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This post is part of an ongoing series: Events in EA: Learnings and Critiques

Elika worked (as a contractor) for the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) to run EAGxBerkeley. This post is written in a personal capacity, and are not the views of or endorsed by CEA. 

Applications

  • Do a better job of auto filling application forms with information from previous applications.

Applicants with less community experience who might be a good fit for the conference don’t necessarily know community communication norms. The following suggestions aim to provide more context and transparency around the process of application processing, without providing information that would allow applicants to goodhart. 

  • Make important questions mandatory to reduce the rate of incomplete applications.
  • Adding context to questions (e.g. for some questions, if the answer is not at all related to EA it's hard to know if the person misunderstood the question, or just has had very limited interaction with EA)
  • Asking applicants to provide specific, concrete answers to questions rather than vague generalities (e.g. “I’d like to learn more about EA” is very vague, it would be more helpful to know what specifically they’d like to learn, and what they already know)
  • Tell applicants not to assume the organiser knows who you are (I think it's generally bad for culture and status). 

Admissions

  • Make admissions policies clear (ex. this conference is for people in X region), both in public communications and throughout the application process.
  • Don’t accept applicants after the deadline has passed. If you do want to accept last-minute applicants, have a consistent and fair criteria for accepting late applications
  • Experiment with adding different questions to the application, such as:
    • Check yes if you’re okay giving up your spot for a first time attendee if the conference is at capacity. We may still accept you if we think you could help other attendees.
    • Checking yes if you’re applying but are uncertain you will register and attend (excluding last minute emergencies) to better forecast how many accepted applicants will actually attend.
    • Check yes to “I can attend with <1 week’s notice” for people (e.g. locals) who are willing / able to attend last minute. (H/T Larks)
    • "Why do you think it would be valuable to attend this specific conference" Adding more intentionality to the conference could help make applicants more likely to commit, and help organisers decide between applicants. 
    • Removing the multiple conference check box so you can only apply to one conference at a time to improve intentionality.
  • Consider making all tickets (barring needs-based applicants) paid so that people feel a greater sense of commitment towards attending. We will write more about this in a future post. 
  • Create a “Virtual Only” option for people who:
    • Don’t want to attend in-person, but do want to be listed as a resource for others (e.g. see Vael’s comment)
    • Initially wanted to attend in-person, but aren’t able to and still want access to the attendee list (e.g. see Lorenzo’s comment)

Reminders & Comms to Accepted Applicants

  • Send more (at least 3) reminders to accepted applicants to register, with reminders about how many people are waitlisted to incentivise people to release their ticket
    • Reminder to register: Hey X, please register for this event! If you don’t register by August 18th, we’ll give your spot to someone on the waitlist. Registering helps us ensure that we get estimates to vendors on time, and makes sure that the application process is fair for everyone. Read more here (link to a post explaining the downsides)
  • Release accepted but not registered applicants' tickets after a certain date and clearly communicate that date to applicants.
  • Get confirmation of attendance (2 weeks before the event): Hi X, we’re so excited to see you for the event! We think you could add a lot of value and help newer attendees navigate the EA space. If you can’t attend (for whatever reason), please let us know by September 2nd. We have over 100 people on the waitlist.
  • Make the application deadline earlier or have multiple rounds of applications 

Some general thoughts 

Decision-making processes around EA conferences can be a bit of a black box, especially for newer community members. Although information is available on the EA Global website, it seems to us that many people don’t read this. It can be unclear for those who haven’t read the FAQ section or individual conference retrospectives of the website in detail who decides rejection / admissions criteria, the organising team, where they occur, the difference between EAGs and EAGx’s, conference costs and more. 

We encourage the CEA Events team to improve the user experience to make this information easier to find by signposting more frequently and presenting the information throughout the application process. We've written the suggestions in this post based on this reasoning, but think there are likely other ways that this information can be communicated. 

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:22 AM

Thanks for writing this!

Just to say that the CEA events team has seen this. We've actually already implemented a few of these things since you drafted the post - e.g. EAGxCambridge is specifically for people in the UK and has a hard application deadline (this was in part thanks to the draft of this post you sent me!). We now also have an FAQ section on every event page (instead of one FAQ tucked away on the site).

I'll reply in more detail soon.

