A Concrete Model for Running an EA Group

This model was re­cently pub­lished on the EAF web­site. If you are in­ter­ested in EA lo­cal groups, I highly recom­mend Char­lie Rogers-Smith’s model of an EA group as well, which has been pub­lished on the CEA web­site (and EA fo­rum for dis­cus­sion).

When work­ing on lo­cal group sup­port at EAF, I no­ticed a rel­a­tive lack of re­sources trans­lat­ing ‘EA com­mu­nity build­ing the­ory’ into con­crete, ac­tion­able ad­vice. For ex­am­ple, I found that many group lead­ers are aware and agree with the no­tion that many things in EA are heavy-tailed, but they don’t know what im­pli­ca­tions this has for their lo­cal group. This model thus fo­cuses on pro­vid­ing ac­tion­able ad­vice to lo­cal group or­ganisers who largely agree with the view on EA com­mu­nity build­ing as e.g. de­scribed here (more re­sources in­cluded be­low).

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The main goal of this ap­proach to run­ning an EA lo­cal group is to iden­tify, at­tract, and de­velop top tal­ent–and help them have more im­pact.

I think EA lo­cal groups should fo­cus on this be­cause they have a com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage at com­mu­nity build­ing. The most valuable di­rect work of­ten re­quires spe­cial­ised skills and knowl­edge, and is best done in a pro­fes­sional con­text.

Be­cause effec­tive al­tru­ism is com­plex and heavy-tailed, peo­ple will provide the most value to the com­mu­nity when they have de­vel­oped a deep and so­phis­ti­cated un­der­stand­ing of how to do good. Lo­cal groups are a great en­vi­ron­ment for in­ter­ested peo­ple to en­gage deeply with the ideas of effec­tive al­tru­ism.

There­fore, I think lo­cal groups should:

  • Fo­cus on the most en­gaged mem­bers of the group and their ca­reer plan­ning, as op­posed to con­tin­u­ously try­ing to on­board new peo­ple.

  • Fo­cus on learn­ing and de­vel­op­ing a more nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of the ideas of effec­tive al­tru­ism in­stead of host­ing pub­lic events.

  • Not fo­cus on hav­ing a lot of di­rect im­pact.

The ap­proach in a nutshell

Stage I: Find­ing people

  • Goal: Find new po­ten­tial group mem­bers to at­tend a first event.

  • How: Var­i­ous broad and nar­row out­reach ac­tivi­ties; in­tro­duc­tory event.

Stage II: Get­ting in­ter­ested peo­ple involved

  • Goal: Iden­tify the most en­gaged peo­ple; deepen their un­der­stand­ing of core ideas and get them more in­volved.

  • How: EA sem­i­nar and face-to-face con­ver­sa­tions.

Stage III: Ca­reer plan­ning and in­te­grat­ing with the community

  • Goal: Ca­reer plan­ning for core mem­bers of the group.

  • How: Deeper en­gage­ment and learn­ing through dis­cus­sion groups, re­treats, ca­reer plan­ning groups and work­shops.

Con­cep­tu­ally sep­a­rat­ing the three differ­ent stages leads to in­creased aware­ness and more ex­plicit fo­cus on the goals of your ac­tivi­ties.

Gen­eral ad­vice for lo­cal group leaders

  • Deepen your own EA un­der­stand­ing: If you or­ganise a group, you should have read most of the ar­ti­cles listed here. There are two main rea­sons why this is im­por­tant:

    1. You might change your mind about your own plans. Since a lot of value from lo­cal groups comes from the group lead­ers them­selves, this is an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion.

    2. We want to com­mu­ni­cate EA ideas ac­cu­rately and with ap­pro­pri­ate nu­ance. This pre­vents dilu­tion and makes effec­tive al­tru­ism ap­peal­ing to peo­ple who ap­pre­ci­ate nu­ance and are skep­ti­cal of sim­ple an­swers to com­plex is­sues.

  • Read­ing on com­mu­nity build­ing: Other peo­ple have thought about EA com­mu­nity build­ing a lot. Th­ese re­sources are par­tic­u­lar im­por­tant for group or­ganisers: Effec­tive Altru­ism Com­mu­nity Build­ing, The Fidelity Model of Spread­ing Ideas, How Valuable is Move­ment Growth?, CEA’s guid­ing prin­ci­ples.

