Now that I have finished my DPhil at Oxford University, I have taken up a full-time role at the Centre for Effective Altruism, which I co-founded while studying for my doctorate. This post outlines one of the two main projects that I will be working on there. The other project is the Global Priorities Project. This post has also been published on the Effective Altruism blog.
Over the coming couple of years, the primary project that William MacAskill and I, Niel Bowerman, will be working is effective altruism outreach. We’re now referring to this as a distinct project within the Centre for Effective Altruism, called, fittingly, “EA Outreach”. Our aim is to grow and strengthen the effective altruism (EA) movement. In this post I lay out some of my current thoughts on what this might involve. This is only my current best guess, and is likely to change as the project evolves.
Much of the work we will be doing can be conceptualised in a four-stage movement-building strategy. This framework builds on the model we used while I was volunteering for President Obama on his Energy and Environment Policy Team during his first presidential campaign. It has also developed out of thinking I did with people like Casper Ter Kuile, Dan Vockins and Ben West while building the UK Youth Climate Coalition.
This framework can be thought of as the four stages that we would like people to move through while involved in the EA community. Briefly, the four stages are:
- Initial contact, in which people first hear about EA, and are exposed to its ideas enough to want to find out more.
- Getting involved, where people are actively learning about the principles behind EA, getting involved in the community, and taking actions to increase their social impact.
- Training up, which is about giving people the access to information, mentoring, networks and resources that they need to scale up their impact.
- Sustainability, which is about making the movement sustainable by preventing burning-out and ensuring the long-term survival of the movement.
The first stage in a person’s involvement in a movement is finding out about it. We have a unique and unusually good opportunity in William MacAskill’s upcoming book titled “Effective Altruism”, which we hope to use to introduce more people to the movement.
William MacAskill’s book
William MacAskill’s book will be released in the summer of 2015, and we hope to use the time between now and then in order to build a media and marketing campaign around it, and in particular around EA.
In the US, the book will be published by Gotham, an imprint of Penguin Books USA. In the UK we have a deal with Guardian Faber, a collaboration between publisher Faber and Faber and national newspaper The Guardian. We will be collaborating closely with The Guardian for our UK marketing and media campaign.
Our marketing campaign around the book has three main components: maximising sales in the first week, maximising sales after the opening week, and maximising the flow-through benefits for the EA movement. I won’t go into the strategy on each of these components here to prevent this post from getting too long.
Will has pledged his profits from book sales will either be reinvested in marketing or be donated to effective charities. Peter Singer is also currently working on a more academic book about EA, and he and William are coordinating campaigns so as to increase the impact of these publications.
We will begin the media run-up to the book launch by introducing the ideas behind EA to the media in the latter half of 2014. The current strategy is to create a debate around the principles behind EA as applied to contemporary news topics.
We are contractually obliged to undertake a ‘media silence’ in the US in first half of 2015. This is so that we can increase our chances of appearing in the major US media outlets in launch week in summer 2015 as we would not have been in them for the past six months.
In the UK, because of our partnership with the Guardian, we will probably do some media outreach in the first half of 2015, however this is still under negotiation.
According to Robyn Spizman and Rick Frishman, on average one in four audience members buy a copy of the book on speaking tours. In the summer and autumn/fall of 2015 William MacAskill will be going on a speaking tour of EA chapters. We hope that William’s book will offer audience members a direct next step to take after the talk in order to learn more about EA.
William MacAskill’s book, as well as much of the media interest, will direct people online to learn more about EA, and to get involved. Over the coming year, we are hoping to build an easy-to-use entry point that people can come to in order to learn more about EA and to get involved.
We have purchased EffectiveAltruism.com and EffectiveAltruism.org. The current Effective-Altruism.com site will probably move to EffectiveAltruism.org. We will develop this site considerably from where it is now. We hope that EffectiveAltruism.org will become the landing page for people interested in learning more about EA for the first time. We will have content there to help people learn about the core concepts behind EA, as well as lots of links to other organisations and other EA projects that people can get involved in. We aim for it to be a hub or entry point for anyone who hears about effective altruism (such as through the book or publicity) to find out about the many EA organisations.
