Comment author: remmelt  (EA Profile) 11 July 2018 04:52:41AM 1 point [-]

Great! Cool to hear how you’re already making traction on this.

Perhaps EAWork.club has potential as a launch platform?

I’d also suggest emailing Kerry Vaughan from EA Grants to get his perspective. He’s quite entrepreneurial so probably receptive to hearing new ideas (e.g. he originally started EA Ventures, though that also seemed to take the traditional granting approach).

Let me know if I can be of use!

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 12 July 2018 05:08:30AM 0 points [-]

Hi Remmelt, have you joined the Rethink Charity Slack? I can't seem to find you on there.

I increased my speed of reviewing progress in the space of small project funding. There seems to be one major project related to improving centralized grant funding. 1–2 people are interested in implementing a "Kickstarter for EA projects" at some point in the future but have not started yet. The EA Peer Funding project is essentially "Kickstarter for making grants to individual EAs." This is the extent of my knowledge based on Skyping with several people in this space. No one has mentioned anything else in the comments section of this post or otherwise.

Since there doesn't appear to be others in this area yet, I believe moving forward with concept refinement and seeking additional feedback would be a useful next step. Let's coordinate this via Rethink Charity's Slack!

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: Denise_Melchin 11 July 2018 04:53:52PM *  2 points [-]

+1 I didn’t spell it out this explicitly, but what I found slightly odd about this post is that infrastructure is not the bottleneck on more grant making, but qualified grant makers.

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 11 July 2018 06:53:47PM *  2 points [-]

I propose an infrastructure to generate more active qualified grant makers by making people who are close to qualified/good grantmakers (as Gregory says, good judgement, domain knowledge, relevant network, etc) into grantmakers by giving them the ability to recommend grants from a centralized fund that donors can contribute to in order to fund small projects without the hassle of evaluating dozens of projects themselves, and with the possibility of earmarking funds for specific grantmakers.

I also aim to solve the awareness problem of EA projects that are requesting funding, since EA Grants does not at present have a way for non-CEA staff to learn about possible grants, so only a handful of people can actually assess grants and people that might be great grantmakers are left out. This also requires infrastructure.

Comment author: remmelt  (EA Profile) 10 July 2018 07:26:33AM *  7 points [-]

I’m grateful that someone wrote this post. :-)

Personally, I find your proposal of fusing three models promising. It does sound difficult to get right in terms of both technical web development and setting up the processes that actually enable users to use the grant website as it was set out to be used. It would probably require a lot of iterative testing as well as in-person meetings with stakeholders (i.e. this looks like a 3-year project).

I’d be happy to dedicate 5 hours per week for the next 3 months to contribute to working it out further with key decision makers in the community. Feel free to PM me on Facebook if you’d like to discuss it further.

Here are some further thoughts on why the EA Grants structure has severe limitations

My impression is that CEA staff have thoughtfully tried to streamline a traditional grant making approach (by, for example, keeping the application form short, deferring to organisations that have expertise in certain areas, and promising to respond in X weeks) but that they’re running up against the limitations of such a centralised system:

1) not enough evaluators specialised in certain causes and strategies who have the time to assess track records and dig into documents

2) a lack of iterated feedback between possible donors and project leaders (you answer many questions and then only hear about how CEA has interpreted your answers and what they think of you 2 months later)

Last year, I was particularly critical about that little useful feedback was shared with applicants after they were denied with a standard email. It’s valuable to know why your funding request is denied – whether it is because CEA staff lack domain expertise or because of some inherent flaws to your approach that you should be aware of.

But applicants ended up having to take the initiative themselves to email CEA questions because CEA staff never got around to emailing some brief reasoning for their decisions to the majority of the 700ish applicants that applied. On CEA’s side there was also the risk of legal liability – that someone upset by their decision could sue them if a CEA staff member shared rough notes they made that could easily be misinterpreted. So if you’re lucky you receive some general remarks and can then schedule a Skype call to discuss those further.

Further, you might discover then that a few CEA staff members have rather vague models of why a particular class of funding opportunities should not be accepted (e.g. one CEA staff member was particularly hesitant about funding EA groups last year because it would make coordinating things like outreach [edit] and having credible projects branded as EA more difficult).