Create a “Virtual Only” option for people who: 

This is something the team tested at EAG London 2021. The feedback suggested this wasn’t super well-received. Virtual attendees reported feeling on the sidelines, and they made a quarter as many connections as in-person attendees.

There are some other costs here. If we let people access Swapcard virtually, it could be confusing/frustrating for attendees to receive requests from people who just want to book video calls. This may sound minor but realistically, if we allowed people to attend virtually, a lot of people could ask to do this, making the event a bit strange and hard to navigate. It would also force the team to process a bunch of applications for people who aren't planning on coming.

Perhaps there’s more we can test out here; I like the idea of people listed as resources/contacts rather than attendees.

I wonder if attendees could be blocked from scheduling virtual evnts (or virtual attendees are blocked from scheduling virtual events) during the conference itself?

Yeah, that could work. So, they're just there in Swapcard with some contact info? I find it hard to think of a good balance here, where virtual attendees get or provide value but it isn't too confusing... 

As I understand it event apps (maybe not swapcard beyond the basics?) can allow for different categories of attendees - e.g. speakers and attendees. You could add a third category "virtual attendees". It would take some onboarding work, but I could imagine it becoming normal to have folks online but not in-person? 

Re: your general thoughts and a general response.

As mentioned, I agree about the visibility of FAQs. We now have an FAQ section on every event page (instead of one FAQ tucked away on the site). The application form now also has some tips such as “A common reason applications are rejected is because they contain insufficient relevant information, so we suggest you err on the side of writing too much rather than too little”

This is all work in progress, and we’ll consider adding some more detail based on your points in this post. Thanks!

And thanks again for writing this post, we really appreciate your feedback here :)


 

  • Removing the multiple conference check box so you can only apply to one conference at a time to improve intentionality.

I agree re: EAGx, and this is now the case. My original hypothesis was that it would make things easier to apply for multiple conferences at once, but EAGx events now have more distinct regions so a vast majority of people won’t be a strong fit for multiple EAGx events (purely on location reasons).

For EA Global, the bar for each event is the same, so we can just review one application rather than asking applicants to submit the same application multiple times and receive the same answer. That said, I think the intentionality thing is a cost here, thanks for pointing it out.

Experiment with adding different questions to the application, such as:  

These are interesting, thanks! I think EAGxBerkeley was unusual in a few ways such that this might be solving a problem that doesn’t exist for other events (e.g. it had a lot of late applications, a hard cap on numbers due to a tight food budget and possibly a higher no-show rate). 

I think a better solution might be to ensure that conferences can accommodate everyone you want to invite and to make greater efforts to ensure people apply early, to give you better attendance estimates.

Okay, adding some more detail.

General note: I notice that lots of the feedback here is quite specific to EAGxBerkeley and doesn’t seem to generalise across other EAG and EAGx events. There were a few things that were unusual about EAGxBerkeley:

  • We were trialling out a new application form, so previous responses didn’t load onto the new form. This also meant applications launched later than we wanted to.
  • As you know, we had to quite drastically cut down the catering budget from the initial proposal. This created an unusually hard cap on numbers since we didn’t build in much extra room.

I'll post lots of separate comments so that it's easier to respond to them individually.

  • We were trialling out a new application form, so previous responses didn’t load onto the new form. This also meant applications launched later than we wanted to.

 

I (personally + 1-2 people I know) did find bugs on previous application forms as well fwiw.  
 

Noted, and I'm not surprised. We're hoping the new system (hosted by Salesforce) will be less buggy *crosses fingers*

Thank you for responding to the suggestions in detail Ollie - I really appreciate the recent efforts by the Events team to be more transparent and communicate decisions to the community! And also thanks for engaging with our draft feedback earlier in the process. 

Make the application deadline earlier or have multiple rounds of applications 

Broadly agree with this, though I think having a firm rule about no late applications (like EAGxCambridge) might mean the actual deadline is treated as such. I'm hoping to have earlier deadlines for EAGx events this year :)

Get confirmation of attendance (2 weeks before the event): Hi X, we’re so excited to see you for the event! We think you could add a lot of value and help newer attendees navigate the EA space. If you can’t attend (for whatever reason), please let us know by September 2nd. We have over 100 people on the waitlist.

This is the purpose of registration. Perhaps we can use some language to make this clearer though?

