In-Depth EA Program: Discussion Guide

In-Depth EA Program: Discussion Guide

About the In-Depth EA Program

The In-Depth EA Program has a few main goals:

  1. Give participants a deep understanding of some of the most important ideas within EA, and make them aware of the open questions and debates.
  2. Give participants a toolkit and the experience necessary to start thinking seriously about these issues themselves, particularly insofar as they relate to career or donation opportunities.
  3. Participants feel welcomed into the core of the community and make genuine connections with others that will continue beyond the end of the fellowship.

The In-Depth EA Program is an amazing opportunity to develop the global EA community, and we’re excited for you to contribute.

Guidance on being a facilitator

Read this page for: 🧑‍🏫Guidance on being a facilitator

How to use this guide

This is a guideline, so don't feel like you have to stick to this religiously.

Each week will include:

  • A link to that week’s readings in the syllabus
  • The key points we'll want to hit each week
    • Note that these are just guidelines. We recommend keeping these in mind, but not sticking to them too hard, and not telling participants these are the key points
    • After all, doing this might cause participants to over-optimise for these goals rather than what they're interested in themselves.
  • Tips on how to run this session
  • Some questions to ask participants
  • Some suggestions for icebreakers to run at the start of the session

Week 1: Introductions

This week will focus on outlining how the program will work, answering any questions you have, and setting intentions for the program.

🤝Week 1: Introductions

Key Points

  • Participants get to know each other and build rapport.
  • Set the tone of the program: participants should feel like they are allowed to decide what is best to learn about, and then to learn it.
  • Optional: there may be substantial differences in impact between different ways of doing good. This might motivate us to think hard about the best opportunities, e.g., by aiming to do so during this program.

Tips on the session

  • It is recommended to spend as much of this session as you can socialising.
  • Chat socially whilst people are joining then tell people the plan for the session.
  • Start off by talking generally to people about the program and the goals described in the syllabus.
  • Then split into random breakout rooms of 2 or 3 for 5 minutes so participants can get to know each other. Repeat this until every participant has been in breakout rooms with every other participant. This should take only 1 or 2 repetitions.
    • People could consider these questions:
      • What common interests do we have?
      • What brought us to EA?
      • What are we hoping to get out of the program?
      • Are you a cat person or a dog person?
        • Does it matter?
      • If you could magically develop one mundane skill (something another person has learnt before) what would it be?
      • and similar...
  • Jump back into the main room and chat about what you talked about.
  • Feel free to go off-topic, as the goal is to build rapport.
  • If you end up having loads to talk about, try to leave at least 20 mins to discuss the exercise and everyone's goals for the program
Questions and icebreakers were omitted for this week, as there isn't reading this week and the whole first half of the session is an icebreaker 🙂

Week 2: What do you value?

This week, we will consider some of the ethical positions which inspire effective altruism, how a history of changing ethical norms might affect how we want to do good, and how our own values line up with the tools EAs use.

Week 2: What do you value?

Possible Icebreakers

  • Go around alphabetically and give two truths and a lie (an absolute classic 😉)
  • List a rose, bud, and thorn from the week. In this metaphor, a rose is something good that happened, a bud is something you're looking forward to, and a thorn is something you didn't like.
  • What is a great name for both a ship and a person?

Key Points

  • Understand the concept of impartiality with respect to doing good, and apply it to some situations (thinking animals, person affecting views, digital, etc.).
  • Notice some of the ways that historically society’s ethical views have changed over time.

Tips on the session

  • Start off with icebreakers and social chatting.
  • Ask people what they were interested in from the reading (you could go around and ask participants one by one) then chat a bit about their questions.
    • This can sometimes fall into the trap of participants asking the moderator questions but not talking among themselves, so try to bring other participants in where possible.
  • Spend some time talking about how participants responded to the exercise. The exercise aims to prompt questions about where we should actually draw the line when expanding the moral circle. It is to be expected that most participants won't have had a chance to consider some details in this question:
    • If expanding our moral circle is good, why don't we expand it arbitrarily to include rocks and tables?
    • If we should stop there, why not stop at people in your local community?
  • If there is extra time, go through some of the questions below.
Please remind your participants that the exercise for Week 3 will require them to begin right after the end of the discussion session for Week 2.