Finally, this becomes particularly troublesome when outside donors lean too heavily on CEA’s accept/deny decision (which I think happened at least once with EA Netherlands, the charity I’m working at). You basically have to explain to all future EA donors that you come into contact with why your promising start-up wasn’t judged to be impactful enough to fund by one of the most respected EA organisations.

I’d be interested in someone from the EA Grants team sharing their perspective on all this.

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 11 July 2018 12:28:03AM 2 points [-]

Thanks for the insight Remmelt! A good way to start this would be to create an MVP much like Ryan Carey suggested so that we can get started quickly, with a prebuilt application system (Google Forms, Google Docs, a forum, etc) and possibly using a DAF or fiscal sponsor. The web app itself could take a while, but having public projects and public feedback in a forum or something would be reasonably close and take much less effort.

I am meeting with someone who has made some progress in this area early next week. Based on traction and the similarity between the other person's system and this system, I'll see if a new venture in this space could add value, or if existing projects in this space have a good chance of succeeding. One way or the other I'll be in touch!

Comment author: MarekDuda 04 April 2018 06:42:02PM 20 points [-]

Hello, speaking in my capacity as the person responsible for EA Funds at CEA:

Many of the things Henry points out seem valid, and we are working on addressing these and improving the Funds in a number ways. We are building a Funds ‘dashboard’ to show balances in near real time, looking into the best ways of not holding the balances in cash, and thinking about other ways to get more value out of the platform.

We expect to publish a post with more detail on our approach in the next couple of weeks. Feel free to reach out to me personally if you wish to discuss or provide input on the process.

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 11 July 2018 12:16:46AM *  1 point [-]

If EA Funds wants an effortless "zero risk" option to hold the cash, putting all of the money in a high yield business saving account looks like the way to go. This would probably only take several hours to set up.

According to various online reviews "Community Bank of Pleasant Hill Business Premier Money Management Account" seems the best, and "Goldwater Bank Savings Plus Personal & Business Account" looks good as well. Free withdrawals seem to be limited to twice a month but the withdrawal fee is pretty negligible relative to learning $20,000 in annual interest.

To increase yield, using CDs is an easy next step. Otherwise, opening a brokerage account and putting the capital into a money market fund or a short term bond fund would be a relatively low risk and higher yielding option.

Comment author: alexherwix 10 July 2018 10:50:03AM *  2 points [-]

Hey Brendon,

I love your enthusiasm and creativity as well as a great job for putting it into words and out there! :) Writing a post like this and gaining feedback from the community seems to me to be a great first step for actually making progress on an important topic like this.

I have thought about ideas like this myself quite a lot as well and as someone experiencing funding constraints/difficulties myself I see it is a worthwhile cause to pursue (I might be biased, though ;) ).

I was also in the tech-talk and I would love to be kept in the loop on this as well as contribute where it makes sense. Maybe it makes sense to use on of the slack channels for more in-depth discussions or let's set up a special interest group call around the topic! It may also make sense to start something like a git project and use the wiki features to integrate all the valuable ideas and feedback that start pouring in this thread. Short-term it might make sense to create a project plan and look for funding to make this happen in a sustainable way. I imagine Open Phil or EA Grants may actually be interested in something like this.

I have experience in web development as well as scientific approaches to solution development (e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_science_(methodology)). Moreover, I am working on the topic of knowledge management/integration in the context of communities which would likely be an important part of actually making this work.

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 10 July 2018 05:18:09PM 1 point [-]

Hey Alex, thanks for your message! Personal experience with funding constraints is one of the reasons that made me consider the current grantmaking space and whether/how it should be improved as well. I have just created the #ti-funding channel in the Rethink Charity Slack to foster greater collaboration and have added you to it.

Comment author: RyanCarey 10 July 2018 11:29:56AM 5 points [-]

Nice post, Brendon!

I've been of the view for the last couple of years that it'd be useful to have more dedicated effort put toward funding EA projects.