  • Offer, don’t sell: There’s no need to sell effec­tive al­tru­ism to peo­ple very hard. If they are not in­ter­ested when pre­sented with the ba­sic ideas and ar­gu­ments, they will likely not be­come very en­gaged mem­bers of the com­mu­nity. Be happy with hav­ing offered the ideas–if they don’t bite, that’s fine.

  • Use ex­ist­ing re­sources: There are more than a hun­dred ac­tive lo­cal groups around the world, so there’s a high chance some­one else has cre­ated the thing you need already. Use e.g. the group or­ganisers Face­book group or join the EA Groups Slack to ask peo­ple be­fore putting effort into cre­at­ing some­thing new.

  • Con­sider your op­tions: Com­mu­nity build­ing is great if done well, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily the best use of your time. For some peo­ple it might be bet­ter to fo­cus on build­ing ca­reer cap­i­tal, or deep­en­ing their un­der­stand­ing of effec­tive al­tru­ism on their own. Among other things, this de­pends on how good you would be at com­mu­nity build­ing and how big the tar­get au­di­ence is in your lo­ca­tion.

A com­ment on the fol­low­ing: I in­cluded a lot of con­crete ex­am­ples of how some steps could be im­ple­mented. In prac­tice, groups will of­ten have good rea­sons to de­vi­ate from var­i­ous of these recom­men­da­tions. They are best seen asabaseline to which group or­ganisers can com­pare their ac­tivi­ties.

Stage I: Find­ing people

This stage starts with out­reach and pro­mo­tion, usu­ally a few weeks be­fore lec­tures be­gin, and ends with an in­tro­duc­tory event in the first few weeks of the semester.

Outreach

Goal: Get po­ten­tial group mem­bers to at­tend your in­tro­duc­tory event.

  • Create a Face­book event: Use this FB event to in­vite peo­ple to the event. Take a look at EA Cam­bridge’s best prac­tices. Also provide in­for­ma­tion some­where out­side of FB for peo­ple with­out an ac­count. Meetup.com is one op­tion, or your own web­site, if you have one.

  • EA pitch: For many of the ac­tivi­ties dur­ing this stage you’ll need to have a good EA pitch. Spend some time de­vel­op­ing one you like, and prac­tice it. Take a look at the EA Pitch guide for ex­am­ples.

  • Some po­ten­tial group mem­bers might not be able to at­tend your event. Con­sider send­ing them a record­ing of a good in­tro­duc­tory talk, and in­form them about the EA sem­i­nar (see be­low) if they in­di­cate in­ter­est.

How to reach your tar­get audience

  • Refer­rals: In­vite peo­ple from your per­sonal net­work. Send them a per­sonal mes­sage, and ask them to bring friends. Ask all cur­rent group mem­bers to do the same. This has a track record of work­ing ex­cep­tion­ally well.

  • Fresh­ers’ Fairs: If your uni­ver­sity has a well fre­quented fresh­ers’ fair, par­ti­ci­pate with your group. The goal is to get as many email ad­dresses as pos­si­ble so you can send peo­ple an in­vi­ta­tion to your event. More info: Stu­dent ac­tivi­ties fair guide.

  • Reach out to nar­row tar­get groups: Iden­tify par­tic­u­larly promis­ing groups (e.g. sec­u­lar hu­man­ist groups, schol­ar­ship groups, the ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity), send them a short pitch, maybe a TED talk to watch, and in­vite them to your event.

  • Face­book ads: Use Face­book ads to tar­get peo­ple who could be in­ter­ested and a good fit for the com­mu­nity.

  • Pro­mo­tion in classes: Ask pro­fes­sors if you could pro­mote the event at the be­gin­ning of your uni­ver­sity classes.

  • So­cial me­dia: If your group has a so­cial me­dia pres­ence, send a per­sonal mes­sage to peo­ple who fol­low your page.

In­tro­duc­tory event

Goal: Ap­peal to and iden­tify po­ten­tial group mem­bers, get them to sign up for the EA sem­i­nar, and/​or sched­ule a meet­ing over coffee with them.

  • What kind of event: Depend­ing on your time and or­ganic group growth, this could be an in­tro­duc­tory EA talk, a more in­for­mal get-to­gether, or a work­shop. Talks are recom­mended if you have a great speaker and/​or if you have very lit­tle or­ganic growth. Groups with suffi­cient or­ganic growth and time con­straints could do a more in­for­mal event in­stead. Groups with suffi­cient or­ganic growth and time could host an in­tro­duc­tory work­shop on the core ideas.

