- I think EA is under centralised
- There are few ‘large’ EA organisations but most EA opportunities are 1-2 person projects
- This is setting up most projects to fail without proper organisational support and does not provide good incentives for experienced professionals to work on EA projects
- EA organisations with good operations could incubate smaller projects before spinning them out
Levels of Centralisation
We could imagine different levels of centralisation for a movement ranging from fully decentralised to fully centralised.
- Fully decentralised, everyone works on their own project, no organisations bigger than 1 person
- Fully centralised, everyone works inside the same organisation (e.g. the civil service)
It seems that EA tends more towards the decentralised model, there are relatively few larger organisations with ~50 or more people (Open Phil, GiveWell, Rethink Priorities, EVF), there are some with ~5-20 people and a lot of 1-2 person projects.
I think EA would be much worse if it was one large organisation but there is probably a better balance found between the two extremes then we have at the moment.
I think being overly decentralised may be setting up most people to fail.
Why would being overly decentralised be setting people up to fail?
- Being an independent researcher/organiser is harder without support systems in place, and trying to coordinate this outside of an organisation is more complicated
- These support systems include
- Having a manager
- Having colleagues to bounce ideas off/moral support
- Having professional HR/operations support
- Health insurance
- Being an employee rather than a contractor/grant recipient that has to worry about receiving future funding (although there are similar concerns about being fired)
- When people are setting up their own projects it can take up a large proportion of their time in the first year just doing operations to run that project, unrelated to the actual work they want to do. This can include spending a lot of the first year just fundraising for the second year
How a lack of centralisation might affect EA overall
- Being a movement with lots of small project work will appeal more to those with a higher risk tolerance, potentially pushing away more experienced people who would want to work on these projects, but within a larger organisation
- Having a lot of small organisations will lead to a lot of duplication of operation/administration work
- It will be harder to have good governance for lots of smaller organisations, some choose to not have any governance structures at all unless they grow
- There is less competition for employees if the choice is between 3 or 4 operationally strong organisations or being in a small org
What can change?
- Organisations with good operations and governance could support more projects internally - One example of this already is the Rethink Priorities Special Projects Program
- These projects can be supported until they have enough experience and internal operations to survive and thrive independently
- Programs that are mainly around giving money to individuals could be converted into internal programs, something more similar to the Research Scholars Program, or Charity Entrepreneurship’s Incubation Program