shortage of funding there actually is, though, given what people expressed interest in doing this year. I think that a more important constraint in the ecosystem is not funding, but likely support and feedback for grantees and applicants. I think that it is very hard and time costly to give good feedback and support, but very important for individuals and early stage projects. This is part of why I’m excited about Charity Entrepreneurship’s incubation program. I am also exploring how the funding ecosystem may be able to provide more support to grantees to try to address this problem somewhat, though I expect this to be a hard problem to solve. On funding, if the Meta Fund sees funding shortages, I hope that they will make that known to donors, so that donors can fund the Meta Fund accordingly. To my knowledge, this has not been the case to date.

In your opinion, is this a recent development or do you think feedback was a larger constraint than funding even when EA Grants was more actively funding projects? If you think it’s a recent development, was the change driven by EA Grants, EA Funds, and other grantmakers funding the most funding constrained projects, or did something else change?

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Update on CEA's EA Grants Program · 2020-01-09T23:29:52.543Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for your thoughtful response Nicole!

Where the freed up resources go is dependent on donors. EA Grants never had (to my knowledge) multi-year commitments. For example, since I've started, it's been ~entirely funded by 1 anonymous donor.

Can you share any information about how likely it is these donors will fund similar projects through alternative means if EA Grants winds down? Do you know what the 1 anonymous donor is planning?

Taking a longer perspective, my understanding is that Open Phil funded the initial 2017 round of EA Grants (~$475k), and I’d guess they wouldn’t fund small early stage projects without a mechanism like EA Grants to do so through. Then in 2018, EA Grants awarded ~$850k through the referral round and some amount (that I haven’t seen announced) during the September 2018 round. Were these also funded by Open Phil? Do you have any sense of whether the funder(s) of these rounds funded similar projects through non-EA Grants channels in 2019? If not, is there any reason to expect them to fund these types of projects in 2020 or beyond? Are you able to share the amount granted from the September 2018 round, to help the community understand how much funding would need to be replaced if other channels need to fill the role EA Grants historically played?

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Update on CEA's EA Grants Program · 2020-01-09T23:28:36.239Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, this was fixed. Thanks!

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2020-01-03T01:08:59.176Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW
To be clear, I am claiming that the section you are linking is not very predictive of how I expect CEA to classify our grants, and is not very predictive of the attitudes that I have seen from CEA and other stakeholders and donors of the funds, in terms of whether they will have an intuitive sense that a grant is "risky". Indeed, I think that page is kind of misleading and think we should probably rewrite it.
I am concretely claiming that both CEA's attitudes, the attitudes of various stakeholders, and most donors attitudes is better predicted by the "risk of abuse" framing I have outlined. In that sense, I disagree with you that most donors will be primarily concerned about the kind of risk that is discussed on the EA Funds page.

If risk of abuse really is the big concern for most stakeholders, then I agree rewriting the risk page would make a lot of sense. Since that’s a fairly new page, I’d assumed it incorporated current thinking/feedback.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2020-01-03T00:24:05.490Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Very helpful response! This (like much of the other detailed transparency you’ve provided) really helped me understand how you think about your grantmaking (strong upvote), though I wasn’t actually thinking about “risk of abuse” in my question.

I’d been thinking of “risk” in the sense that the EA Funds materials on the topic use the term: “The risk that a grant will have little or no impact.” I think this is basically the kind of risk that most donors will be most concerned about, and is generally a pretty intuitive framing. And while I’m open to counterarguments, my impression is that the LTFF’s grants are riskier in this sense than grants made by the other funds because they have longer and less direct paths to impact.

I think “risk of abuse” is an important thing to consider, but not something worth highlighting to donors through a prominent section of the fund pages. I’d guess that most donors assume that EA Funds is run in a way that “risk of abuse” is quite low, and that prospective donors would be turned off by lots of content suggesting otherwise. Also, I’m not sure “risk of abuse” is the right term. I’ve argued that some parts of EA grantmaking are too dependent on relationships and networks, but I’m much more concerned about unintentional biases than the kind of overt (and unwarranted) favoritism that “risk of abuse” implies. Maybe “risk of bias”?