  • Pro­mote the EA sem­i­nar: Re­mem­ber that the main goal of this stage is to ap­peal to po­ten­tial group mem­bers and get them to par­ti­ci­pate in your EA sem­i­nar, and/​or to meet them over coffee (see be­low). Op­ti­mise for this.

  • Provide snacks and drinks: This usu­ally leads to sig­nifi­cantly more peo­ple stay­ing, and peo­ple stay­ing longer, too.

  • Talk to peo­ple: Talk to as many in­ter­ested peo­ple as pos­si­ble to find out who might sign up for the EA sem­i­nar, and make sure they en­ter their email ad­dress into one of your lists. Even a brief per­sonal in­ter­ac­tion can sig­nifi­cantly in­crease the chance that some­one will de­cide to par­ti­ci­pate in the sem­i­nar.

  • Con­tact info: You might not be able to talk to ev­ery­one. Ad­dress the au­di­ence and en­courage peo­ple to get in touch with you in other ways if they’re in­ter­ested, and make sure they know how to do so. Pre­pare a list for peo­ple to write down their email ad­dresses.

A few notes on or­ganis­ing and logistics

  • Start early: You want this event to be or­ganised well, so you should start early. Find­ing a suit­able room can be cum­ber­some, es­pe­cially if you’re not yet an offi­cial uni­ver­sity group. Ex­ter­nal speak­ers should also be ap­proached at least a few weeks in ad­vance.

  • As­sign re­spon­si­bil­ities: One per­son should take the lead. As­sign re­spon­si­bil­ities for spe­cific tasks to other group mem­bers, cre­ate check­lists, and define how and when you want to check in with the team.

  • Pro­fes­sional im­pres­sion: There are some ad­di­tional things that are low effort and can make a big differ­ence in how your event will be per­ceived:

    • Get a group roll-up ban­ner.

    • Put up signs so that peo­ple will find their way to the room.

    • Be at the venue early so you have time to set ev­ery­thing up nicely.

    • If you use pro­jec­tors or micro­phones, test them.

In­tro­duc­tory EA talk

This is only rele­vant If you do de­cide to go for an in­tro­duc­tory EA talk as your first event.

  • Ex­ter­nal speaker: Con­sider invit­ing an ex­ter­nal speaker who has given such talks be­fore. Ex­ter­nal speak­ers draw big­ger au­di­ences and may have more ex­per­tise.

  • Stan­dard EA talk: If you do a pre­sen­ta­tion your­self, strongly con­sider us­ing one of the stan­dard EA talks. Take a look at these tips on pub­lic speak­ing as well.

  • Topics to cover: Th­ese are the most im­por­tant top­ics to cover:

    • Com­mit­ment to Others: Why we try to do the most good.

    • Scien­tific Mind­set: Cost-effec­tive­ness, ex­pected value think­ing.

    • Open­ness: Cause neu­tral­ity and pri­ori­ti­za­tion, overview of causes.

    • In­tegrity & Col­lab­o­ra­tive Mind­set: The effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity.

  • Q&A: Give peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to ask ques­tions. Peo­ple of­ten find the Q&A to be par­tic­u­larly in­sight­ful. If you do the Q&A your­self, read through these EA FAQs be­fore­hand.

  • Feed­back forms: Use these to learn how you can im­prove and as a means to get­ting in touch with peo­ple. Here’s a feed­back form tem­plate.

  • In­for­mal dis­cus­sion: Tran­si­tion to in­for­mal dis­cus­sions af­ter­wards and en­courage peo­ple to stick around and talk to oth­ers.

Stage II: Get­ting in­ter­ested peo­ple involved

Meet peo­ple over coffee

Goal: Get in­ter­ested peo­ple more en­gaged and provide them with re­sources.

  • Why this is im­por­tant: Face-to-face dis­cus­sion are of­ten the best way to get peo­ple more en­gaged with effec­tive al­tru­ism. They al­low you to dis­cuss effec­tive al­tru­ism and your group in more de­tail. Face-to-face dis­cus­sions al­low you to com­mu­ni­cate with more nu­ance and ad­dress their spe­cific ques­tions.

  • Timing: Fo­cus on this right af­ter your first event and be­fore the sem­i­nar starts. Per­sonal in­ter­ac­tion is likely to be cru­cial for a lot of peo­ple’s de­ci­sion to sign up for the sem­i­nar.

  • Do fol­low-ups: You won’t be able to cover all rele­vant con­sid­er­a­tions in one or even sev­eral such meet­ings. Send peo­ple a per­son­al­ised list of read­ing recom­men­da­tions af­ter you met them for coffee.