Note again that most conferences don’t utilise waitlists that regularly, or clear them before applications close. I think this was likely more of a problem for EAGxBerkeley than most events.

Tell applicants not to assume the organiser knows who you are (I think it's generally bad for culture and status).


Thanks, I like this suggestion. I’ll have a think about how we can communicate that well. 

Don’t accept applicants after the deadline has passed. If you do want to accept last-minute applicants, have a consistent and fair criteria for accepting late applications

Agree. I’ll be asking EAGx organisers to be firmer on this in future. EAG has a reasonably firm policy (e.g. only accepting people late who would’ve been invited directly if they had applied in time e.g. speakers or potential speakers). That said, I think we can probably do more to communicate the deadline clearly and refine late admissions criteria.

Release accepted but not registered  applicants' tickets after a certain date and clearly communicate that date to applicants.

Perhaps some confusion here: only registered applicants have tickets (more like “spots held”). See my earlier comment about EAGxBerkeley being unusual for having to turn people away.

Send more (at least 3) reminders to accepted applicants to register, with reminders about how many people are waitlisted to incentivise people to release their ticket

Reminders to register are sent every Tuesday and Friday once applicants are admitted (it used to be every 4 days), and this reminder includes the registration deadline. We don’t usually have very long waitlists, largely because we don’t want to keep applicants in the dark. But I like some of the other language here, and we’ll consider including it. Thanks!

Adding context to questions (e.g. for some questions, if the answer is not at all related to EA it's hard to know if the person misunderstood the question, or just has had very limited interaction with EA)


Do you have specific questions in mind here? Most of the new questions are relatively clear, I think? Note though (and I’ll probably repeat this a few times) that we don’t necessarily want the application form to be too easy to fill out because we don't want applicants to be able to game it.

Make important questions mandatory to reduce the rate of incomplete applications.

 

We make the core questions about applicant’s engagement with EA mandatory now. FWIW, we don’t want to make the application form too burdensome, so there are trade-offs here. Did you have specific questions in mind?

Thanks Ollie! Excited by the changes!

Do a better job of auto filling application forms with information from previous applications.

This was probably a one-off situation for EAGxBerkeley, sorry about that. The application form was revised to focus on collecting the most useful information but EAGxBerkeley was the first event to have this new form implemented on our previous CRM.  This meant that some of the questions could no longer be auto-filled with data from previous applications. Moving forward, we expect most (if not all) questions to be auto-filled with data from previous applications.

Consider making all tickets (barring needs-based applicants) paid so that people feel a greater sense of commitment towards attending. We will write more about this in a future post. 

Yeah, this could be right but I’m uncertain. We do want that sense of commitment, but many attendees (particularly students) might be less likely to come if they have to pay so I’m hesitant to pass on costs for commitment’s sake in this instance.

As mentioned earlier, I do think this was more of a problem at EAGxBerkeley than other events.

Make admissions policies clear (ex. this conference is for people in X region), both in public communications and throughout the application process.

Agree. I’ll be asking EAGx organisers to do this in future. EAGxCambridgeEAGxNordics and EAGxWarsaw have all done this :)

Asking applicants to provide specific, concrete answers to questions rather than vague generalities (e.g. “I’d like to learn more about EA” is very vague, it would be more helpful to know what specifically they’d like to learn, and what they already know)

We do ask applicants to “provide specific, clear details in your responses". It's possible this wasn't in the EAGxBerkeley form.

"Why do you think it would be valuable to attend this specific conference" Adding more intentionality to the conference could help make applicants more likely to commit, and help organisers decide between applicants.

Providing some information about what distinguishes the conferences (e.g. EAG Bay Area vs. EAG London) would also help applicants decide which ones to apply to. For example, maybe EAG London will be more philosophical and EAG Bay Area will be more AI-heavy.

I like this post! I think it's a great internal comms norm to have shared a draft with the events team, but with a view to posting it on the forum for transparency / articulating the direction you want other organisers to move in. Thanks :)

Agree. If you have feedback for the events team (or CEA), we're usually very happy to review a draft first. It helps us correct some small things in advance and gives us warning but, as in this case, we'll usually encourage you to then post on the forum so that we're held accountable more publicly (though, of course, you can post either way). This also happened here.

From an applicant perspective, I would love to see these changes. Strong upvote.