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.