Questions to ask

  1. Suppose the EA community existed in 1800 or even earlier. What sorts of heuristics could they have used to identify the moral atrocities happening at that time without already knowing them?
  2. If you could talk to someone committing a moral mistake in the past, how might you convince them to change their position?
  3. Do you think moral progress is possible? How would we distinguish between moral progress, and moral change (that isn’t heading in the “correct” direction)? Are we moving in the wrong direction?
  4. Why is it good to be impartial between people in different places but not between people and forests? (Provided you take into account different capacities to feel suffering and pleasure)
  5. Are there any ethical beliefs you used to have but don't have anymore?
  6. What ethical position do you take that really affects how you do good? E.g., if you changed your position on this thing it would drastically affect what you think is best to work on.

Week 3: How do you form beliefs?

This week, we will discuss the project of developing a clearer picture of the world and improving our thinking both for ourselves and our work. We’ll evaluate the argument for why this might be important, look at some reasons to be excited about the project, and look at some next steps.

Week 3: How do you form beliefs?
Important note! Next week you'll discuss one of the optional weeks of content. Make sure to decide on a topic for next week during this session.

Possible Icebreakers

  • People go around alphabetically and share one epistemic mistake they've made and fixed (similar to Aaron's stories).
    • This might be a belief that you held strongly, and then realised might not be true.
    • Or, a question you didn't realise you needed to ask yourself (like Aaron realising he needed to ask what job opportunities were actually out there for him).
    • Or, a bias you struggled with (such as if you have worked hard to get better at predicting how long things will take you in order to counteract the planning fallacy).
  • People share one thing they're looking forward to discussing in the optional weeks of the program.

Key Points

  • Kickstart intuitive excitement for developing epistemic (system 1)
  • Understand the case for developing epistemics (system 2)
    • It’s hard to reason systematically about things.
    • Often we want to reason systematically about important topics.
    • We can get better at reasoning about these them.
  • Develop intuition about how it feels to improve epistemics.
    • The sensation of recognising a particular bias in yourself
    • Developing habits and noticing
  • Participants feel like they have low-friction next steps for improving epistemics that they feel excited about.

Tips on the session

  • Start off with icebreakers and social chatting.
  • Ask people what they were interested in from the reading (you could go around and ask participants one by one) then chat a bit about their questions. There is less reading here to discuss, but you can also ask if they had any general questions about developing epistemics.
    • This can sometimes fall into the trap of participants asking the moderator questions but not talking among themselves so try to bring other participants in where possible.
  • Discuss the exercise, and ask people whether they got anything out of forecasting or journaling and whether they see much use in doing it again.
  • Discuss epistemics, and ask people what skills they think are involved in developing one’s epistemics and which of these might it be worth focussing on during the program.
    • You could take this time to discuss epistemic norms, and how can you guys work together in sessions to develop good epistemics.
      • This could involve rules for the session or goals for the group.
        • E.g., we'll try to give the best probabilistic guesses of our claims in sessions rather than seeming more (or less) confident than we actually are.
  • Discuss the value of epistemics in EA, are there any organisations or institutions which would benefit a lot from developing epistemics? How does encouraging people to develop these skills compare to other key causes in EA?

Questions to ask

About the exercise

  • What did you write about in the exercise?
  • Did you have any useful insights during the exercise?
  • When you were making predictions did you find yourself more or less accurate than you expected? If you were able to predict personal things (like how long it would take to complete an essay and how much would that be worth to you) ← This could itself be an estimation exercise

About epistemics skills for participants

  • What skill could you develop which would most improve the accuracy of your predictions and your confidence in your beliefs? Subquestions:
    • What epistemics skills/habits are there?
    • Which of these is the easiest to make progress on?
    • Which of these is the most useful?
    • Which of these are you worst at currently?
    • How do you develop those skills?
  • What skills can we develop here as a group? Are there any group rules/goals we can set up?

About epistemics as a cause in EA

  • How valuable is epistemics as an EA cause area?
    • Is this area particularly bottlenecked? Is it neglected by people outside of EA?
    • How tractable is it? What happens if 10 extra people work on improving institutional decision making? How about 100?
    • How valuable is improvement here? Does it affect other causes, how much?
  • How do epistemics compare to other meta and object-level causes?
    • Would it be better on the margin to work on building the EA community?
    • Or focus directly on the problems such as x-risk or global poverty?