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2019-12-31T18:58:52.561Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Exciting to see the new dashboard! Two observations:

1) The donation figures seem somewhat off, or at least inconsistent with the payout report data. For example, the Meta Fund payout reports list >$2 million in “payouts to date”. But the dashboard shows donations of <$1.7 million from the inception of the fund through the most recent payout in November. Looks like the other funds have similar (though smaller) discrepancies.

2) I think the dashboard would be much more helpful if data for prior years were shown for the full year, not just YTD. That would essentially make all the data available and add a lot of valuable context for interpreting the current year YTD numbers. Otherwise, the dashboard will only be able to answer a very narrow set of questions once we move to the new year.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2019-12-31T00:36:41.500Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing this potential shift Oli. If the fund split, would the same managers be in charge of both funds or would you add a new management team? Also, would you mind giving a couple of examples of grants that you’d consider “medium-risk”? And do you see these grants as comparably risky to the “medium risk” grants made by the other funds, or just less risky than other grants made by the LTFF?

My sense is that the other funds are making “medium-risk” grants that have substantially simpler paths to impact. Using the Health Fund’s grant to Fortify Health as an example, the big questions are whether FH can get the appropriate nutrients into food and then get people to consume that food, as there’s already strong evidence micronutrient fortification works. By contrast, I’d argue that the LTFF’s mandate comes with a higher baseline level of risk since “it is very difficult to know whether actions taken now are actually likely to improve the long-term future.” (Of course, that higher level of risk might be warranted; I’m not making any claims about the relative expected values of grants made by different funds).

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2019-12-23T21:25:40.738Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Btw, it's great that you're offering to have this post function as an AMA, but I think many/most people will miss that info buried in the commenting guidelines. Maybe add it to the post title and pin the post?

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2019-12-23T20:22:30.023Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA · GW

What’s the rationale behind categorizing the LTFF as “medium-high risk” vs. simply “high risk”? This isn’t meant as a criticism of the fund managers or any of the grants they’ve made, it’s just that trying to influence the LTF seems inherently high risk.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2019-12-23T20:14:43.111Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW
We think it’s likely that EA Funds would fare better if it were set up to run as its own organization, with its own director, and a team specifically focused on developing the product, while CEA will benefit from having a narrower scope.
It’s still not clear what the best format for this would be, but in the medium term this will probably look like EA Funds existing as a separately managed organization within the Centre for Effective Altruism (à la 80,000 Hours or Forethought), reporting directly to CEA’s board. At first, CEA would still provide operational support in the form of payroll and grantmaking logistics etc., but eventually we may want to build capacity to do some or all of these things in-house.

Can you provide a ballpark estimate of how long the “medium term” is in this context? Should we expect to see this change in 2020?

Also, once this change is implemented, roughly how large would you expect a “right-sized” EA Funds team to be? This relates to Misha’s question about overhead, but on more of a forward looking basis.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2019-12-23T20:07:18.799Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Two questions about the money EA Funds has processed for specific organizations rather than the Funds themselves (and thanks for sharing data on this type of giving via the new dashboard!):

1. How much of the money raised for organizations is “incremental” in the sense that giving through EA Funds allowed donors to claim tax deductions that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get? As an example, I wouldn’t consider gifts to AMF through EA Funds to be incremental since US and UK donors could already claim tax deductions by giving directly to AMF. But I would call donations to ACE through EA Funds by UK donors incremental, since these gifts wouldn’t be tax deductible if it weren’t for EA Funds. (I recognize giving through EA Funds might have other benefits besides incremental tax deductibility, such as the ability to give to multiple organizations at once.)

2. How does donor stewardship work for gifts made directly to organizations? Do the organizations receive information about the donors and manage the relationships themselves, or does CEA handle the donor stewardship?

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Effective Altruism Funds Project Updates · 2019-12-23T20:06:15.803Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this update!

Are the current fund balances (reasonably) accurate? Do they reflect the November grants made by the Animal and Meta Funds? And has the accounting correction you mentioned for the Global Health fund been implemented yet?

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-12-11T20:51:07.620Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Distinguishing between grants made by the current management team and previous management makes sense (though it’d be good to state this methodology explicitly). If a spreadsheet does get built, the management regime would be a good piece of info to capture.

FWIW, for the Meta Fund “120k+ to Founders Pledge” looks quite reasonable if we only look at grants from the management team, but “250k+ to 80K” still seems like a poor way to describe the $415k granted to 80k by the team.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-12-11T19:48:36.303Z · score: 13 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Re: information being up to date on websites being a signal that CEA is making progress on this problem...

