How do EA groups produce impact?

How do EA groups produce impact?

Last updated: 4th October, 2023. We plan to update this page further in the coming months.

The goal of this page is to give a theory of change for groups overall so that organisers know what they are trying to do, why they are being funded and why so much attention is going into groups.

1. What is a theory of change?

Why do we care about groups; why do we fund them? A theory of change is a sketch of how actions taken will lead to causing desired outcomes. In the context of effective altruism, lots of organisations will identify the things they are trying to make happen, and then from this work out what they think the best way to get there is. In the context of university groups, a theory of change is trying to work out how the existence of high-functioning groups can lead to high positive impact.

2. What are we ultimately working towards?

The goal of effective altruism is to find the best ways to help others, and put them into practice. In other words, to do as much good as we can. What does this look like?

We believe a central obstacle to progress on the world’s most pressing problems is a shortage of talented people taking significant actions. Therefore, we are particularly excited about people pivoting into high-impact careers. This is not to say that we don't think spending time on funding and sharing EA ideas is not positive, just that perhaps these things are not as neglected as providing platforms for talented people to take significant actions. Some examples could be changing career plans, founding organisations or start-ups, or assisting those already producing impact. For more examples, see Ollie Base’s EA forum post about what people who were part of the EA Warwick group are doing now.

That isn't to say groups should only optimize for career changes (and we don’t advocate for trying to push people into specific careers); it’s one useful frame for understanding your group’s impact. This also suggests that you should focus time and effort on deeply engaging the most committed members rather than just shifting some choices of many people.

3. How do groups contribute to that?

  1. University groups

University groups have the potential to be especially promising places to introduce people to EA ideas, and then help them learn more about and act on them:

  • University group members (and organizers in particular) have a strong track record of making significant contributions to EA priorities, both in and beyond meta work;
  • Students are usually in the process of thinking through their priorities for their careers and lives. In this process, they are often open to exploring new ideas and communities, and have time to do so;
  • Universities are places where people build communities and deep social networks. These in-person social ties are important for people being more likely to take significant action on EA ideas;
  • Universities can have high concentrations of pre-screened talent;
  1. City and national groups

City and national groups function to provide professionals with information and opportunities that may allow them to pivot into a high-impact career. These professionals will often have more experience and career capital than students, so have the potential to have a higher impact more quickly. Through running similar events to university groups, city and national groups can share information on EA principles that can be applied through career decisions or other aspects of life. They can also support and motivation roles through providing friendships and community to those looking to improve the world.

It can be the case that people in these positions feel sunk costs more than those at university, or simply those that are earlier in their careers, but with high-quality mentorship from full-time community builders, they can often transition into high-impact positions quickly. City and national groups can also serve as a helpful community to be a part of while skilling up to transition into higher impact work in the future.

4. Clarifications

Should my group’s strategy be the same as the strategy above?

CEA’s strategy is not intended to be a strategy for the whole EA community, and we don’t expect EA groups to take this strategy as their own. However, it does affect how CEA will support groups, and we think groups would benefit from reading through our strategy documents when prioritising their group activities.

We do think that some aspects of the strategy are applicable to most EA groups. In particular, we’d be excited to see group organisers focus on: (i) having high-quality discussions within their groups; (ii) helping group members move from having a strong understanding of EA to taking significant action; (iii) ensuring existing members are engaged and have fun; (iv) building an inclusive community with a positive reputation.

5. Further resources

The following two EA forum posts provide further context on how EA groups can produce impact, as well as some best practices. You may find these useful to look at.