Six Month Review of 80,000 Hours June – Nov 2012

In December we conducted the first review of our progress as a full-time organisation. In a spirit of transparency, we’re posting the results on our site.

The review consisted of:

  1. A detailed report on our stated goals, our delivery on these goals, our impact over the period, our goals for the future and a proposed budget prepared by the Executive Director.

  2. This report was brought to the three trustees of the Centre for Effective Altruism (the registered charity which 80,000 Hours is a part of) who decide whether to approve the budget.

  3. It was also brought to the three members of our Advisory Committee. These are three supporters of 80,000 Hours who aren’t involved in our day-to-day operation who provide an outside view on our strategy.

What were my main conclusions as Executive Director?

Main Achievements

  • We managed the transition from being a volunteer organisation, to having a team of five staff and interns who are executing our business plan and report very high levels of satisfaction.

  • We clarified our concept to one focused on providing career advice, and re-wrote our website and materials. This contributed to a doubling of key engagement rates (e.g. number of people attending our events and % of website visitors becoming members).

  • We tested basic content on our philosophy and high impact paths on the website and in Oxford outreach. This included about 20,000 words of web content, 60 blog posts and 4 new lectures. We found we were able to roughly triple our online reach.

  • We started with an overly ambitious and unclear plan. Over the period we increased the focus of our internal goals, and then wrote a new 50 page business plan based on our outreach to date and more market research. We introduced a ‘lean start-up’ style content development model (a high feedback approach, often regarded as best practice among entrepreneurs). One probable mistake in our strategy was not investing this time in strategy at the start of the period, though doing more outreach sooner had significant benefits.

  • We founded Effective Animal Activism with an investment of under £1,500, which has now secured over $30,000 of external funding.

  • There were some problems in effectively coordinating the central operations team that’s shared with Giving What We Can, but we addressed this by clarifying its responsibilities and delegating more power to the Executive Directors from the Trustees.

What do we need to work on in the future?

  • We need to implement a more systematic approach to planning and testing our content to ensure we create something useful. Our current best-guess is that we need to tilt our content towards more concrete, actionable advice about how to have an impact.

  • We need to continue to work on establishing ourselves as a robust organisation with a good team, clear vision, and good culture.

  • As we knew from the start of the project, we’ll need to start better monitoring of our impact, so we can best focus our content. In particular, collecting and analysing data can potentially provide the answers to many specific concerns shared by myself and our advisers, for instance, whether weakening the membership conditions was a boost to the community overall.

Our Advisory Board didn’t find any major disagreements with our reports. Their key piece of advice was to focus even more on making ourselves robust as an organisation, for instance (i) creating systems to transfer knowledge to new staff to protect against losing a key person and (ii) building a motivated, coordinated team. We also discussed whether it made sense to de-emphasise the importance of Earning to Give to our content, though they did not express a strong opinion either way. In conclusion, they published the following statement:

On December 8th the Advisory Committee of 80,000 Hours had their first meeting, via video conference. The committee was Alex Flint, Lisanne Pueschel, and Jeff Kaufman. Ben Todd and Will MacAskill of 80,000 Hours were also present. Before the meeting the committee members individually looked over two documents provided by 80,000 Hours: their six month review and business plan. During the meeting we reviewed 80,000 Hours’ work over the past six months and talked about its plans for the next six. While we had some questions and suggestions, especially around earning to give, for the most part we were very happy with 80,000 Hours’ progress and plans.

Similarly, the trustees of Centre for Effective Altruism, Toby Ord, Will MacAskill and Nick Beckstead, were pleased with our progress. They approved our budget and issued the following statement:

We came out of the review meeting impressed with 80,000 Hours’ progress so far and hopeful about the future. We were particularly impressed with the amount of work that has gone into refining the concept of just what it is that 80,000 Hours is offering, with their willingness to change their approach in the face of evidence, and with the professionalism of the events they run. Our concerns at the moment include possible loss of focus due to the new less demanding membership conditions, and room for improvement in the website (notably in getting the message across more clearly and engagingly on the front page and having blog posts that are less abstract). We are looking forward to seeing how 80,000 Hours tackles these concerns and expands its operations over the next 6 months.

A summary of our six month review is available here.