Introduction and summary
In this document, which is part of our annual review, we outline our priorities over the rest of 2014. We also list the organisational metrics we intend to track and some of the challenges we anticipate facing.
In summary, over the rest of 2014 we intend to focus on deepening our knowledge of social impact careers and improving the prototype of our online content. We’ll do this by expanding our research pages into a series of six separate pages, then completing several rounds of coaching and writing up research, with the aim of coaching at least 40 people, writing five reports on their most pressing questions, and writing five career profiles on the most asked about careers. At the end of the year, we’ll update the research pages based on what we’ve found, and perform a research evaluation to measure our progress.
In addition, it’s highly important to build the capacity of our research team. Our main goal in this area is to find an outstanding candidate who can start working at 80,000 Hours as a staff member within the next 18 months, specialising in research.
Other priorities include maintaining six months of reserves and building team capacity, through training the team and hiring new staff.
Table of Contents
Priorities over the next year
Our key focus over the rest of 2014 is deepening our knowledge of social impact careers and improving our online content program. To that end, we have the following priorities, which are roughly in order:
- Expand the research page into a series of six pages that summarise our current findings, according to the plan in the strategic review.
Perform several rounds of coaching, followed by writing up answers to the most pressing questions facing our coachees. Our target is to coach at least 40 individuals, and publish at least five reports on their most pressing questions that score over ‘7’ according to our blog rubric. We also plan to write five career profiles on some of the most commonly asked about careers.
During this process we would like to make our research process more systematic, so that it’s easier to delegate and scale up. We’ve started to develop standard templates for career profiles.
Before the end of the year, we intend to re-write the research pages based on what we’ve found.
Perform an external research evaluation. Find one or two external evaluators to rate 80,000 Hours as a resource for socially motivated career choosers using an adapted version of our blog rubric. This will act as a baseline for measuring our progress on research.
Equally important as carrying out more research is building the capacity of the research team. Our main goal in this area is to find an outstanding candidate before the end of 2014 who is willing to start working at 80,000 Hours as a staff member within the next 18 months, specialising in research.
Our ideal is for this person to be able to play a major role in leading our research from 2015, so that I have the option to turn my attention to making the programs more usable or other priorities. Alternatively, we could find someone else able to perform this function or take a bigger role managing the team, while I focus on research.
We’ve successfully raised enough money that I don’t need to focus on fundraising over most of the rest of 2014, though Robert Wiblin, the Executive Director of CEA, will need to continue communicating with our existing donors in order to maintain our reserves above our minimum target level of six months. We intend for our next major fundraising round to be after our next annual review, in early 2015, to raise funds to cover our execution phase.
We also intend to apply to Ycombinator in October 2014 or next spring, and will consider applying to other incubators. Finally, we intend to experiment with adding a suggested donation to our coaching service.
In addition to hiring a researcher, we’re aiming to hire a third staff member to the central team and to build a relationship with a part-time web developer, who may be able to upgrade to working full-time if needed. If we complete these hires, we’ll have people to cover all the key functions of the team during our execution phase.
After that, our next priority would be to find one or two research interns, as well as several people to potentially hire as staff when we scale up the delivery of our programs. We’re also seeking more experienced researchers (particularly in economics) and people with in-depth knowledge of careers as advisors.
We’ll continue to place significant weight on developing the skills and autonomy of our existing team, so we’ll be better placed to expand in scale later. We already have a well developed staff review process, which we’ll continue to implement.
We’ll launch a members directory spreadsheet and google group, to replace the old online infrastructure.
What are we not prioritising?
- Making the research more usable e.g. by writing a careers guide, preparing videos summarising our ideas or improving the website. We intend to first focus on getting answers, then we’ll turn to communicating them better in early 2015.
Outreach. We intend to first focus on increasing the quality of our programs.
Coaching or community, beyond what’s required to further the research and online content. We’ve decided to narrow our focus to research over the next year.
Impact evaluation and testing our programs. We spent the last couple of months focusing on evaluation, and feel we now have sufficient evidence of impact to justify spending a year focusing on increasing the quality of our programs. During this time, we’ll only continue to track the metrics as described below. We’ll reconsider how much effort to put into evaluation in our next annual review.
Developing our strategy. Likewise, we’ve just spent the last couple of months focusing on strategy, so we intend to focus on carrying out our plans over the rest of 2014.
You can find the reasoning behind these priorities in our strategic review.
It is difficult to devise metrics to track what really matters in research, so the main priority over the next year will be to perform a qualitative research evaluation. One of our goals is to make our research process more systematic, which should make it easier to monitor progress. In addition, we intend to track:
- Number of people who have completed our coaching process.
Number of research reports produced, and their average quality according to our blog rubric.
The plan change impact metrics listed below.
Within tracking our plan change impact
Our key metric in this category is the significant plan change. We will track:
- Number of people who fill out our impact survey reporting a significant plan change (within this, we’ll also look for people citing new research as an important cause of the plan change).
Number of significant plan changes tracked in coaching.
Note that the number of people who fill out our survey depends significantly on how much effort we put into asking people to fill out the survey. Since we don’t intend to prioritise impact evaluation over the rest of the 2014, we may track fewer changes than we did in 2013.
The number of significant plan changes is only meaningful when combined with an evaluation of the value of these plan changes. We have just carried out an in-depth evaluation of these questions, which gives us confidence that significant plan changes do proxy valuable career changes. We don’t plan to carry out further evaluation of the value of a significant plan change over the remainder of 2014, though it’s likely we will during 2015.
Less substantially, we also track:
- Number of unique visitors to the website.
Number of Facebook likes, Twitter followers and mailing list subscribers.
Number of applications to our coaching.
We put less weight on these metrics than the significant plan change, but nevertheless, they provide us with some information about whether our programs are successfully engaging our users.
- Number of months’ cash reserves on hand.
The quality of our donor base is also highly important, but this factor is not easy to turn into a simple metric. Some indications are given by: number of new large donors, percentage of donations from the largest couple of donors and the accuracy of our projections of future giving from past donors.
Our new weekly metrics report is here.
Problems we may face
Our team is mainly young, white and male. This means we may be missing opportunities to benefit from more diverse perspectives, and in the future may end up having narrower appeal than we could. We’re particularly concerned about gender diversity, because it’s out of line with the composition of students at the universities we focus on.
We’re addressing this issue by seeking more feedback on how it can be improved (such as this thread on Facebook), considering the diversity in perspectives of our team members when hiring new staff and seeking female advisors. As we continue to expand, we’ll also naturally write more about careers that tend to be women-dominated.
We’re also seeking advisors from different backgrounds with more careers experience. If you know someone who might be suitable, please put them in touch.
Core staff capacity
The constraint that most concerns us is lack of core staff capacity: people who are capable of management and making fundamental progress on strategy. If we can’t hire an additional research specialist over the next year, then our program development will be significantly slowed. Lack of sufficiently talented research staff could be the most likely reason we don’t make the progress we’d like over the rest of 2014 (alternatively, it might be an indication that research is too difficult, and we should focus on coaching or events instead).
Longer term, lack of staff capacity could become the tightest constraint on progress, similar to GiveWell’s experiences.
We’re making progress on recruiting core staff, as explained above, but it’s risky and takes time. There are very few candidates who we already know and trust. If we hire someone new, we need to build trust, which can take years, and there’s a chance it doesn’t work out, which means starting from scratch.
Going forward, we’ll continue to reach out to promising individuals. We’ll also focus on developing more scalable research plans (e.g. preparing templates that can be more easily delegated) and training our existing team members.