I was glad to see that the Meta Fund page was updated to include a link where people can apply. And more generally, I’m happy CEA is working to improve EA Funds and expect the recent design changes to the EA Funds pages to improve users’ experience.

However, I’m quite frustrated that the new “Grantmaking and Impact” section is written in a way that’s likely to be confusing or misleading for donors. In the OP, I noted concerns about concentration in the Meta Fund’s grantmaking. The two largest grantees (by a wide margin) are Founders Pledge and 80K, which have each received roughly half a million in grants.

But the Grantmaking and Impact section doesn’t mention this, instead referring to grants of “$250k+ to 80,000 Hours” and “$120k+ to Founders Pledge”. It may be technically accurate to describe ~$500k grants as “$250k+” or “$120k+”, but it's hard to expect people to read those descriptions and get an accurate sense of how much money the largest grantees have received or how concentrated the Meta Fund’s grant history has been historically. If one reads only the Grantmaking and Impact section, they’d get the impression that the largest grants were a few hundred thousand out of a total of “several million” granted, when the reality is that Founders Pledge and 80K together account for about half of the $2.05 million the Meta Fund has granted to date.

The Grantmaking and Impact section is problematic for all the funds, not just the Meta Fund, and generally appears to give a distorted picture of what the largest grantees have been (and no information on “impact”):

  • The Animal Fund describes “$250k+ to support research related to improving animal welfare”. ACE and Rethink Priorities both focus on this type of research, and have received grants of $500k and $475k respectively which aren’t mentioned.
  • The Long-term Future Fund lists “$440k+ to support researchers working on relevant topics” as its largest category, and the copy clarifies that these grants “support individual researchers – both those working in academia, and alongside it – to skill up, and to work on key problems.” There’s no mention of MIRI (~$580k in grants) or CFAR (~$325k in grants, plus another $150k that was recommended but not granted since another funder stepped in before the grant was made).
  • The Global Development Fund mentions “$3m+ to malaria prevention”. This significantly overstates (by ~$1 million) the amount the fund has actually granted to malaria prevention ($1.7 million to Malaria Consortium and $330k to AMF).

I support the intention of trying to give donors more clarity on the types of grants each EA Fund makes, but the current implementation of the Grantmaking and Impact section doesn’t really achieve that. It will also likely be hard to keep up to date.

I suggest creating a google sheet with: a list of all grants, the fund the grant came from, the date, a categorization (which would vary by fund but could be similar to the categories used in the Grantmaking and Impact section), and a subtotal for each category. That would make it easy to see all grants in one place (rather than clicking through each payout report), the categorization would be transparent, and the subtotals would update automatically as new grants were made.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Did Fortify Health receive $1 million from EA Funds? · 2019-12-09T23:44:30.463Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for explaining how this works Sam. I’ve got a few followup questions about fund balances.

The animal and meta fund pages both show new grant reports with November payout dates- are these grants reflected in the fund balances? Both funds have end of November fund balances that are the same ballpark size as their November grants, suggesting they might not be updated.

The Payout Reports shouldn't affect the Fund Balance, as that number is calculated directly from our accounting system. That said, this means it's subject to some of the vagaries of bookkeeping, which means we ask donors to treat it as an estimate.

This makes sense. Generally speaking, how accurate should we expect those estimates to be? Is it possible to say something along the lines of “we expect the fund balance estimates to be accurate plus or minus 10% and generally not off by more than $100,000”?

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on EA Leaders Forum: Survey on EA priorities (data and analysis) · 2019-12-09T23:40:02.910Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Aaron, that’s a helpful clarification. Focusing on “people shaping the overall direction of the EA movement” rather than just movement building seems like a sensible decision. But one drawback is that coming up with a list of those people is a much more subjective (and network-reliant) exercise than, for example, making a list of movement building organizations and inviting representatives from each of them.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on EA Leaders Forum: Survey on EA priorities (data and analysis) · 2019-12-09T23:38:27.773Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for taking the time to respond, Max. I appreciate your engagement, your explanation of how the invitation process worked this year, and your willingness to acknowledge that CEA may have historically been too aggressive in how it has pushed longtermism and how it has framed the results of past surveys.

