Why Groups Should Consider Direct Work
Hi Richenda. Thanks for posting this; a discussion on the value of direct work is long overdue!
Two main things come to mind. One is a consideration for retaining people, and the other on the choice of comparison class.
Retaining people - I agree with you that losing people is bad. A key consideration is which people you want to retain most. In A Model of an EA Group, I claim that:
Trying to get a few people all the way through the funnel is more important than getting every person to the next stage.
Since groups are time-constrained, they can do only put on a certain number of activities. All else equal, it seems we should favour retaining those that engage with the key ideas of Effective Altruism most. By prioritising direct work, we run the risk of losing people who would benefit greatly from, say, career planning sessions or 1-1 meetings. This is because even with the best people, being active in moving them through the funnel is super essential, and if you engage in a tradeoff with retaining people earlier in the funnel, it's very plausible that they will stagnate. Supporting those who are willing to do indirect and high-impact work is in fact supporting those who are willing to do the most good, and people we should most want in our community.
I think this is a particularly important consideration because all your conclusions from retaining people can be 'flipped' (in a quasi-crucial way (lol)) if you agree that retaining people far down the funnel is more important.
Choice of comparison class - Throughout the post, a comparison between direct work and some other activities is made. I'm not sure the other activities belong to the right comparison class. Some properties of these activities:
(Activities that are)
not directly beneficial to your life
(Groups that are)
largely focused around meeting weekly and discussing philosophical issues
opportunities to actively apply EA are fairly limited.
I think I'm pretty much in agreement that if a group is doing these things, then direct work is probably an improvement. However I don't think that groups should be doing these things. The relevant comparison should be made between the best known community building activities that groups are able to do. Career planning sessions combat the above, and can (as an example) successfully act a first line of defence against people who want to be more active.
Last thing - You mention opportunities that seek to
empower talented and ambitious altruists to upskill and make strides towards the impact they are best suited to deliver in the long term
I really like this, and I'm fully on board with this type of direct work. A small concern is that opportunities like this might 'lock people into' careers that are disproportionately available to people in (maybe just student) groups. As an example, fundraising seems to be particularly easy to do, whereas getting experience in AI Safety as an undergrad is a fair bit harder, and maybe not even desirable.
Thanks again for the post!