  • Keep in­fer­en­tial dis­tances in mind: If you do such meet­ings, keep in­fer­en­tial dis­tances in mind and in­ter­pret their con­tri­bu­tions ac­cord­ingly. Con­sider what in­for­ma­tion they have, and how much ex­po­sure to effec­tive al­tru­ism ideas they’ve already had when form­ing a judg­ment about their fit for the group. Pay at­ten­tion to their will­ing­ness and abil­ity to change their mind when pre­sented with com­pel­ling ar­gu­ments.

Note: While there are good rea­sons to do this be­fore the sem­i­nar (see above), meet­ing peo­ple over coffee is some­thing you ideally do year-round. The im­por­tance of face-to-face con­ver­sa­tions is hard to over­state. If you only do one thing with your group, make it this.

EA seminar

Goal: Deepen the un­der­stand­ing of effec­tive al­tru­ism ideas.

  • For­mat: You could do two-hour ses­sions, one evening per week, over the course of 3 – 4 weeks. Alter­na­tively, you could do the en­tire sem­i­nar in one or two days. You can use a com­bi­na­tion of in­put talks, group dis­cus­sions, and work­shops. Peo­ple should be will­ing to do some read­ing or watch talks to pre­pare for the sem­i­nar ses­sions.

  • Why it’s use­ful: You provide a plat­form for in­ter­ested peo­ple to en­gage more deeply with rele­vant ideas, learn more about the effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity, and in­ter­act with like-minded peo­ple.

  • Limit group size: Make sure the group size al­lows you to ad­dress ev­ery­one’s ques­tions, and cre­ates a fa­mil­iar at­mo­sphere.

  • Out­source teach­ing: You don’t need to do in­put talks your­selves–plenty of good talks are available on­line, e.g. from pre­vi­ous EA Global con­fer­ences. You could also ask peo­ple to do a talk or a Q&A for the group over Skype.

  • Regis­tra­tion: Have peo­ple reg­ister in ad­vance (e.g. through a Google Form), and ask a few ques­tions be­fore con­firm­ing their par­ti­ci­pa­tion. Peo­ple should already have at least a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of what effec­tive al­tru­ism is and isn’t about, to have a se­ri­ous in­ter­est in do­ing the most good, and be al­igned with the core tenets of effec­tive al­tru­ism.

Ex­am­ple syl­labus for the seminar

  • Week 1 – Core con­cepts: Con­sider us­ing Prospect­ing for Gold as a deeper in­tro­duc­tion to many im­por­tant effec­tive al­tru­ism ideas and con­cepts.

  • Week 2 – Cause pri­ori­ti­za­tion: Rea­sons to fo­cus on differ­ent causes (val­ues, em­piri­cal be­liefs, etc.). Con­sider dis­cussing 80,000 Hours’ sur­vey on what peo­ple who work at EA orgs fo­cus on.

  • Week 3 – The effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment: His­tory, or­ga­ni­za­tions, peo­ple. Im­por­tant re­sources and ways to learn more.

  • Week 4 – Ra­tion­al­ity & other tools and con­cepts: Cover some widely used tools and con­cepts and re­sources, e.g. ra­tio­nal­ity, cog­ni­tive bi­ases, EA con­cepts.

  • Take a look at these re­sources for in­spira­tion.

Stage III: Ca­reer plan­ning and in­te­grat­ing with the community

This stage is where you reap the benefits of the work done in Stage I and II. Build­ing on this, we you now fo­cus on ca­reer plan changes and in­te­grat­ing new mem­bers into the wider effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity. The fol­low­ing are some met­rics for this stage (in or­der of im­por­tance):

  • The num­ber of A/​B/​Z ca­reer plans for group mem­bers, where plan A is one of 80,000 Hours’ pri­or­ity paths.

  • The num­ber of group mem­bers who re­ceive coach­ing by 80,000 Hours, or al­ter­na­tively (since 80,000 Hours is cur­rently quite strongly ca­pac­ity con­straint) group mem­bers who do a call with an­other se­nior EA who can give guidance.

  • The num­ber of group mem­bers who par­ti­ci­pate in an EA Global con­fer­ence.

  • The num­ber of group mem­bers who take the GWWC pledge.

Ca­reer plan­ning groups

Goal: Write and im­prove A/​B/​Z ca­reer plans.