In the future, I’d like CEA to take a more agnostic approach to cause prioritisation, trying to construct non-gameable mechanisms for making decisions about how much we talk about different causes.

Very glad to hear this. As you note, implementing this sort of thing in practice can be tricky. As CEA starts designing new mechanisms, I’d love to see you gather input (as early possible) from people who have expressed concern about CEA’s representativeness in the past (I’d be happy to offer opinions if you’d like). These also might be good people to serve as "external advisors" who generate suggestions for the invite list.

Good luck with the retreat! I look forward to seeing your strategy update once that’s written up.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on EA Leaders Forum: Survey on EA priorities (data and analysis) · 2019-12-06T17:13:10.304Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Aaron. Glad to hear the invitee list included a broader list of organizations, and that you'll consider a more explicit discussion of potential selection bias effects going forward.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on EA Leaders Forum: Survey on EA priorities (data and analysis) · 2019-12-02T22:15:51.120Z · score: 22 (9 votes) · EA · GW
At present, we see Leaders Forum as an event focused on movement building and coordination. We focus on inviting people who play a role in trying to shape the overall direction of the EA movement (whatever cause area they focus on), rather than people who mostly focus on direct research within a particular cause area. As you’d imagine, this distinction can be somewhat fuzzy, but that’s the mindset with which CEA approaches invites (though other factors can play a role).

I really wish this had been included in the OP, in the section that discusses the weaknesses of the data. That section seems to frame the data as a more or less random subset of leaders of EA organizations (“These results shouldn’t be taken as an authoritative or consensus view of effective altruism as a whole. They don’t represent everyone in EA, or even every leader of an EA organization.”)

When I look at the list of organizations that were surveyed, it doesn’t look like the list of organizations most involved in movement building and coordination. It looks much more like a specific subset of that type of org: those focused on longtermism or x-risk (especially AI) and based in one of the main hubs (London accounts for ~50% of respondents, and the Bay accounts for ~30%).* Those that prioritize global poverty, and to a lesser extent animal welfare, seem notably missing. It’s possible the list of organizations that didn’t respond or weren’t named looks a lot different, but if that’s the case it seems worth calling attention to and possibly trying to rectify (e.g. did you email the survey to anyone or was it all done in person at the Leaders Forum?)

Some of the organizations I’d have expected to see included, even if the focus was movement building/coordination: GiveWell (strategy/growth staff, not pure research staff), LEAN, Charity Entrepreneurship, Vegan Outreach, Rethink Priorities, One for the World, Founders Pledge, etc. Most EAs would see these as EA organizations involved to some degree with movement building. But we’re not learning what they think, while we are apparently hearing from at least one org/person who “want to avoid being connected explicitly to the EA movement -- for example, if almost all their work happens in non-EA circles, where EA might have a mixed reputation.”

I’m worried that people who read this report are likely to misinterpret the data being presented as more broadly representative than it actually is (e.g. the implications of respondents believing ~30% of EA resources should go to AI work over the next 5 years are radically different if those respondents disproportionally omit people who favor other causes). I have the same concerns about this survey was presented as Jacy Reese expressed about how the leaders survey from 2 years ago (which also captured a narrow set of opinions) was presented:

My main general thought here is just that we shouldn't depend on so much from the reader. Most people, even most thoughtful EAs, won't read in full and come up with all the qualifications on their own, so it's important for article writers to include those themselves, and to include those upfront and center in their articles.

Lastly, I’ll note that there’s a certain irony in surveying only a narrow set of people, given that even among those respondents: “The most common theme in these answers [about problems in the EA community] seems to be the desire for EA to be more inclusive and welcoming. Respondents saw a lot of room for improvement on intellectual diversity, humility, and outreach, whether to distinct groups with different views or to the general population.” I suspect if a more diverse set of leaders had been surveyed, this theme would have been expressed even more strongly.

* GFI and Effective Giving both have London offices, but I’ve assumed their respondents were from other locations.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-22T18:49:00.610Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this background info Sam! Glad to hear that people from more places were considered in the last recruitment round. Were there any candidates from the US-excluding-Bay (which has more EAs than the UK, Bay Area, and Australia combined)? Did the candidates from the Bay who were approached give any reasons for why they couldn’t/wouldn't take the position (e.g. is the volunteer nature of the role a limiting factor)?

