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Denise_Melchin comments on Ideas for Improving Funding for Individual EAs, EA Projects, and New EA Organizations - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Denise_Melchin 10 July 2018 10:26:43AM 4 points [-]

All of your ideas listed are already being worked on by some people. I talked just yesterday to someone who is intending to implement #1 soon, #3 will likely be achieved by handling EA Grants differently in the future, and there are already a couple of people working on #2, though there is further room for improvement.

Comment author: Henry_Stanley 12 July 2018 01:50:51AM 5 points [-]

Would be good to know who these people are to better co-ordinate the community's efforts (and indeed to see if they're serious endeavours -- I get the feeling a lot of EA projects end up being started and then abandoned, so the fact that someone is already working on it shouldn't necessarily stop others from doing so).

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 12 July 2018 03:16:02AM *  1 point [-]

Agreed! I, for one, would like to know who is handling "Idea 2." I have talked to several people working on funding small projects and have only heard about Idea 1 and Idea 3. Idea 3 doesn't seem to have anyone actively working on it, just thinking about it.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 13 July 2018 08:52:21AM *  6 points [-]

Here is a previous post on EA crowdfunding. Not sure if anyone is working on it actively, but maybe it'd be possible to rope the author into a project. Here are some other vaguely related posts:

As Henry says, it seems like a lot of EA projects get started and then abandoned. It was just over a year ago that Peter Hurford wrote "I guess another important next step would be learning from why similar things like EA Ventures, Impact Certificates, and the Pareto Fellowship didn't get more traction and were shut down." (source). So if we zoom out a bit and view this "small scale EA funding" category broadly, it appears to be littered with abandoned projects.

The same appears to be true for various EA wikis that people have created. The EA community seems to have a very short collective attention span and/or a very high appetite for novelty; people rarely seem to realize that the thing they are trying to do was already proposed or implemented in prototype form by 6 other people before them. I wonder if the lowest-hanging fruit would be to try to write a history of either attempts to provide small-scale EA funding or attempts to create a wiki, interview people who were involved in every failed project, try to discern patterns and debug the problems. In any case, ironically this causes me to update away from funding small-scale stuff a bit, and towards funding any EA organization that's proven it has some institutional staying power!

A lens which might explain why both EA wikis and EA peer funding are so hard: In both cases, the challenge is to establish a Schelling point. A wiki will have a hard time getting writers if it doesn't have readers, and it will have a hard time getting readers if it doesn't have writers. A funding platform will have a hard time getting projects if it doesn't have funders, and it will have a hard time getting funders if it doesn't have projects. So in addition to looking at failed attempts to establish Schelling points, it might also be useful to examine successful attempts. Here are some that come to mind:

  • This forum. I believe this forum evolved out of a group blog which was invite-only, Ryan Carey might know more.

  • EA Global. EA Global was originally called the EA Summit, and Geoff Anders told me that the first summit nearly did not happen because EA organizations were having trouble coordinating.

  • Less Wrong 2.0. There was a period of several years where LW was in a state of decline, and every few months someone would write a post about how LW was in decline and how maybe it could get fixed and how someone should really do something about it. Nothing happened until a few people (Matt Graves, Oliver Habryka, Ben Pace, Ray Arnold, others?) got together and got really serious about it, went around talking to lots of different people about why they weren't writing for Less Wrong, got some funding from EA Grants, etc.

In the last two cases it seems like the Schelling point was established through intensive networking and finding a compromise that achieved everyone's interests simultaneously. If I had an MBA I would probably call it "building consensus among stakeholders". People who spend a lot of time thinking things through independently or building infrastructure without getting anyone's input don't seem to be as successful. If you want to create a city off in rural Utah, the first step is not to go off and build the city, the first step is to found a religion and wait until it has a bunch of members. (Though I could believe that thinking things through independently and writing up your thoughts might be useful to a networking expert who comes along later to spearhead your project. Same for creating Facebook groups which can later be used as coordination points, e.g. the "New EA hub search and planning" FB group, which gave me an opportunity to promote the EA Hotel. However, I think a failed shot at establishing a Schelling point can actually be harmful if it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that creating a Schelling point is not feasible.)

