Hide table of contents

TLDR: You can run an intensive 4-day fellowship by splitting the 8-week fellowship and doing the first 4 sessions in just one week. I discuss the context in which I think it makes sense to do this, as well as the pros and cons of this approach.

This is the 3rd post in a series called Experiments in Local Community Building. For some context, I would recommend reading Consider splitting your fellowships into two parts first.

What is an intensive fellowship?

If you want to, you can do an intensive version of the 8-week intro to EA fellowship in a much shorter time period. The way we did this was that I split our fellowship into two halves, and ran the first 4 sessions within just a week.

People who are motivated can opt-in for the second half, which I would recommend to be weekly, as running (almost) daily sessions for a week is intensive enough.

When to run intensive fellowships, and for whom

Before I go into the pros and cons of intensive fellowship, I want to caveat with the following:

I think the target audience of intensive fellowships should be university students as opposed to professionals, as students have a larger variability in their availability to accommodate a week-long program. The times I would recommend running this fellowship are either 1) a week before the semester starts, 2) during fall/spring break  3) during summer. Your preferred timing will depend on your country and how breaks are allocated during/before the semester, as well as whether they are real breaks, or just “breaks” during which students are intensively preparing for midterms etc.

You probably shouldn’t run an intensive fellowship during weeks when students already have classes

So far we ran it during summer and a week before the semester started, both worked out fine. By the time of publishing this, I would have also wanted to pilot it during the semester in spring/fall break, but our government keeps canceling these citing energy shortage concerns... So is life.


Pros

You get to onboard people to ea ideas very quickly

One criticism of the current fellowship 8-week fellowship system that most groups use is that it is too slow for people who are really excited and want to move faster. Arguably this way you can get data on how excited someone is about EA much faster, and give them additional support.

More signups?

There is some anecdotal evidence that it might be easier to market a 4-week course compared to an 8-week one.

My subjective sense was that getting signups for a 4-day intensive fellowship was definitely not harder than doing the same for a 4-week fellowship, and it might have been somewhat easier. I’m quite uncertain about this, and based on the data I have I really can’t draw any strong conclusions, as there were just too many confounding factors to compare our marketing efforts for the different programs. [1]

My common-sense argument for why it might be easier to market an intensive fellowship than a weekly one is that it is easier for people to commit for a week of something before university starts when they have fewer things going on compared to afterward.

Better attendance?

Again, with the caveat that our data is quite limited: my sense is that overall attendance was somewhat better, but it’s also more likely to be a “hit or miss”, meaning that if something unexpected comes up for the attendee during course-week, they will be more likely to drop the whole thing, while on the weekly format maybe they would be just just missing a session.[2]

Costs

While not cheaper then weekly fellowships, I thought it's worth flagging that they are much cheaper than running a retreat, which so far has been a more common alternative to weekly fellowships. (Of course, retreats have a bunch of other advantages, we don't need to go into that here.)

Cons

People might need more time to process all the complicated ideas

I’m sure this has been said much better elsewhere, but many ideas in EA are weird, and one could argue that it’s better to allow people more time to process them, especially if we want them to eventually act on those ideas. I’m not sure if that offsets the other benefits of intensive fellowships, but my current sense is that at least it’s worth experimenting more with this approach.[3]

It’s draining on community builders and participants

Intensive fellowships are intensive indeed, as you are packing all the sessions in a week, which would otherwise take a month. 

If you are going to be the coordinator for the fellowship, you should expect to be pretty busy during the week of the fellowship. If there are facilitators in your group who are not students, you will likely also be able to rely on them less during an intensive fellowship, as people with day jobs can likely give weekly ~2 hours of their time for weeks much easier than 8 hours of their time in just one week. Of course, you should ask people well in advance to see if they can help out some more during the course week.

As for participants, it is pretty draining as well, especially if they have to prepare for the sessions at home, as opposed to having in-session readings (as how some AIS groups are doing it, including us). To mitigate this, you may want to use a “zero homework” version of the Intro to EA fellowship, however, you should be mindful of the drawbacks it has.

Things can slip away more easily

Given that sessions are happening faster, it is more consequential if someone misses a session, as they won’t have a week to catch up with the materials. Their lag on the readings can build up more the next day. To mitigate for this, (especially if you are doing at-home readings), I recommend having Wednesday as a break and having a last session on Friday instead of blitzing out the 4 sessions between Monday and Thursday. This way people can take a breath in between and catch up with the readings if they have to.
If you are the coordinator, you should make sure to ask the facilitators to closely track who is attending and missing sessions, so you can step in to help if needed. The way we do this is by reminding facilitators to fill out this reflection form after every session, feel free to copy it if you want to.

Conclusion

Overall, this is one of the experiments we ran that I’m most excited about, and will likely continue doing some version of it. If you have any questions you can reach out to me at gergo@eahungary.com. If you want to run your intensive fellowship please keep the downsides in mind,[4] and coordinate with your mentor!

Thanks to Milán Alexy for reviewing the draft of this post.
 

  1. ^

    With all those caveats included, here is how my data on the cost-effectiveness of intensive 4-day vs non-intensive 4-week programs compare:

    For Intensive, 4-day courses - 565,27 USD spent on 25 applicants of which 8 are standout attendees, resulting in 22,61 USD per applicant and 70,66 USD per standout attendee.
    For non-intensive 4-week courses - 471,43 USD spent on 18 applicants of which 6 are standout attendees, resulting in 26,19 USD per applicant and 78,57 USD per standout attendee.

    Note that I'm just "eyeballing" these results and didn't check if they are statistically significant (even if they were I still wouldn't put much weight on them as it is quite limited)

  2. ^

    I will update this footnote with more high-quality data once we have it, as in the past I wasn't diligent enough in nudging facilitators to fill in their attendance sheet. I would also just note that interpreting the data you get by measuring attendance is actually quite tricky. E.g: should you count people who drop out? If not, what about those who drop out after the 6th session? Should you try to optimize overall attendance, or only for attendance of the most motivated participants? How should we weigh 1 person missing 3 sessions compared to 3 people missing 1 session each?

  3. ^

    Your preference might also depend on your theory of change with your course. Over 2 years I have updated a lot about the future impact of participants being really fat-tailed. See here.

  4. ^

    Not to mention that we have less experience running these compared to the weekly fellowships, so we might not be aware of all the pitfalls yet.

Comments
No comments on this post yet.
Be the first to respond.