I’ll email you some nominations (and FWIW, if the fund managers agree this is a priority it’d be great to also solicit nominations in higher profile places like the EA newsletter).

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-22T18:47:25.882Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you Harri! As mentioned in the OP, I think a publicity strategy that promotes CBGs in more places and has longer (or rolling) application windows would help attract more applicants.

To understand the geographical distribution of applications better, I suggest asking some of the better established groups in places that didn’t see many applications why they didn’t apply. And it might be worth reviewing early communications with attendees/applicants to the European Group Retreat to see if they encouraged CBG applications, as this could explain why there were so many applications from Europe relative to everywhere else (though I take Joan’s point about the retreat itself happening after CBG applications closed).

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-20T23:14:43.483Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that your list of “signals that we are making progress on this problem” would all be positive developments. And I recognize that since CEA is resetting some of its strategy, it’s a difficult time to make firm commitments, especially around short-term priorities.

However, there’s one near-term step that I think would be relatively easy and particularly high impact. I’d love to see CEA publish how much money it has regranted through EA Grants and CBG in 2018 and 2019, and a rough estimated range for how much it expects to grant through those programs in 2020. As I commented on the recent writeup on EA Grants, the public communication around these programs has indicated that they’d grant significantly more money than they appear to have granted in practice. For instance, CEA’s end of 2018 fundraising post referred to “a regranting budget of $3.7M for EA Grants and EA Community Building Grants, which we use to fund other organizations, projects, individuals, and groups” but the grants that have been announced from those programs don’t even come close to that figure.

I think it’s critical for the EA community to get a more accurate understanding of how much funding has been/will be available, so that other funders and potential grantees can make informed decisions. As SiebeRozendal writes: “I'm afraid there is a dynamic where CB-efforts have trouble finding non-CEA funding because alternative funders believe CEA has got all the good opportunities covered.”

If CEA will be granting large amounts next year, that’s great: I think past grantees have mostly been good projects to fund, and as I argued in OP I think there are plenty more good opportunities out there. If CEA will only be making small grants, or doesn’t really know how much it will grant (due to uncertainty around the future of EA Grants, for example) other donors can adjust their behavior accordingly. But for that to happen, they need to be informed about CEA’s plans.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-18T19:15:14.893Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for engaging and providing this helpful info Alex!

Addressing the sourcing-through-networks point, I just went through our early stage grants in the last year quickly and it looks like the majority were people we met through our various funding processes as opposed to people we knew already. Late stage grants we did of course have connections to already but I think that’s to be expected, and these organisations are quite well known in any case.

Using Open Phil’s framework of categorizing grantmaking methods as people-based, process-based, or project-based, how would you classify the “various funding processes” meta fund managers use in their other grantmaking? To the extent managers are using people-based methods, I think that would exacerbate some of the concerns I’ve raised, while if they’re sourcing ideas through process or project based methods that would mitigate my concerns on the margins.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-18T19:13:35.353Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW
As the author notes, most of the Meta Fund team is based in London. On previous recruitment rounds, the Meta Fund has taken steps to seek Fund managers from a wider set of locations, and will continue to do so in the future. Of course, the decision to appoint Fund managers is contingent on finding suitable candidates, and the location was one of a number of factors under consideration.

The management team system has been in place for over a year, so I think it’s pretty problematic that the Meta Fund’s team remains so concentrated geographically. Could you explain some of the specific steps that have been (or will be) taken to find managers from a wider set of locations?

I’m not really clear on how the manager selection process actually works, and how much of a role CEA takes relative to the Chair and other managers. And while I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, I’d be happy to set up a form where community members can nominate potential managers from a different location.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-18T19:11:48.565Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I agree with your “Reasons for the current concentration of funding” directionally, but I’m somewhat skeptical about how much of the concentration they explain.

Some of the reasons you provide for concentration in London (founders effects, concentration of EA organizations) would also apply to the Bay, and some of your explanations for concentration in Europe-ex-London (long established groups, prevalence of elite schools) would also apply to the east coast of the US.

