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Advisory panel at CEA

A few months ago, Will MacAskill (who is CEO at the Centre for Effective Altruism) proposed that given the problems arising in the community, some kind of body should be formed to make recommendations to the community on how to handle these problems. We looked into the possibility of forming a community panel to serve this purpose. But after exploring the idea further, we decided that this might be overstepping CEA’s bounds, and that such a panel might put the community at risk of being dominated by a few groups or interests. We don’t think the effective altruism community should be controlled by any one organization, and don’t want to set CEA up to be that organization.

However, we do recognize that CEA makes decisions that affect the rest of the community, and we want to get outside opinions to be sure those decisions reflect community needs. Instead of developing a community-wide panel, CEA has put together a small advisory panel to help us think through decisions we make. We want to get input from people who have different viewpoints from our staff and can provide us with an outside view.

Some examples of situations the panel might weigh in on:

  • CEA believes there’s a specific problem in the community, and is deciding whether to take some action in response.
  • CEA is considering changing how one of our projects works in a way that will affect current or potential participants, as when we changed the Giving What We Can pledge to be cause-neutral.
  • CEA wants feedback on how its marketing practices are received in the EA community.

The current members of the panel are Alexander Gordon-Brown, Peter Hurford, Claire Zabel, and me.

  • Alexander Gordon-Brown: Alexander works in quantitative trading and is interested in improving the way the effective altruism community functions.
  • Peter Hurford: After co-founding .impact and serving as an intern at Giving What We Can, Peter now works as a data scientist. He serves on the board of Charity Science Health and Animal Charity Evaluators.
  • Julia Wise: I work as Community Liaison at CEA, trying to help the effective altruism community thrive. Because I work at CEA, my role is of course not to give an outside view but to present issues that CEA wants input on, and to incorporate the panel’s feedback into CEA decision-making.
  • Claire Zabel: Claire is a research analyst at Open Philanthropy Project and serves on the board of Animal Charity Evaluators. She is a moderator of the Effective Altruism Facebook group.

The advisory panel will not involve voting or any final decision-making, which is the role of our trustees.

It’s up to each individual and group in effective altruism to make decisions about how they handle community problems. We do think there will be times when it makes sense for individuals or organizations to ask others to follow them in a particular course of action, but of course it will be up to each person and group to decide for themselves.

We expect that CEA will continue to need to make decisions that affect others in the community. We think it’s important that CEA take external views into account in deciding how we act, and we hope this panel will let us respond to problems in a responsible but time-efficient way.

Comments (11)

Comment author: joshjacobson  (EA Profile) 08 March 2017 04:54:58PM 4 points [-]

"We want to get input from people who have different viewpoints from our staff and can provide us with an outside view."

This group feels quite far from assembled to provide an 'outside' view. Is there a reason that these provide a different perspective? Perhaps you need some less-insider-type people on this if it is to accomplish the goals you foresee?

Comment author: Julia_Wise 09 March 2017 02:18:15PM *  2 points [-]

Yes, we certainly could have gone farther in the direction of people with less connection to CEA.

We asked these people partly because they've provided helpful pushback in the past. For example, Alexander provided some of the most thorough and helpful criticisms of Will's proposal for a community-wide panel.

Comment author: Daniel_Dewey 07 March 2017 05:59:00PM 5 points [-]

Nice work, and looks like a good group of advisors!

Comment author: Fluttershy 07 March 2017 01:57:56PM 4 points [-]

Noted! I can understand that it's easy to feel like you're overstepping your bounds when trying to speak for others. Personally, I'd have been happy for you all to take a more central leadership role, and would have wanted you all to feel comfortable if you had decided to do so.

My view is that we still don't have reliable mechanisms to deal with the sorts of problems mentioned (i.e. the Intentional Insights fiasco), so it's valuable when people call out problems as they have the ability to. It would be better if the EA community had ways of calling out such problems by means other than requiring individuals to take on heroic responsibility, though!

This having been said, I think it's worth explicitly thanking the people who helped expose Intentional Insight's deceitful practices—Jeff Kaufman, for his original post on the topic, and Jeff Kaufman, Gregory Lewis, Oliver Habryka, Carl Shulman, Claire Zabel, and others who have not been mentioned or who contributed anonymously, for writing this detailed document.