EffectiveAltruism.org will not itself be providing large numbers of volunteering opportunities for people to get involved in, nor will it be coordinating chapters or meet ups. It will simply be publicising these opportunities. We hope that groups such as .impact and the growing number of different effective altruist organisations will help provide these volunteering and meet-up opportunities.
EffectiveAltruism.com will be a landing page for the Effective Altruism book, and an alternative route into the content on EffectiveAltruism.org.
Once people are involved in the EA movement, we want to be able to give them opportunities to train up by gaining skills, growing their networks, increasing access to resources and providing mentoring and guidance. Groups like CFAR and 80,000 Hours are already doing great work in this area, and so we will spend relatively less time in this area compared to the activities outlined above.
There are a few initiatives that we would like to take on if others in the EA community do not take them on first. These include setting up a mentoring scheme within the community, and undertaking an initiative to make it easier for EA donors to fund new EA projects.
Effective Altruism Research
In order to allow people to learn about the more in-depth side of effective altruism (for example the details of giving now vs later, or the haste consideration) we plan to set up a well-categorised and easily searchable curated collection of posts on more advanced EA topics. As the community grows, we think it will be useful to centralise and categorise this work so that people can learn about advanced EA topics more easily. We are currently looking for a volunteer curator for this project, so if you are interested please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Once a movement has attracted people, and they have trained up and are having significant social impact, the challenge is to keep people involved in the movement if that is where they can be having the most impact. This means preventing burn-out on an individual level, but also ensuring that the movement as a whole does not collapse. Leverage Research have been doing some work in this area, but there is much more that can be done, and so this is the final area in which we will focus our efforts.
For example, the specific concept and message of EA is likely to be determined early on. But currently no-one is doing brand management for this. There is a risk that the concept becomes too weird (e.g. sole focus on existential risks from artificial intelligence), too mainstream (giving 1% to Oxfam is ‘effective altruism’), becomes too dominated by one specific cause-area, or otherwise starts to develop the wrong attributes (too aggressive, not welcoming, not having high enough epistemic standards). We will be carefully monitoring each of these risks throughout our media campaign and defending against them.
We will be developing our marketing strategy in more detail as the project develops, however at this stage it is clear that we will have at least two distinct target markets. The first is people quite similar to those who have already been drawn to effective altruism. This is a broad audience and is likely to be further segmented.
The second audience we hope to reach out to is certain types of VIPs. We have noticed that our successes to date across most areas, whether in moving money to effective charities, fundraising, raising the profile of effective altruism, or our policy advocacy, have usually been reliant on a surprisingly small number of particularly influential people that we have reached out to. We would like to focus more of our efforts on these VIPs in order to increase the overall impact of our work.
William MacAskill will complete the first draft of the US version of “Effective Altruism” in summer 2014. This will then go out to a number of review panels and editors to refine it and polish it further. Simultaneously William will be working on the UK version of “Effective Altruism” (he will be using some different examples, different phraseology, probably a slightly different tone, and of course different spelling). Once the writing stage is complete we plan to move onto the first stage of the media campaign. Alongside this William will be starting as a Junior Research Fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge from October 2014.
In my role as Director of Special Projects at the Centre for Effective Altruism I split my time between this project and the Global Priorities Project. Part of my time over the coming weeks will be spent coordinating the media launch of the Global Priorities Projects report on Unprecedented Technological Risk with the Future of Humanity Institute and the Oxford Martin School. However in the future I aim to spend approximately 80% of my time on the EA Outreach project. I am currently developing a more in-depth strategy for the project, which we will then take to The Guardian to get buy-in before moving going ahead with it.
If funding allows we would like to hire someone with PR and marketing experience to do the day-to-day coordination of the marketing and media campaigns for this project. We have identified a couple of candidates for this role in our recent recruitment round. We have also identified web developers who have offered to develop the sites discussed above for significantly reduced rates. We will start on these projects once the overall strategy is finalised.
I am always keen to hear people’s feedback and suggestions, so please do comment below if you have thoughts about the strategy outlined above.