I think the application data you provided (thank you!) offers another explanation. The acceptance rates across regions are pretty similar. This suggests that high proportion of CBGs going to European groups relative to non-European groups is largely explained by a much larger number of European applicants. I think it’s very important to understand this application dynamic, and whether it’s driven by networks, publicity strategy around CBG, national groups being more likely to apply than regional/university groups, or something else.

In terms of funding allocation once we receive an application, below are the total number of CBG applications accepted vs. submitted by geography. UK - 80% acceptance, Rest of Europe - 60%, Bay - 50%, US excluding the Bay - 80%, Rest of the World - 65-70%*. (*One application we referred to another funder. This group received funding and is included in our total)
Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-18T19:10:54.963Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this thoughtful reply Joan. I appreciate your willingness to engage with the issues I’ve raised.

I’ll respond separately to several of the specific points you made for easier threading.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Update on CEA's EA Grants Program · 2019-11-18T17:16:52.477Z · score: 44 (14 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you, Nicole, for compiling and sharing this writeup. It sounds like you inherited a program with a lot of significant problems, and have been working hard to rectify them. I agree with many of the points you raise, and this post is a welcome improvement in transparency around EA Grants.

However, I’d like to push back against the idea that there was a “Lack of clarification about the role EA Grants played in the funding ecosystem”. I’d argue that your predecessors clearly articulated a vision of EA Grants as a major funder in the ecosystem.

See, for instance, CEA’s 2017 Annual Report:

We are planning to run EA Grants throughout 2018, with an anticipated budget of around £2m… We plan to accept applications year-round with quick reviews and responses for urgent applications and quarterly reviews for less urgent applications.

And the former head of EA Grants commenting on that report:

My thinking in choosing £2m was that we would want to fund more projects than we had money to fund last year, but that we would have picked much of the low-hanging fruit, so there'd be less to fund. In any case, I'm not taking that number too seriously. We should fund all the projects worth funding and raise more money if we need it.

And CEA’s end of 2018 fundraising appeal (which solicited donations to fund EA Grants):

We also have a regranting budget of $3.7M for EA Grants and EA Community Building Grants, which we use to fund other organizations, projects, individuals, and groups.

Throughout 2018, CEA also repeatedly communicated that a large, open round of EA Grants would be starting soon, which turned out to be overly optimistic. (See updates in mid-February, April, and mid-August.)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure EA Grants has granted significantly less money than the public communications would suggest. Your writeup explains several reasons why that would be the case. But that doesn’t change the fact that CEA’s communications have likely led potential grantees and potential funders to overestimate how much funding was available for early stage projects. My strong intuition is that these dynamics have contributed to a funding shortage for this type of project, and that addressing this shortage should be a priority for the EA community.

I think Hauke is asking a critical question: “Would shutting down EA grants significantly reduce the overall quantity of meta funding in the community or would the freed up resources be routed into the Meta-fund?” Even if the money gets routed into the Meta Fund (and/or other funds), some of it will likely be granted to established organizations leaving less money for individuals and early stage projects.

I also wonder whether shuttering EA Grants now risks wasting the progress that’s been made in developing operational capacity (“CEA is now in a place where we are able to disburse EA Grants with correct bank information routinely within a month, sometimes quicker, putting us solidly within the norm of the grant making industry.”) Would EA Funds be able to leverage those improvements?

I hope this doesn’t come across as overly critical. I know EA Grants, and CEA as a whole, has changed leadership since most of these issues occurred. But to fix things going forward, I think it’s important to have an accurate understanding of how they worked in the past. With respect to EA Grants, the past has involved a lot of overpromising and underdelivering, which seems to be a recurring theme in feedback.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-15T15:34:40.309Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you very much!

For what it’s worth, I think of this analysis less as “investigative journalism”, and more as “independent vetting.” And in general, I’d like to see more resources available to support both grantmakers doing their own vetting, and independent analysts doing vetting from another perspective.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-15T15:29:08.233Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW
I'm less sure, however, whether geographic diversity is as useful as it normally would be given the advantages of concentrating people in places with significant extant EA infrastructure and networks that enable collaboration.

I agree there’s value to concentration, but I think a world where most dedicated and talented EAs feel compelled to move to London or the Bay is going too far in that direction. There are other locations that also have established infrastructure (albeit on a smaller scale), and have a comparative advantage for some types of work (e.g. policy work in Washington DC, finance earning to give in NYC, great powers conflict prevention in China, etc.)

