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Gregory_Lewis comments on Should there be an EA crowdfunding platform? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 02 May 2018 06:10:23PM 4 points [-]

Thanks for the even-handed explication of an interesting idea.

I appreciate the example you gave was more meant as illustration than proposal. I nonetheless wonder whether further examination of the underlying problem might lead to ideas drawn tighter to the proposed limitations.

You note this set of challenges:

  1. Open Phil targets larger grantees
  2. EA funds/grants have limited evaluation capacity
  3. Peripheral EAs tend to channel funding to more central groups
  4. Core groups may have trouble evaluating people, which is often an important factor in whether to fund projects.

The result is a good person (but not known to the right people) with a good small idea is nonetheless left out in the cold.

I'm less sure about #2 - or rather, whether this is the key limitation. Max Dalton wrote on one of the FB threads linked.

In the first round of EA Grants, we were somewhat limited by staff time and funding, but we were also limited by the number of projects we were excited about funding. For instance, time constraints were not the main limiting factor on the percentage of people we interviewed. We are currently hiring for a part-time grants evaluator to help us to run EA Grants this year[...]

FWIW (and non-resiliently), I don't look around and see lots of promising but funding starved projects. More relevantly, I don't review recent history and find lots of cases of stuff rejected by major funders then supported by more peripheral funders which are doing really exciting things.

If not, then the idea here (in essence, of crowd-sourcing evaluation to respected people in the community) could help. Yet it doesn't seem to address #3 or #4.

If most of the money (even from the community) ends up going through the 'core' funnel, then a competitive approach would be advocacy to these groups to change their strategy, instead of providing a parallel route and hoping funders will come.

More importantly, if funders generally want to 'find good people', the crowd-sourced project evaluation only helps so much. For people more on the periphery of the community, this uncertainty from funders will remain even the anonymised feedback on the project is very positive.

Per Michael, I'm not sure what this idea has over (say) posting a 'pitch' on this forum, doing a kickstarter, etc.

Comment author: AGB 03 May 2018 12:49:25PM *  2 points [-]

Some way of distributing money to risky ventures, including fundraising, in global poverty and animal welfare should probably exist.

I think it's pretty reasonable if CEA doesn't want to do this because (a) they take a longtermist view and (b) they have limited staff capacity so aren't willing to divert many resources from (a) to anything else. In fact, given CEA's stated views it would be a bit strange if they acted otherwise. I know less about Nick, but I'm guessing the story there is similar.

https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/ceas-current-thinking/

I have a limited sense for what to do about this problem, and I don't know if the solution in the OP is actually a good idea, but recognising the disconnect between what people want and what we have is a start.

I may write more about this in the near future.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 02 May 2018 09:08:34PM *  3 points [-]

Edit: I heard a round of EA Grants applications had opened for this year, but that appears not to currently be the case according to the EA Grants website. I was mistaken. I did hear more EA Grants will be from community members, but not directly from anyone at the CEA, and I assume applications will open at some point, but there isn't anywhere the CEA has said when.

It should be noted the EA Grants and the EA Funds are different accounts with different issues. Last year the EA Grants were limited by staff time, but I don't recall anyone directly saying that was the case with the EA Funds. There is another round of EA Grants this year, so no data has come out about that. I expect the CEA is putting more staff time on it to solve the most obvious flaw with the EA Grants last year.

Each of the EA Funds have been performing separately. Last year when there were infrequent updates about the EA Funds it turned out the CEA was experiencing technical delays in implementing the EA Funds website. Since then, while it's charitably assumed (as I think is fair) each of the fund managers might be too busy with their day jobs at the Open Philanthropy Project to afford as much attention to fund management, neither the CEA nor Open Phil has confirmed such speculation. The Funds also vary in their performance. Lewis Bollard has continually made many smaller grants to several smaller projects from the Animal Welfare Fund, contrasted with Neck Beckstead who has made only one grant from each of the two funds he manages, the Far Future Fund and the EA Community Fund. I contacted the CEA and let me know they intend to release updates on the Far Future Fund and EA Community Fund (which I assume will include disclosures of grants they've been tabling the last few months) by July.

FWIW (and non-resiliently), I don't look around and see lots of promising but funding starved projects. More relevantly, I don't review recent history and find lots of cases of stuff rejected by major funders then supported by more peripheral funders which are doing really exciting things.

Per Michael, I'm not sure what this idea has over (say) posting a 'pitch' on this forum, doing a kickstarter, etc.

