[Edited, November 2023: finished materials here.]
[Edited, June 2023: the name "task force" wasn't very accurate and gave some wrong impressions; we decided to change the name to a "project," since we think that's more accurate. Thanks for the feedback on this!]

This post is an update on a project on reforms that EA organizations might make.

Currently the people on the project are Julia Wise (employee at Centre for Effective Altruism, board member at GiveWell), Ozzie Gooen (president at Quantified Uncertainty Research Institute, board member at Rethink Charity, former board member at Rethink Priorities), and Sam Donald (strategy fellow at Open Philanthropy, former staff at COVID taskforce at UK Cabinet Office, former staff at McKinsey). We also have a discussion space with a larger group of about a dozen people (experts in related fields, EA organization staff, and community members). Currently the total time on this project is about 1 full-time equivalent, mostly from Julia.

We realize a small group of people isn’t going to reflect all the views or types of expertise useful for a project like this. Our goal is to draw on that expertise, often from people who don’t have time to participate in frequent meetings about EA reforms, and to synthesize views and practical information from a range of sources. 

If you have suggestions for people it would be useful for us to get input from (including yourself!) we're happy to hear ideas at this form.

So far the process has included:

  • Reading and cataloging the problems identified and possible solutions proposed in posts about institutional reform that have been written up on the Forum.
  • Speaking to ~25 people about which areas they see as most important for possible reforms in EA, and what best practices they think EA should be adapting from other fields. We’re trying to speak with a mix of people with significant experience in EA institutions, and people with significant work history in non-EA institutions (nonprofits, finance, government, management consulting.)
  • Researching existing whistleblowing platforms and laws

Next steps:

  • Better defining possible reforms based on the ideas collected and discussed. 
  • Getting more advice from people with professional experience in those areas.
    • Understanding the pros and cons of a possible change
    • Understanding what’s legally feasible (e.g. given how different countries regulate nonprofit boards)
  • As we get closer to specific recommendations, discussing them with relevant staff at organizations, to learn more about barriers and feasibility of the possible changes.
  • Spelling out concrete recommendations to organizations. We expect this might be in the form of 5- to 15-page reports, with different reports for different organizations.
  • A further public update about the project, though this likely won’t include all the specifics of the recommendations made to organizations.

Shapes that our recommendations might take:

  • “Here’s a change we think organization X should make.” (Likely to focus on Open Philanthropy and Effective Ventures.)
  • “Here’s a change we think any organization in situation Y should make — we think there are a dozen organizations in that situation.” (Likely to focus on basic governance practices for small organizations, like having a staff handbook if there isn’t one.)
  • “Here’s a function/service that doesn’t currently exist in EA; we think it’s probably good for it to be created and funded.”

After we have proposals clearly spelled out, we’ll present them to the various organizations. These will be recommendations, not requirements. We hope that doing this as a general effort across EA can save effort for organizations, rather than each of them doing this sort of project independently. But we expect organizations will think through the recommendations critically and will get independent advice as needed.



 

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lilly
10mo69
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I have concerns about the impartiality and efficacy of this task force, largely due to the overlap in personnel between this task force and the Community Health and Special Projects Team (i.e., Julia Wise, who seems to be centrally involved in both. Note: I do not want this comment to be read as a criticism of Julia specifically, but rather as a critique of structuring a review process in this way).

My concerns:

  1. The specific goals of this task force are a bit opaque ("will sort through different ideas for reforms that EA organizations might enact, and try to recommend the most promising ideas" is an exceptionally broad mandate). But the task force seems to be doing something that I would've thought the Community Health Team ought to have been doing anyways, given that the mandate of the latter is to: "strengthen the effective altruism community’s ability to fulfill its potential for impact, and to address problems that could prevent that." Is the task force's work meant to be independent of the CHT's work? If so, why are members of the CHT involved? If not, why hasn't the connection between the CHT and the task force been made explicit and justified?
  2. It strikes me that this task force was—or at least should have been—prompted, in part, by sexual misconduct allegations made in the TIME article and related discussions, in addition to the FTX stuff. Given the task force's broad mandate, and likely role of the sexual harassment allegations in prompting the creation of this task force, it's notable to me that no explicit mention is made of the potential need for reforms aimed at addressing sexual harassment in either post about the task force. Is investigating these potential reforms not part of the mandate of the task force? If not, why not? If so, are the blind spots that led to the very errors the CHT made in the first place (with respect to the sexual misconduct stuff) going to lead to similar blind spots in assessing reforms?
  3. Given the connection between the CHT and task force, will dramatic reforms pertaining to the CHT (e.g., eliminating the Community Health Team and creating new organizations/teams aimed at strengthening the EA community) be adequately discussed and considered?

