What We Mean By Community Health
Minor updates last made on March 7, 2023
Image: EA Israel
What is Community Health?
When we refer to community health, we’re referring to the state of the EA community’s ability to achieve its potential for positive impact. For example, the community’s health might be at risk if people who would make great contributions to the community are repelled by its culture, or if leaders don’t get important feedback about effects of their work.
From CEA’s strategy:
Bringing people into the community is important, but EA’s discussion norms, culture, and reputation are also big determinants of our long-term success. How we discuss ideas is vitally important because it shapes our ability to learn more, uncover mistakes we’re making, and resolve uncertainties and disagreements. Additionally, EA’s internal culture, reputation, and demographics affect who feels comfortable engaging with our community. We think it’s important that we build a healthy intellectual culture, a positive reputation, and an inclusive community. If we fail to do so, a lot of the movement’s potential could be squandered.
CEA's Community Health and Special Projects Team aims to strengthen the EA community’s ability to fulfill its potential for impact, and to address problems that could prevent that. For more information on what the team does, you can look at their webpage.
The Importance of Being Welcoming
To do the most good we can, the EA community needs to be happy and healthy. It should foster a stimulating atmosphere, inspire ambition, and support members beyond their EA pursuits. We should all enjoy being part of the community.
“Collaborative Spirit” is one of the guiding principles of effective altruism:
We affirm a commitment to building a friendly, open, and welcoming environment in which many different approaches can flourish, and in which a wide range of perspectives can be evaluated on their merits. To encourage cooperation and collaboration between people with widely varying circumstances and ways of thinking, we resolve to treat people of different worldviews, values, backgrounds, and identities kindly and respectfully.
EA groups should be welcoming and exceptionally considerate, perhaps more so than would typically be required by common-sense morality. On many fronts, EA aligns with utilitarian thought, which some new members may find cold. Warm and caring vibes counter this impression, encouraging people to join, remain involved and collaborate effectively. By reducing our chance of building a bad reputation, we sustain our ability to have positive impacts over the long-term.
Small groups should be open and welcoming to all, but as groups grow, more selective guest lists may improve event outcomes. Consider the purpose of each event and identify the ideal audience. Then advertise carefully to draw in the right people without appearing to exclude others.
Here is more information on choosing a purpose for events. Also, check out our tips on working out who to invite (among other things) in The Art of Gathering.
When holding more serious events for community subgroups, there are a few different ways to advertise to a target audience. Consider sending personal invites, adding sign-up hurdles to weed out less engaged people, and getting explicit about the event’s ideal audience.
Beware of sign-up processes where you might reject event attendees. By being too selective, you risk losing attendees that you’d rather keep.
Selectivity may also create an elitist reputation for your group, which we generally want to avoid. Always be mindful of the tradeoffs you are making. Finally, be aware of subtle boundaries that keep newcomers out. For example, a tightly-knit local community can be great, but newcomers can feel left out. Try actively including them in discussions and events.
See the slides and workbook from Jessica McCurdy's talk, How to Make Your EA Group More Welcoming
For a detailed description of boundaries and their importance, see Principle 1 of The Art of Community.