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-14T21:18:35.525Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for providing these additional details. I’ve edited OP to reflect that your role was with CEA US, not CEA as a whole.

It's also important because there has been very little investment in Bay-Area EA community building in the past few years, even though it is one of the biggest EA hubs, and I don't want people to think this grant helped much with that.

Great point. I was surprised at how few resources went to CB efforts in the Bay Area relative to those in Oxbridge/London. Seems like adding a Bay Area based manager to the Meta Fund could help with this.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-14T17:55:29.811Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for clarifying!

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-14T17:38:35.071Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW
1. Running an excellent EA community is a social activity.

True, but “running an excellent EA community” is only one of the many types of work that have received CB funding. For instance, only 7% of the EA Grants funding classified as “EA Community” went to support group-related work. Most of the money went to fund philosophical or rationality work, which isn’t as inherently social.

2. There are some signficant downside risks in funding an EA community builder and network-based funding derisks this.
If an EA community builder does something bad, having been funded by CEA means that it now reflects on the community as a whole and not just on the specific people involved. This means that funders need to both protect against the downside risks as well as fund promising projects. Having someone you know and trust vouch for someone you don't know is, per unit of time involved, one of the best ways I know of to figure out who is and isn't like to accidentally cause harm.

An easier way to mitigate this type of risk is to avoid plans like “using EAGrants to place bets on risky, unusual, or controversial projects that seem plausibly very valuable in expectation.” Projects that seem risky on an ex-ante basis probably are, even if someone vouches for the person in charge. These projects might still be worth funding, but if they’re funded by non-CEA mechanisms it reduces the reputational risk you describe.

3. There aren't good objective criteria for evaluating newer community builders.

Agree. But it’s easier to evaluate more established community builders. And even when those established community builders have positive track records, they don’t seem to be getting much funding.

For example, there are plans to run EAGx events at four locations next year that “have been prioritised as they have established and active EA populations”: US (East Coast), Australia, Europe, and Asia. The East Coast of the US and Australia each got one CBG grant for ~1% of total staffing, Asia got none, while Europe got most of the funding as described in OP.


Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-14T16:56:43.036Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Sure, “networks matter a ton for getting VC funding.” But in the VC world, business plans also matter a ton. I think in EA funding decisions, networks are overweighted and “business plans” are underweighted.

Even before EA Grants launched its referral round, it had a “plan to move the evaluation processes even further in the direction of mostly evaluating the merits of the applicants themselves rather than their specific plans.” This shift doesn’t seem to have been motivated by a belief that this is a way to identify the best projects. Rather, it seems like the grantmakers’ vetting constraints played a large part of the motivation: “We are time and resource-constrained in how continuously we can monitor projects, so we need to make sure we have high confidence in grantees. And we do not think we can develop expertise in all possible projects, but we can develop expertise in evaluating the applicants.”

Also, while the VC industry has a large presence in the Bay, it’s more geographically dispersed than you might think. The Bay accounts for ~25% of global VC investment, and the top 20 metro areas account for ~64%. And global capital markets (which I’d guess are a better reference point for the EA community and its multiple causes than the tech-centric VC industry) are even more dispersed.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-14T16:19:20.718Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Good point, thanks for raising it!

I think this cuts both ways. Having many EA organizations near a hub means there are lots of people associated with those locations, and therefore more potential recipients of CB grants. However, it also means that there are lots of EA jobs in that area (relatively speaking), making people less reliant on “official” CB grants. For example, the EA London group has had paid staff since well before the CBG program started, because it was a large enough group to fund its own staff.

I also wonder whether there’s a chicken-and-egg dynamic at play. If more funding were available to people outside of main hubs, would those hubs still attract so many people?

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Update on CEA's EA Grants Program · 2019-11-14T00:43:22.265Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Per the last solicitation, the Meta Fund (like the LTFF) has “rolling applications, with a window of about 3-4 months between responses.”

Could you add this link to the Meta Fund’s page? Apply to the EA Meta Fund

The application form notes “Applications are open continuously, but the deadline to be considered for our next distribution is on October 11th” so ideally it could be updated with the date of the next deadline.

Comment by anonymouseaforumaccount on Formalizing the cause prioritization framework · 2019-11-06T17:32:29.560Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

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