Thanks for raising these concerns.

I really don’t want this project to mean that other projects on reform don’t happen!

The large EA organizations I’ve talked to have been taking their own looks at changes in some of these same areas. I think there could also be valuable projects led from outside the major organizations. As you point out, people and organizations will always have limitations based on their own interests and viewpoints. I think it’s important for different efforts to fill in each other’s gaps.

About the overlap between this project and the community health and special projects team: there’s a lot of overlap between these areas, but I didn’t want this project to just belong to a single team or organization. I first sketched out an idea for this project in December and spent a few months trying to get advice and see how much interest there was in doing something like this. As Ozzie says, “task force” might not be a good name for this. It was more like me saying “I think some people from across some different orgs should spend time looking at these questions in a more dedicated way than will happen by default” and gathering some people to help with that, rather than a top-down thing that someone else tasked us with.

About weaknesses of my team: I agree this wouldn’t be the right project to evaluate those, given my involvement in both. There’s a separate set of investigations into the mistakes you refer to.

About reforms on sexual misconduct: This project is exploring what organizations can do in this area, like:

  • Some small organizations don’t have written staff policies about harassment or conflicts of interest. What could be done to make this easier for them and encourage them to implement these policies?
  • What can organizations do to encourage a good culture in EA? A past example is CEA’s guiding principles.
  • Looking at how organizations can shape culture: via policies at events like EAG and EAGx, via trainings for group organizers, etc.

This project is focused on policy changes that organizations can make, and isn’t going to cover all the changes that might be a good idea. The gender experiences project is a different kind of project aimed at understanding where change might be needed.

Thanks, Julia and Ozzie for your clarifications on this, as well as for editing the title of the post to reflect that this is more of a project than a focus group.

My basic reaction to your comments is: clearly it's good for “some people from across some different orgs... [to] spend time looking at these questions in a more dedicated way than will happen by default.” The more people thinking about how to reform EA organizations and institutions to prevent things like FTX, sexual misconduct, and the like from happening, the better. I also think the proposed reforms you allude to make sense.

As someone not involved in the various efforts aimed at identifying potential institutional reforms, though, a few things worry me about how these processes are being conducted.

  1. It is hard for me to understand exactly what efforts are being undertaken to assess potential institutional reforms, who is involved in various efforts, how these efforts complement each other (or don't), the scope of such efforts, the rationale for having different groups of actors separately consider some of the same issues, and the processes by which various projects/investigations are being conducted. My basic understanding is that there are: a) external investigations not commissioned by EA orgs, b) external investigations commissioned by EA orgs, and c) internal investigations (as referenced in this post). Different groups also seem to be working on overlapping issues (specifically, the FTX and sexual harassment stuff). It might be helpful for there to be a summary post outlining the different investigations/projects that are aiming to "implement reforms at EA organizations," explaining the scope and timelines of various efforts (with a figure?), and justifying the processes that are being undertaken (including highlighting places where it makes sense to have multiple teams investigating the same issues or where there may still be gaps). [Edit: such a post exists, although I don't know whether this is complete or up to date; thanks Joris P and Holly for pointing this out.]
  2. Your comment provides some clarification on the landscape of efforts aimed at identifying institutional reforms, but makes me more confused on other points. For instance, you note that "there is a separate set of investigations" into Owen's behavior and the CHT's response, and acknowledge that it would not be appropriate for you to be involved in this, but also say that the present project/task force is exploring reforms related to sexual misconduct. These are related issues, especially given that the CHT is currently the main (only?) institution in the community explicitly meant to respond to sexual misconduct. I understand why you might think your involvement in the narrower (OCB) project is inappropriate, but your involvement in the broader project is appropriate, but I'm not sure I agree (though it's hard for me to assess this, because I don't fully understand what complementary efforts are ongoing).
  3. The fact that it's hard for outsiders to figure out what efforts at reform are being undertaken makes it hard for the community to assess whether such efforts are sufficient/necessary/redundant. In short: I worry about a lack of accountability.
  4. I further worry that (inadvertently) overstating the legitimacy of some of these processes (e.g., calling the present project a "task force") may provide a false sense of security about the sufficiency of existing efforts at institutional reform.

"It might be helpful for there to be a summary post outlining the different investigations/projects that are aiming to "implement reforms at EA organizations,""

Joris P mentions this in another comment: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/KTsaZ69Ctkuw6n4tu/overview-reflection-projects-on-community-reform

HTH

Thanks; sorry I missed this, and will add an edit.

Sorry for the confusion! I think the name "Task Force" might give a misleading impression of the scope. 

In practice, as this point states, "Currently the total time on this project is about 1 full-time equivalent, mostly from Julia."

You can kind of see this "Task Force" as something like, "A project where Julia talks to a variety of people around the EA ecosystem over a few months to put together some useful lessons learned and advice going forward, and Ozzie and Sam both help steer that process." This isn't something that's really sanctioned/created/overseen by other senior EAs, you could probably think about it as a project from the few of us. As you flagged, the fact that this team has some connections to the organizations means that it comes with significant limitations, though I'd flag that this also brings some benefits.

I'm personally putting in around 5 hours a week into this, over the course of a few months, as a volunteer. 

I think that EA could use a lot of reform, including around sexual misconduct issues, as you flagged. I expect this single initiative to be one piece of improvement, but I also really would like there to be a whole lot more going on. I sincerely hope that others don't think, "There's something called a task force happening, so there's no more need for further work here." 

Hello, couple of points. 
1) To me, your definition isn't what a "task force" means (a temporary grouping under one leader for the purpose of accomplishing a definite objective.)
2) If you are affiliated with OP or CEA, unless you very explicitly say you aren't working on their behalf (I didn't see this in the post- I apologize if I am wrong), you will be seen as both having an affiliation with your organization and based upon that authority in the EA movement on behalf of that organization. 
3) If it isn't sanctioned by EA organizations, who is paying for it? 
4) This doesn't address or really give sufficient air to Lilly's point which is whether fairly or not, members of said task force have had concerns raised that they may have made mistakes in the area of dealing with complaints around sexual misconduct. It therefore raises questions again whether fairly or not, about the possibility that they may have blind spots that would impede their ability to recommend an effective range of reform in this area. 
5) I do not love the trend I feel I keep seeing with CEA-related projects where they say or imply to a lay-person's definition "I own Y" so everyone else backs off and then nothing happens and they then say "Oh actually I don't own it and here's why the word I used doesn't mean what reasonable people think it would." 
I think Lilly's critique is carefully thought out, she clearly took the time to engage despite obvious reasons not to do so, and I don't think this response does her justice. Thank you. 

Now, Julia has her response above, which goes more into detail than mine did. I hope that helps clarify things a bit.

Some further responses:
1) I think the phrase "task force" has been used in different ways before. That said, this phrase is definitely causing confusion, so we're renaming it.
2+3) Julia and Sam are doing it as employees of their respected organizations. There are clear affiliations. I think there's a gradient between, "Things that the organization leaders are spearheading" and "Things that certain employees are pushing for, and the heads are allowing, but not particularly overseeing." I'm just saying that this project is closer to the latter than the former. 
5) I definitely didn't indent for our posts to claim "We own this whole space", and am sorry if we gave that impression. I'm really unsure if this has actually caused others to not be active here.

On 1), I think that factfinding can sometimes do well with broad goals. 

The worry isn’t that the task force’s mandate is broad; the worry is: why do we have two separate groups with closely related missions and overlapping personnel? And, more specifically, why should we think the task force is well-positioned to conduct this kind of review process, given (1) we have reason to doubt the efficacy of the CHT, which shares personnel with this task force and (2) the personnel overlap presents possible COIs.

For anyone wondering what other reflection/reform projects are happening - just plugging this overview Naomi and I put together!

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