Week 4, 5, 6, 7: Choose from Options

Content these weeks will be chosen by your group from the below optional list of topics:

📈Heavy-Tailed Impact⚖️Decision TheoryUncertainty📈Using Forecasting Tools🧪Global Catastrophic Biorisks🏥Global Health & Development 💻Existential Risk from Artificial Intelligence🐣Nonhuman Animals: Farmed, Wild, and Future AnimalsLimits of Evidence and Cluelessness🤝Community Building for Effective Altruism😃Something Else

Possible Icebreakers

Week 4

  • Try to figure out which two people in the group live the furthest away from one another, and which two are the closest.
  • What is the most reliable vegetable?

Week 5

  • Ask participants to go around in a circle and name the quality of theirs which they identify most with.
    • E.g., being competitive and that feeling like a big part of their personality.
  • Which is the most important sense for modern life (sight, sound, smell, touch, & taste)?

Week 6

  • Which social movement do you most feel a part of (excluding EA)?
  • Google the literal meaning of your name, and ask other participants if this fits your personality.
    • (The literal meaning of William is “protector of the realm” 🙂)

Week 7

  • What's the most exciting thing that happened to you this week?
  • If you could pick a fictional world to live in what would it be?

Tips for this week

  • The optional weeks of the program focus far more on participants following their noses on which topic they want to discuss for this reason it's harder to write specific questions. Below are a few ways to make this easier
  • Make sure to refer to questions in the optional content
  • Gather topics of interest for 5 mins at the start of the session
  • If all the participants in the group agree on a topic they'd like to talk about feel free to go off-topic and follow that thread
  • Try to make use of the T model of conversation, spend a lot of time scanning on the surface of topics looking for something all the participants seem interested in then dive deep into that topic
  • A couple of tips for thinking of follow-up questions:
    • Go meta: “What is the question we're trying to answer at this point?”
    • Go object level: “What answers are we looking for (related to the above) and how will these affect our actions going forward?”
    • Clarify: “So, I'm hearing X from you. Is that right, or am I misrepresenting you?”

Week 8: Next Steps

This week we will reflect on what we have discussed in the program and make some next steps for once the program is over.

🎯Week 8: Next Steps

Possible Icebreakers

  • What will you do this time next week? 😢
  • How do you think you've changed over this program?
    • Both because of the program and because of other things that have happened during the last two months


  • Here’s a link to the survey! Please give this to your participants in the last session.
  • You and your participants should also have been emailed a link to a personalised survey if you or your participants are having trouble with the above link.
  • Please get the participants to complete your post-program survey for participants in the session (not after the session). This dramatically increases the number of people who complete the survey and provides valuable feedback, which is really important.
  • Please also fill out the post-program survey for facilitators while your participants are filling out the survey.

Next Steps

Point participants towards the last page of the EA Handbook (More to explore on 'Putting it into Practice') for a comprehensive list of opportunities to get involved. A list of resources about EA can be found here and a list of local EA groups can be found here.

Tips for this week

Treat this week like a group debugging session ← The link is a nice LessWrong post with tips

  • Aim to spend an equal amount of time on each participant
  • Ask them about their next steps after the program, and try as a group to debug both people's plans and how they might achieve them.
  • E.g., One participant might discuss the best options for exploring the idea of studying economics, they might decide to read an economics textbook and then go on to discuss good commitment mechanisms to make sure they actually read the textbook.
  • Things to be careful about:
    • Both you and the other participants will be new to this person's problem. This means you might have a bunch of insights that seem obvious but are actually really useful but you also might be missing a lot of context. Therefore, be careful to stop people from pushing a solution even if it seems obviously right.
    • On this, a lot of the value of debugging comes from fully understanding the problem participants are encountering, and asking lots of questions before trying to debug with them.
    • The focus of this session is making it easier to take actions based on the content of the program not to push any particular action. Try to build a culture of solving problems and summarising the program into useful action points rather than the failure mode of "OK now EA thinks you should do this".
    • If you have 6 or more participants, you might need to ask whether it's okay to extend the session to 1.5 hours.