One problem is smaller organizations with smaller, less experienced teams is they don't know how well how to independently and effectively pitch or raise funds for their project, even when their good people with good ideas. Compounding this is a sense of dejection by nascent community projects once they've been rejected by the big funders to receive grants, especially otherwise qualified EA community members who don't know how to navigate the non-profit sector. This is feedback I've gotten from community members who know of projects which didn't get off the ground, and that they faltered quietly might be why they go unnoticed. That stated, I don't think there is a ton of promising but funding-starved projects around.

On the flip side, I've heard some community members say they're overlooked by donors who are earning to give after they've been overlooked by, e.g,. the EA Grants, apparently based on the reasoning since as individual donors they don't have the bandwidth to evaluate projects, they defer to the apparently expert judgement of the CEA, and since the CEA didn't fund the project, individual would-be donors conclude a project isn't fit to receive funding from them either. This creates a ludicrous Catch-22 in which projects won't get funding from smaller donors until they have authentic evidence of the quality of their project in the form of donations from big donors, which if the projects got they wouldn't need to approach the smaller donors in the first place. This isn't tricky epistemology or the CEA even unwittingly creating perverse incentives. Given the EA Grants said they didn't have the bandwidth to evaluate a lot of potentially valuable projects, for other donors to base not donating to small projects based on them not receiving EA Grants is unsound. It's just lazy reasoning because smaller donors don't have the bandwidth to properly evaluate projects either.

Ultimately I think we shouldn't hold single funders like CEA and Open Phil primarily accountable for this state of affairs, and the community needs to independently organize to connect funding with promising projects better. I think this is a problem in a demand of a solution, but I think something like a guide on how to post pitches or successfully crowd-fund a project would work better than creating a brand new EA crowdfunding platform. Joey Savoie recently wrote a post about how to write posts on the EA Forum to get new causes in EA, as a long-time community members who himself has lots of experience writing similar pitches.

Unfortunately advocating for core funding groups to change their strategy has practical costs which apparently so high appeals like this on the EA Forum feel futile. Direct advocacy to change strategy is too simplistic, and long essays on the EA Forum which ground the epistemological differences of individual effective altruists which diverge from the CEA or Open Phil receive little to no feedback. I think from the inside these organizations focus narrowly on maximizing goal satisfaction they don't have the time to alter their approach in light of critical feedback from the community, and all the while they feel it's important to carry on with the very same approaches others in the community are unhappy with. So while I think in this instance a crowdfunding platform is not the right solution, advocating or changing to existing funds seems noncompetitive as well, and designing other parallel routes for funding is something I'd encourage effective altruists to do.

Comment author: Denkenberger 02 May 2018 10:44:25PM 1 point [-]

I haven't seen the launch of 2018 EA grants - could you link to it?

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 03 May 2018 03:51:42AM 0 points [-]

I heard a round of EA Grants applications had opened for this year, but that appears not to currently be the case according to the EA Grants website. I was mistaken. I did hear more EA Grants will be from community members, but not directly from anyone at the CEA, and I assume applications will open at some point, but there isn't anywhere the CEA has said when.

Comment author: RandomEA 03 May 2018 04:46:46AM *  1 point [-]

If most of the money (even from the community) ends up going through the 'core' funnel, then a competitive approach would be advocacy to these groups to change their strategy, instead of providing a parallel route and hoping funders will come.

I should have been clearer in my classification of donors. Other than institutional sources (Open Phil, EA Grants, EA Funds), I see three primary categories:

  1. EAs who are only willing to give to charities recommended by GiveWell or ACE [what I meant when I said peripheral EAs]

  2. EAs who are willing to give to other organizations where the impact is less concrete but who do not know enough to know which project ideas are good [there may be many earning to give people in this category]

  3. EAs who are willing to give to other organizations where the impact is less concrete and do know enough to know which project ideas are good [this is the category from which evaluators would be drawn]

My concern is that people in category 2 have to rely on the choices of institutional donors to guide them. I want people in category 2 to know about projects that are viewed highly by people in category 3 but rejected by institutional donors.

More importantly, if funders generally want to 'find good people', the crowd-sourced project evaluation only helps so much. For people more on the periphery of the community, this uncertainty from funders will remain even the anonymised feedback on the project is very positive.

Under the proposed system, an evaluator can endorse a project idea and/or the person. In order for a proposal to appear on the platform, there would have to be at least n idea endorsements and m personal endorsements. Thus, potential donors would know for all proposals that there are at least m core EAs who think the person is sufficiently competent.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 03 May 2018 04:31:46AM 0 points [-]

FWIW (and non-resiliently), I don't look around and see lots of promising but funding starved projects.

I'd be curious to see the reject list for EA Grants.

I think EA Grants is a great idea for essentially crowdsourcing projects, but it would be nice to have more transparency around how the funding decisions are made, as well as maybe the opportunity for people with different approaches to see and fund rejected grants.