Comment author: AlasdairGives 08 March 2017 09:06:19PM *  3 points [-]

One thing I am disappointed about is that this has just been announced - there was no public process or call for comment on the advisory council, its role or what criteria should have been used to choose its members - to the extent that happened all of that was in private as far as I can tell. So all of the power in this situation was held by the CEA and people close to you in informal networks. To get wider views you have chosen a team of 4- 3of whom are or have previously been employed by CEA.

To the extent this is about opening CEA to wider views I can't see how it does that. Perhaps to mitigate my meandering can the members of the council give one example of something the CEA has done in the last 12 months they are willing to publicly disagree with?

Comment author: Julia_Wise 09 March 2017 02:11:50PM *  3 points [-]

One way to think about this is as a complement to a nonprofit board. My understanding is that in the US, nonprofits usually have a largish board which advise partly on how the nonprofit's actions might affect the wider community. As with most UK organizations, the CEA board is small, so we wanted to add in a few more voices. In neither case is the board typically suggested or drawn up by the public. Of course, anyone who wants to give us input on decisions we make is welcome to do so at hello@centreforeffectivealtruism.org.

I'd like clarify that of the 3 people who are outside voices on the board, only one (Peter) did a summer internship for a CEA project years ago.

Comment author: AlasdairGives 09 March 2017 04:18:34PM 2 points [-]

Apologies I had it in my head that ACE was a CEA project

Comment author: ClaireZabel 09 March 2017 05:37:21PM 6 points [-]

Note though that ACE was originally a part of 80k Hours, which was a part of CEA. The organizations now feel quite separate, at least to me.

Additionally, I am not paid by ACE or CEA. Being on the ACE Board is a volunteer position, as is this.

Generally, I don't feel constrained in my ability to criticize CEA, outside a desire to generally maintain collegial relations, though it seems plausible to me that I'm in an echo chamber too similar to CEAs to help as much as I could if I was more on the outside. Generally, trying to do as much good as possible is the motivation for how I spend most of the hours in my day. I desperately want EA to succeed and increasing the chances that CEA makes sound decisions seems like a moderately important piece of that. That's what's been driving my thinking on this so far and I expect it'll continue to do so.

That all said (or rambled about) here's a preview of a criticism I intend to make that's not related to my role on the advisory board panel: I don't think it's appropriate to encourage students and other very young people to take the GWWC pledge, or to encourage student groups to proselytize about it. I think the analogy to marriage is helpful here; it wouldn't be right to encourage young people who don't know much about themselves or their future life situations to get married (especially if you didn't know them or their situation well yourself) and I likewise think GWWC should not encourage them to take the pledge.

Views totally my own and not my employer's (the Open Philanthropy Project).

Comment author: AGB 09 March 2017 08:11:43PM *  1 point [-]

Hi Alasdair

Perhaps to mitigate my meandering can the members of the council give one example of something the CEA has done in the last 12 months they are willing to publicly disagree with?

Well, I'm far from sold on the principles and panel being a good idea in the first place. But everything in the linked comment is low confidence, some of it doesn't apply given the actual implementation, and certainly it's not obvious to me that it's a bad idea (i.e. I have a small positive but extremely uncertain EV).

For something that happened that I more robustly disagree with, a lot of the marketing around EA Global last year concerned me. I didn't go, so I only heard about it secondhand, and so I didn't feel best-placed to raise it directly, but from a distance I think pretty much everything Kit said in this thread re. marketing was on point.

With that said I think there is definitely some version of what you are saying that I would agree with; I certainly would consider myself very much an EA 'insider', albeit one who has no particular personal interest in CEA itself doing well except insofar as it helps the community do well. I'm not sure what the best way for CEA (or EA in general for that matter; this isn't just their responsibility) to hear from people who are genuinely external or peripheral to EA is, except that I think a small panel of people is probably not it.

Comment author: Larks 07 March 2017 02:16:36AM *  0 points [-]

Julia Wise: I work as Community Liaison at CEA, trying to help the effective altruism community thrive. Because I work at CEA, my role is of course not to give an outside view but to present issues that CEA wants input on, and to incorporate the panel’s feedback into CEA decision-making.

Claire Zabel: Claire is a research analyst at Open Philanthropy Project and serves on the board of Animal Charity Evaluators. She is a moderator of the Effective Altruism Facebook group.

Julia is also an EA facebook group moderator?

Comment author: Julia_Wise 07 March 2017 02:41:12AM 1 point [-]

True, and a couple of other hats. I was focusing on my role at CEA since I'm not in a role of bringing outside view.