  • Why: Choos­ing a ca­reer is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant de­ci­sion many group mem­bers will make in terms of how much it can af­fect the im­pact they can have. Ca­reer plan­ning groups pro­duce value by im­prov­ing the qual­ity of this de­ci­sion.

  • Con­tent: Read the 80,000 Hours ca­reer guide, the ad­vanced ca­reer guide, and other blog posts and pod­casts rele­vant to this.

  • For­mat: You could watch con­tent to­gether, run dis­cus­sions on ca­reer choice, ses­sions where mem­bers de­velop their A/​B/​Z plan, or feed­back ses­sions where peo­ple com­ment on other mem­bers’ A/​B/​Z plans.

Dis­cus­sion groups

Goal: Fur­ther in­crease un­der­stand­ing of im­por­tant ideas and con­cepts, cause pri­ori­ti­sa­tion.

  • Why: Fur­ther in­creas­ing par­ti­ci­pants’ un­der­stand­ing of effec­tive al­tru­ism, and keep­ing up with re­cent de­vel­op­ments in the com­mu­nity.

  • Con­tent: You could dis­cuss re­cent top posts on the EA fo­rum, 80,000 Hours‘ prob­lem pro­files, ar­ti­cles pub­lished by other EA or­ga­ni­za­tions (e.g. FHI, FRI, SI), or watch EA Global talks and dis­cuss them. Cause pri­ori­ti­za­tion in gen­eral is a great topic for dis­cus­sion groups.

  • For­mat: There are many differ­ent ways to struc­ture the ac­tivity. A rea­son­able de­fault is for one per­son to take the lead, and pre­pare ques­tions for the dis­cus­sion in ad­vance. Group mem­bers could do in­put talks too.

So­cial meetups

Goal: Ac­com­mo­date newly in­ter­ested peo­ple; so­cial­ise with other group mem­bers.

  • Why: New peo­ple might dis­cover your group at this stage, but don’t yet have the same level of knowl­edge as other group mem­bers who e.g. par­ti­ci­pated in your EA sem­i­nar. There­fore, you might not want to in­vite them to one of the other Stage III groups right away. How­ever, ex­clud­ing them en­tirely un­til the next EA sem­i­nar would also be sub­op­ti­mal. Reg­u­lar so­cial mee­tups (as well as meet­ing peo­ple over coffee) can serve as a good way of ac­com­mo­dat­ing peo­ple in this stage with­out in­terfer­ing with your other group ac­tivi­ties. Ad­di­tion­ally, in­for­mal mee­tups also strengthen the so­cial ties in your lo­cal group.

  • Con­tent: No spe­cific con­tent. Briefly ex­plain the ap­proach of your group to new peo­ple, and ex­plain how they can best get in­volved.

Re­search projects

Goal: Im­merse your­selves into a topic, learn more, and pro­duce valuable re­search out­put.

  • Why: Im­mers­ing your­selves into a topic can help you and oth­ers eval­u­at­ing your fit for re­search roles, has high learn­ing value and ideally re­sults in a piece of rele­vant re­search out­put (e.g. as a post on the EA fo­rum).

  • Why not: Most groups and group mem­bers should fo­cus on ca­reer plan­ning and dis­cus­sion groups dur­ing this stage, and re­search pro­jects should only be tack­led if you have spare re­sources and the benefits of these other ac­tivi­ties seem fairly small.

  • See here for more info on how you could do this.

Group retreats

Goal: Can help achiev­ing the goals of differ­ent other Stage III ac­tivi­ties.

  • Why: Group re­treats (or work­shops) can cre­ate more fo­cus, en­gage­ment and are a great way for group mem­bers to get to know each other bet­ter.

  • Con­tent: You could cover any of the con­tent you would cover if you did one of the above-men­tioned activities

  • For­mat: Similarly, a com­bi­na­tion of differ­ent for­mats can be used at re­treats (dis­cus­sion groups, ca­reer plan­ning ses­sions, so­cial ac­tivi­ties).

Meet peo­ple over coffee

  • Keep do­ing this: List­ing this again for this stage to em­pha­sise how im­por­tant it is. As writ­ten above, this is some­thing you ideally do con­tin­u­ously. It also works well for dis­cussing spe­cific un­cer­tain­ties some­one might have re­gard­ing their ca­reer plans.

Fur­ther resources

This list is not ex­haus­tive, but these are some fur­ther re­sources par­tic­u­larly rele­vant for lo­cal group or­ganisers: