CEA and the EA community have both grown and changed a lot in the year since our last org-wide update. We (the CEA Executive Office team) have written this post to update the community on the work CEA has done in 2022.
This post is mostly focused on the progress of our core work in 2022, not on reflections on anything related to FTX's collapse (though we touch on these issues in the final sections of this post).
What is CEA?
CEA (The Centre for Effective Altruism) is dedicated to nurturing a community of people who are thinking carefully about the world’s biggest problems and taking impactful action to solve them. We hope that this community can help to build a radically better world: so far it has helped to save over 150,000 lives, reduced the suffering of millions of farmed animals, and begun to address some of the biggest risks to humanity’s future.
We do this by helping people to consider their ideas, values and options for and about helping, connecting them to advisors and experts in relevant domains, and facilitating high-quality discussion spaces. Our hope is that this helps people find an effective way to contribute that is a good fit for their skills and inclinations.
We do this by...
- Running EA Global conferences and supporting community-organized EAGx conferences.
- Funding and advising hundreds of local effective altruism groups.
- Building and moderating the EA Forum, an online hub for discussing the ideas of effective altruism.
- Supporting community members through our community health team.
Attendees at EAG London in April
Our priority is helping people who have heard about EA to deeply understand the ideas, and to find opportunities for making an impact in important fields. We think that top-of-funnel growth is likely already at or above healthy levels, so rather than aiming to increase the rate any further, we want to make that growth go well. (This is a shift from our thinking in 2021. The main reason for this shift is that we think that the growth rate of EA increased sharply in 2022.)
You can read more about our strategy here, including how we make some of the key decisions we are responsible for, and a list of things we are not focusing on. One thing to note: we do not think of ourselves as having or wanting control over the EA community. We believe that a wide range of ideas and approaches are consistent with the core principles underpinning EA, and encourage others to identify and experiment with filling gaps left by our work.
Our legal structure
CEA is, like Giving What We Can, 80,000 Hours and a bunch of other projects, a project of the Effective Ventures group — the umbrella term for EVF (a UK registered charity) and CEA USA Inc. (a US registered charity), which are separate legal entities which work together.
(We know the US charity name is confusing! To make matters even more complicated, until recently EVF was also known as CEA — that confusion is why EVF changed its name.)
2022 in summary
2022 was a year of continued growth for CEA and our programs.
What went well?
Growth of our key public-facing programs
Many of our programs scaled up very rapidly, while maintaining (in our opinion) roughly constant quality.
Some examples of this (with more examples and details below):
- Events: The number of connections made at our events grew by around 5x this year, which should help many more people find a way to contribute to important problems.
- Online: Engagement on the EA Forum grew by around 2.9x, helping the spread of important new ideas and richness of discussion.
- Groups: 208 organizers went through our University Groups Accelerator Program (10x growth for a new program starting from a low base), receiving 8 weeks of mentorship designed to accelerate EA journeys for organizers and their groups.
Our top-of-funnel metrics (e.g. for EA.org and Virtual Programs) were more steady, partly (but not entirely) because we focused less on growing them (and more on the other programs and on quality improvements).
You can see a public dashboard with some of our key metrics here. (2023-01-02 edit: This dashboard was previously showing incorrect EffectiveAltruism.org user data. The incorrect data has now been removed.)
Expanding community health and communications work
The community health and special projects team has made some extremely strong hires who have taken on important new strands of work. While we continue our work on interpersonal harm, the team’s mandate is now much broader than this, aiming to address important (and potentially trajectory-changing) issues in EA that are receiving insufficient attention.
We helped with media and communications work throughout the year, including spearheading an update to EffectiveAltruism.org, with a new intro essay which we think is a much better representation of EA. In September we hired a head of communications to lead this work, with a focus on communicating EA ideas and related work to the outside world (rather than on CEA’s brand).
The CEA team has roughly doubled in size, while maintaining high retention and morale. People Operations have been focused on helping the team to grow in a healthy way: assisting in hiring rounds and improving onboarding (which now gets very positive feedback). We’ve added many people with crucial new skills (e.g. in product, communications, design), or who add to our existing strengths (e.g. in engineering and event production).
I think that our leadership team has developed especially well over the course of the year, and we’ve begun to train up a strong set of new(er) managers.
What went badly?
As discussed in the conclusion of this post, we're still reflecting on the FTX collapse, and what (if anything) we should change based on that. So for now, this focuses on non-FTX-related mistakes.
- We were too slow to get started on communications
- We were too deferential to other organizations here, and this meant that we started seriously leading and hiring for communications work for EA later than we otherwise would have.
- This lost us vital time, and probably set discussion about EA on a worse trajectory than if we had begun preparing when we initially wanted to.
- Cost control
- In particular, we could have reduced EAG spending without much reduction in impact if we had focused more on contract negotiation early in the year. (Though we had a smaller and newer team at the time, so we’re not sure whether focusing heavily on this would have sacrificed our focus on growing EAG.)
- Overall, this still meant that we came in at our “expansion” budget – but we could and should have come in lower than this.
- Product failures
- We allowed the EA Forum homepage to be “too meta” for too long in the middle of the year, which promoted lower-quality posts and community drama rather than interesting and productive discussion about how to improve the world. (We addressed the visibility issue by changing the frontpage algorithm, though there isn’t a clear sign that this affected total engagement time with these posts.)
- Our attempts in late 2021 and early 2022 to support top uni groups didn’t pay off as we hoped, and we passed on this strand of work to Open Philanthropy in early 2022.
- Although these were failures, and we should have changed more quickly, we’re still pleased that we changed our plans within a few months in both cases (and in similar less important cases).
(This isn't an exhaustive list, but covers some of the high-level issues.)
Some of the Online team in discussion at our team retreat
In this post, we’re just going to give a quick overview of results from each program. If there is interest, we may follow this up with more detailed reviews of some programs.
Early in the year, we discontinued our work to fund full-time organizers at top universities, passing this to Open Philanthropy. Generally, we think that this transition went well, with one caveat discussed below.
Instead, we focused on improving and scaling up our University Groups Accelerator Program (UGAP). UGAP aims to take a university group from a couple of interested organizers to a mid-sized EA group. It offers stipends for main organizers, regular meetings with an experienced mentor, training, and resources to run a group’s first intro fellowship. It was launched in 2021, and we mentored 208 organizers in 2022. Participants gave very positive feedback.
We also expanded our support for non-university groups. We funded 27 city and national group organizers in building local EA professional networks, and ran two group organiser retreats. Organizers rate this program highly (5.8/7). This year, we ran, or helped to run, hiring rounds that found extremely strong new organizers in Australia, NYC, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, and London. We hope that this helps these important local communities to flourish.
Attendees at a city and national group organizer retreat in April
We also continued to run Virtual Programs, which make learning about EA accessible to anyone with an internet connection. This year around 2,500 people took part in this program. Overall total numbers per cohort, participation rates and feedback scores remained relatively constant. We’re disappointed that we didn’t make more progress here, but we’re increasing staffing so that we have more capacity for improvements rather than maintenance work.
We also provided advising calls and funding to groups not supported by the above programs, and have added staff capacity to help with this line of work in the future.
Impact story examples
- City and National Groups help people identify and pursue opportunities for impact
- An industry researcher initially sceptical of EA ideas was re-introduced to EA by their friends through groups, and is now responsible for multiple EA education initiatives (EA Israel)
- A student group organiser became an active member of their national group, who cites high motivation and accountability provided by that community, and went on to found a successful startup (EA Sweden)
- One of our own employees credits a group leader with being highly influential in their decision to leave a job in parliament and join CEA (EA Germany)
- Virtual Programs provides access to the EA community as well as its ideas. An improved user journey from VP to in-person groups uses a CRM-enabled exit survey to allow participants to select from all the EA groups we know about, and share their details. Over 100 people got connected with groups in one October week!
One downside of handing top university support over to Open Philanthropy is that they only supply funding to groups. We are beginning to investigate whether we can provide advice, support, and retreats to top university groups and group organizers of well established groups.
We’re currently investigating the key ways we can further improve Virtual Programs (and our introductory fellowships, which are used across groups).
Aside from this, we plan to continue our work in these areas.
We think that this was by far the most successful year in the history of the events program.
We held 3 EA Globals, 9 EAGx conferences, and funded or ran 24 smaller events.
Our headline metric, the number of connections between attendees, grew by 5 times since 2021, generating around 80,000 connections across our events. This was mostly driven by a 4x increase in the total number of attendances at our events, as well as partly by an increase in the number of connections made by the average attendee.
And we did this while continuing to grow satisfaction with our events to our highest ever level, 8.9/10 (with people working full-time at EA-affiliated organizations giving even higher satisfaction scores).
We are also proud that we provided much more support to EAGx conferences, and that these events were held across the world, including in Prague, Rotterdam and Singapore.
Attendees at EAGxSingapore in September
We also supported or ran a smaller number of retreats — a coordination forum for EA leaders, a biosecurity event, a retreat for EA professionals in the events space, and retreats for groups. These were well-received and produced some outcomes that we are excited about, and we plan to run more events of this sort in the coming year.
As mentioned above, the key failure of the program this year was in cost control: we focused on scaling at the expense of spending for most of the year (which we think made sense given the community’s financial position at the beginning of the year, and our limited staff capacity). But we didn’t update quickly enough as the community’s position changed gradually throughout the year. This meant that we missed opportunities to negotiate to reduce costs, as well as to make (moderate) programmatic cuts. This led to the program coming in somewhat over the top end of our budget estimates (and driving CEA’s overall budget towards the top end of estimates). We are now more focused on cost control, and negotiating contracts further in advance (which gives us more leverage).
We also note there was some confusion in the community over the admissions policies to our EAG and EAGx events, and are exploring ways to improve our communication here in the future.
Impact story examples
- Events connect orgs and funders across the community with hires and grantees. Examples include an operations hire made by Alvea (EAGxBoston) and a senior civil servant getting a 3-year grant to engage in policy advocacy (EAGxAustralia).
- Events cause individuals to pursue more impactful paths. One EAG attendee who left a software engineering job to skill up to do technical AI alignment credits their decision to finding a strong social support network at EAG, which helped translate their intellectual interest in AI into an appealing plan of action.
- EAG/x is one of the top sources of co-founders for Charity Entrepreneurship. Of the 64 top-scoring candidates for CE’s program, 13 were found via EAG/x, making it their second biggest source. CE’s own estimate indicates the value of connections which resulted in co-founders being accepted to their program, unadjusted for counterfactual impact, was $1.25m (5 co-founders connected via events, each estimated to have a value equivalent to at least $250,000).
We plan to continue with a similar program of EAG and EAGx events next year, including events in Mexico and India early in the year. We expect to cut some meals and furnishings to manage costs, and to reduce the amount that we spend on travel grants for attendees this year. Wherever possible, we still want to support people to attend if they couldn’t otherwise afford to and attending could cause them to have much more impact.
We'll continue to support retreats and conferences via the Community Events program, and will be exploring how we can actively support events in this space alongside more passive grantmaking.
We also plan to help other organizations and people run events (sometimes on particular topics). We hope to partner with people who have strong domain knowledge: we’ll run operations and collaborate with them on event design. We’ve begun to do this with some events already, and this program may scale throughout the year.
Discussion on the EA Forum
Our headline metric (engagement with the Forum) grew by around 2.9x this year.
We expect that this growth is correlated with a lot of the things that we care about: people learning about EA ideas and new research being shared and discussed.
A lot of this growth was organic, but we think that we contributed both to the growth and the quality of the Forum by:
- Running key events and contests on the Forum, most notably the EA criticism contest. Many of the spikes in Forum traffic were around these contests, which suggests that they helped with engagement (even though this was not the primary purpose of those events).
- Tweaking key Forum algorithms to maintain good discussion (e.g. tweaking the homepage algorithm to de-emphasize “community” content).
- Shipping features to improve the experience for readers and writers (most popularly, footnotes, improved importing from Google Docs, and subforums)
- We also introduced some features designed and built by the LessWrong team, most notably agree/disagree voting and curation.
We’ve monitored Forum discussion quality too. Overall, we think that the quality of posts and discussion is roughly flat over the year, but it’s hard to judge. However, we have heard from some users that they think post quality has gone down: we think that this is mostly about good posts being harder to find as the volume of posts has increased: this is a problem, and something we're working to fix.
Impact story examples
- Forum readers have gotten jobs by connecting with authors on the Forum
- One reader was doing forecasting for fun until they met with Ben Snodin after reading this post, which resulted in them contacting Metaculus and getting hired (despite there being no open positions at the time)
- Another was offered a part-time job when they contacted an author of this post and got an EA Infrastructure Fund grant based on an idea posted in a Forum shortform
- The criticism contest brought new people with valuable perspectives into EA discussions. New user Froolow joined the Forum to participate, and submitted winning entries related to GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness model and uncertainty analysis in EA cost-effectiveness models.
Aside from the key Forum discussion product, we tried a number of things, with varying degrees of success:
- Community platform: We built a variety of features for finding local groups and events. While we think that these are good features, we haven’t seen as much engagement with them as we hoped, and we’re not sure if they were worth the time.
- Subforums: We’ve been exploring ways to facilitate more specialised discussion, which has become more important as the number of Forum posts and users has grown, and as fields become increasingly specialised. We’re still experimenting with this, but we feel optimistic about the direction we’re pursuing. An example subforum — effective giving — is here.
- Connections: Sparked by seeing many people making connections on the Forum, we spent several months investigating ways to help people make new connections. We haven’t yet found anything that we thought was cost-effective.
- Job ads: We experimented with showing Forum users job opportunities that they might be interested in, based on their EAG applications and Forum tag use. We’ve had extremely strong results from our online ads, surveys, and emails so far: in particular, 5% of people who saw one of our most recent ads applied to a high-impact job because of it. If we can replicate this it could be incredibly impactful. However, we don’t want to bombard people with ads, and we’ll be careful to listen out for any negative feedback too.
- EffectiveAltruism.org: We revamped this site, which we think is now much more appealing, and gives a more accurate understanding of what EA is. We’re grateful to external collaborators for developing the new intro essay and advising on content.
Overall, we’re happy with this hit rate, and happy that we adapted when things weren’t working out. You can see our Forum updates here.
We are planning to continue testing and developing both job ads and subforums, as well as continuing to moderate and monitor Forum discussion.
Community Health & Special Projects
I think that the community health team did various things that significantly improved the trajectory of EA and related projects.
- Continued working to address interpersonal harm in the community
- Assisted high school programs with lowering risks and setting a strong culture for their programs
- Started some projects (and products) aimed at supporting community epistemics
- Helped to reduce some risks related to policy, politics, and geopolitical work
- Hired some very strong staff, and set up good internal processes for monitoring and discussing risks
- Supported efforts to provide mental health support to community members.
- Supported efforts to communicate EA ideas and related work to the outside world, which culminated in hiring a head of communications to lead this work.
Some of the Community Health & Special Projects team
Recently the community took a significant hit from the collapse of FTX and the suspected illegal and/or immoral behaviour of FTX executives. The CH&SP team’s role is to anticipate and mitigate risks, and ideally we would have been able to do more here. We’re uncertain to what extent we mis-estimated this cluster of risks, and whether we could have or should have acted differently to mitigate them. We plan to reflect on this (while trying to avoid over-updating based on hindsight bias).
The team (and CEA more broadly) is still focusing on addressing some of the fallout from recent events, but are in a state of mostly being back to normal with regard to ongoing work and hiring. We and the rest of the CEA leadership team plan to reflect on what, if anything, we should have done differently. We’ll also spend time reflecting on how this should change other aspects of our work and the community.
We expect to continue to expand the team and the range of areas it focuses on.
In an effort to make CEA’s work more legible to the community, we’ve created a dashboard of key metrics from some of our programs. In the spirit of our values, we are publishing this prototype now rather than waiting until we have a perfect product. We’ll monitor community feedback to decide whether to continue, drop, or improve this dashboard, so if you have feedback on what you’d like to see next, we’d welcome comments either on this post or via our anonymous feedback form!
We think that this year was, in many ways, very successful for EA and for CEA. However, the events of the last month or so have cast a pall over some of those achievements. We’re actively reflecting on what this means for CEA and for EA, and making longer-term plans for CEA. We plan to share more of our reflections and plans in due course.
In some ways this is an odd time to post an annual review. But, while we’re reflecting on what we should do differently, we think it’s important to stay committed to our mission, and celebrate the growth we’ve seen in our core programs this year. We’re aware that only with a combination of reflection and hard work can we help the community to have the impact that we hope it can have.
(We've slightly edited this post based on feedback in comments below.)
While we are not focused on “top of funnel” growth, we think that growth in these more “mid funnel” programs (which help people who are already involved find a way to contribute) is very valuable.
Morale dipped around the FTX collapse, but I think that it's generally true that morale has been steady as we've grown quickly.
This survey presumably suffers from response bias. Respondents to the survey also indicated the frequency with which they use the Forum; using this data to match respondents with cohorts from the general population, results in us estimating that these numbers are inflated by approximately a factor of 2.