I have a factual contributions that should help to flesh out your strategic picture here:

  1. BERI, in addition to EA Grants are funding some small-scale projects. In the first instance, one might want to bootstrap a project like this through BERI, given that they already have some funding available and are a major innovator in the EA support space right now.
  2. OpenPhil does already do some regranting.
  3. EA Ventures attempted, over the course of some months, to do this a few years ago, which you can read at least a bit about here: http://effective-altruism.com/ea/fo/announcing_effective_altruism_ventures/. I think it failed for a range of reasons including inadequate projects, but it would be worth looking into this further.

Notwithstanding these factors, I still think this idea is worth exploring. As you suggest, I might start off by creating a grant application system. But I think the most important aspects are probably not the system itself as the quality of evaluators and the volume of funders. So it might be best to try to bootstrap it from an existing organization or funder, and to initially accept applications via a low-tech system, such as Google Doc proposals. I'd also emphasise that one good aspect of the status quo is that bad ideas mostly go unfunded at present, especially ones whose low-quality could damage the reputation of EA and its associated research fields, or ones that could inspire hamrful activity. There are more potentially harmful projects within the EA world than in entrepreneurship in general, and so these projects might be overlooked from people taking an entrepreneurial or open-source stance, and this is worth guarding against.

One meta-remark is that I generally like the conversations that are prompted by shared Google Docs, and I think that this generates, on average, more extensive and fine-grained feedback than a Forum Post would typically receive. So if you put out a "nonprofit business plan" for this idea, then I figure a Google Doc (+/- links from the Forum and relevant Facebook groups) would be a great format. Moreover, I'd be happy to provide further feedback on this idea in the future.

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 10 July 2018 04:50:47PM *  1 point [-]

Hi Ryan, thanks for sharing information and feedback! I completely agree, practically speaking, spending a long time building something without market feedback/validation is not a good idea, so using an existing way to process applications and operating under an established organization would be a great to way to get started effectively.

I am curious if you have any feedback on the fused proposal that I had in mind, and how to potentially improve the design in order to protect against the possibility of funding low-quality or harmful projects. I was imagining that since there is a discussion section for each proposal, anyone could mention potential problems that could arise from funding a proposal, and donors could check this section for feedback before contributing. Perhaps the benefits from this openness do not exceed the potential harm but it's difficult for me to assess this.

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: 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: [deleted] 10 July 2018 11:16:51AM 0 points [-]

Shouldn't organisations just hire personal assistance for their highest impact staff? If you have more examples in the realm of "improving the efficacy of 'existing individuals'" I'd be interested to hear them.

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 10 July 2018 03:49:09PM 2 points [-]

One component of the EA Peer Funding network was enabling small grants between people for different purposes. For instance, this could have taken the form of healthcare expenses, educational expenses, etc. The “EA Hotel” is another example of trying to assist existing community members with living and food expenses so they can pursue things.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 July 2018 10:06:04AM 0 points [-]

Minor point:

...funding “new organizations” and improving the efficacy of “existing individuals” in EA gets minimal funding. In particular, the only active program I can think of that is improving the effectiveness of existing EAs is Lynette Bye’s recently launched EA Coaching project. It could be worth exploring these two neglected funding areas further.

Also CFAR?

Beyond the cognitive bias debugging material from CFAR, I can't see any obvious substantial comparative advantages that the EA community has for improving the efficacy of existing individuals. In other words, it seems to me that the main ways the EA community can increase an individual's impact is via (a) the onboarding process / introducing them to the research ("new individuals") (b) helping them to find a good fit on a team with other EA-aligned individuals / introducing them to the community ("existing organisations", "new organisations"). If you want to just generally become more effective as an individual, read a productivity bestseller, attend a reputable leadership course, find an older mentor in your field, see a shrink etc. Sometimes I think EAs forget that we're not the best at everything ;-)

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 10 July 2018 10:18:30AM *  0 points [-]

Thanks for mentioning CFAR, I had a feeling I was omitting organizations that didn't come to mind or that I was not aware of. I have removed my statement about there being only one organization in the area of helping “existing individuals” because it is incorrect.

I agree that EAs may not have a comparative advantage in improving personal efficacy. My point is about funding and emphasizing these areas. For instance, perhaps hiring personal assistance for high impact EA direct workers should be much more funded than it is now (this is just a hypothetical example).

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