Community vs Network


In this post I’m look­ing at how much fo­cus we should place on the wider net­work of peo­ple in­ter­ested in effec­tive al­tru­ism ver­sus highly en­gaged mem­bers.

The Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism has a fun­nel model de­scribing their fo­cus on con­trib­u­tors and core mem­bers as well as peo­ple mov­ing down the fun­nel. I think this has of­ten been in­ter­preted by group or­ganisers as the idea that en­gage­ment is key al­though that is seen as an open ques­tion in CEA’s three-fac­tor model of com­mu­nity build­ing. This means peo­ple of­ten link en­gage­ment to im­pact, think­ing that those who are more in­volved in the com­mu­nity, go to lots of events or work at EA re­lated or­gani­sa­tions are hav­ing more im­pact and so put on events and tai­lor con­tent to­wards those ac­tivi­ties.

It might be that im­pact is bet­ter rep­re­sented by the di­a­gram be­low with the per­centage of peo­ple along the bot­tom and it is sup­posed to rep­re­sent a range of in­creas­ing in­volve­ment rather than bi­nary in or out. Although the per­centages aren’t ac­cu­rate I think the rough image is true, that the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who know about effec­tive al­tru­ism aren’t in­volved in the com­mu­nity. Look­ing at the larger net­work of peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in EA, this in­cludes peo­ple in a wider va­ri­ety of ca­reers, po­ten­tially busy lives with work, fam­ily and other com­mu­ni­ties, po­ten­tially even high up in gov­ern­ment, academia and busi­ness. They may have 0 or 1 con­nec­tions to peo­ple who are also in­ter­ested in EA and look for EA re­lated ad­vice when mak­ing dona­tions or think­ing about ca­reer changes once ev­ery few years. I’ve made the di­a­gram as­sum­ing equal av­er­age im­pact whether some­one is in the ‘com­mu­nity’ or ‘net­work’ but even if you dou­bled or tripled the av­er­age amount of im­pact you think some­one in the com­mu­nity has there would still be more over­all im­pact in the net­work.

Rather than try­ing to get this 90% to at­tend lots of events or get in­volved in a tan­gen­tial ‘make work’ pro­ject, it may be more worth­while to provide them with value that they are look­ing for, whether that’s dona­tion ad­vice, ca­reer ideas or con­nec­tions to peo­ple in similar fields.

Anec­do­tally I have had quite a few meet­ings with less en­gaged mem­bers of the wider EA net­work in Lon­don. Peo­ple who maybe haven’t been to an event or don’t read the fo­rum but have 10-20 years ex­pe­rience and have gone on to work in higher im­pact or­gani­sa­tions or con­nect to the rele­vant peo­ple in­volved in EA so that they can help each other.

I think the ad­vice to get in­volved in the EA com­mu­nity still makes sense, but we should fo­cus on the wider net­work of peo­ple get­ting 1-3 ex­tra con­nec­tions rather than mak­ing a more tight knit com­mu­nity.

What does this mean for move­ment build­ing?

If peo­ple agree with this anal­y­sis, what would it mean for wider EA move­ment build­ing and for in­di­vi­d­u­als?

  • Less fo­cus on groups based around their location

  • More fo­cus on groups based around a shared ca­reer, cause or in­ter­est area

  • When peo­ple want to get more in­volved in move­ment build­ing, there are more re­sources for them to con­sider a global ca­reer or cause net­work/​com­mu­nity as a pos­si­ble option

  • Less fo­cus on EA al­igned or­gani­sa­tions for ca­reer op­tions (much more dis­cus­sion here, here and here)

  • More sup­port on helping new cause ar­eas be­come their own fields

  • More refer­ence to ad­vice that isn’t EA spe­cific, there doesn’t need to be an EA ver­sion of each self im­prove­ment book that already ex­ists (al­though some­times be­spoke ad­vice is use­ful)

Effec­tive Altru­ism as Coordination

It may be bet­ter to see EA as co­or­di­na­tion rather than a mar­ket­ing fun­nel with the end goal of work­ing for an EA or­gani­sa­tion. What is seen as EA may be meta re­search and move­ment build­ing whereas or­gani­sa­tions work­ing on a spe­cific cause area are in a sep­a­rate field rather than part of EA.

There is still a fun­nel where peo­ple hear about EA and learn more but they use the frame­works, ques­tions and EA net­work as a sound­ing board to see what their val­ues are and what that means for cause se­lec­tion and also what that means for ca­reers and dona­tions.

The left side of the di­a­gram be­low is similar to the origi­nal fun­nel model from CEA, with peo­ple gain­ing more in­ter­est and knowl­edge of EA. Rather than see­ing that as the end­point, peo­ple can then be con­nected to in­di­vi­d­u­als and or­gani­sa­tions in the causes and ca­reers they have a good fit for.

Build­ing up net­works based on ca­reers and causes can build bet­ter feed­back loops for know­ing what ca­reer ad­vice works and what roles are po­ten­tially im­pact­ful in a wider va­ri­ety of ar­eas. It also al­lows peo­ple to have a higher fidelity in­tro­duc­tion to EA if they see rele­vant con­ver­sa­tions from oth­ers in the same field or knowl­edge­able about their cause in­ter­ests.

EA could also be seen as an in­cu­ba­tor for cause ar­eas, with more re­search into find­ing new causes to sup­port, test­ing them and sup­port­ing their growth as a cause area un­til it be­comes a sep­a­rate field with it’s own or­gani­sa­tions, con­fer­ences, fo­rums, newslet­ters, pod­casts etc

If any­one does want to start a group for peo­ple in a par­tic­u­lar cause or ca­reer I’d be happy to chat or put them in touch with oth­ers do­ing similar things as it’s some­thing that I think is par­tic­u­larly ne­glected within EA com­pared to lo­cal group sup­port.