Another point is that if someone is already working on something kinda similar to what you are working on, it might be best to glom onto their thing instead of starting your own thing. For example, with LessWrong 2.0, Matt Graves was the person officially in charge of revitalizing LessWrong, but I think he got a big boost when Oliver Habryka and others glommed on to that project. It's always nice to be the leader so you get to do things your way and make all the important decisions yourself, but the entire challenge with establishing a Schelling point is to coordinate disparate interests. (And by extension, in the same way you yourself are going to be more motivated to work on a project that you feel you have a leadership role in, giving other people leadership roles in your project is maybe a way to get them feeling invested.) So if you're unable to coordinate with a person who is already working on a similar project, due to networking ability that's insufficient to discover them or compromise ability that's insufficient to work with them, you are probably doomed anyway. In general, I think having multiple projects competing for resources is bad, e.g. I think LW 2.0 took off around the time Arbital finally threw in the towel.

(It may be that the most important thing is just to be persistent--in the same way startups are said to be an emotional roller coaster, I'll bet nonprofit projects are the same way, and the planning fallacy means everything takes longer than expected. Hopefully this comment wasn't too discouraging!)

Comment author: Henry_Stanley 13 July 2018 06:00:15PM 1 point [-]

Just a note on the EA Wiki (and on project abandonment in general): lots of projects seem to be really badly run. The EA Wiki was offline for months because of server issues, and until recently you couldn't even register as a new user.

I'm not sure EAs have a shorter attention span than anyone else – I imagine most would maybe try a couple of times to get onto the wiki and then just give up. That's part of the reason I'm not worried about project duplication: so many efforts are half-baked that we shouldn't allow one party to have a monopoly on a particular idea.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 13 July 2018 07:27:33PM *  1 point [-]

Hmmm... One thought is that if projects are half-baked due to a shortage of work hours being thrown at them, consolidating all the work hours into a single project might help address the problem. I also think having more people on the project could help from a motivation perspective, if any given project worker feels responsible for fulfilling their delegated responsibilities and is motivated by a shared vision. But ultimately it's the people who are doing any given project who will figure out how to organize themselves.

Comment author: Henry_Stanley 13 July 2018 05:57:21PM 1 point [-]

EA Hotel (writing this comment from the hotel dining room)

Exciting stuff!

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 10 July 2018 04:09:39PM *  5 points [-]

Thanks for the information.

The "ideas" were listed more to break down possible implementations than to propose executing all of them in their exact forms. 1 could be incorporated into the new EA Hub perhaps, and I am aware Dony Christie is exploring EA Peer Funding, but perhaps you are referring to other people. I am not familiar with anyone that is working on 2 but I'm happy to hear that this is being worked on in some capacity. Yeah, I agree that improving EA Grants would be a good way to make something like 3 possible, and will likely end up happening.

I believe the exact forms of each listed idea contain problems, and my intended proposal is an attempt to fuse all of the ideas and eliminate weaknesses of implementing an listed idea on its own. I don't know of any attempts to do a fused approach, but please correct me if I'm wrong. For example, regarding the issue of implementing all three listed ideas in their exact form, centralizing this sort of grant funding much like EA Grants has done could cause many problems. There is currently no grant transparency. A lot of possibly useful projects may have applied, not gotten funded, and then given up, or as Remmelt mentioned, other donors may not support a project because it was not funded by CEA. There is no way for other donors in the community uniquely equipped to evaluate, contribute to, or fund projects to actually see what projects exist in EA and evaluate, contribute to, or fund them. Basically, not only is centralization potentially inefficient, it may have already led to a large number of project failures, some of which may have evolved to become successful, high impact projects with a different grantmaking model.

Seconding alexherwix, unless there are privacy concerns, sharing information about other people working in this space and their ideas would be useful for coordination purposes. Also, early stage projects often don't work out, so if the project is important enough, then coordinating efforts or perhaps even building the same broad idea with different teams with very different implementations is a good idea in case one team-implementation pairing would succeed, but other team-implementation pairings would not fare well or be highly suboptimal.

Comment author: Denise_Melchin 11 July 2018 09:41:10AM 1 point [-]

I agree collaboration between the various implementations of the different ideas is valuable and it can be good to help out technically. I'm less convinced of starting a fused approach as an outsider. As Ryan Carey said, most important for good work in this field is i) having people good at grantmaking i.e. making funding decisions ii) the actual money.

Thinking about approaches how to ideally handle grantmaking without having either strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. While it might be great to have a fused approach, I think this will largely be up to the projects who have i) and ii) whether they wish to collaborate further, though other people might be able to help with technical aspects.

Comment author: alexherwix 10 July 2018 11:21:26AM *  0 points [-]

I generally agree but I think there may be value in coordinating different parties and part-solutions under "one roof". If you are sill in contact with the people interested in this topic, maybe direct them here to get some knowledge exchange and coordination going? Or provide more detailed information about organizations/people interested in the topic so that they can be reached out to :)