Published 10th November 2019, updated 29th November 2020.
Social events, where people get together to enjoy each other’s company, can be great for building a sense of community. Events can be structured or unstructured, EA-themed or otherwise!
- Structured or Unstructured?
- General Information
- Food and Drink
- Non-EA Themed Activities
Structured or Unstructured?
Having a structure to your social event gets conversations flowing and helps people to get to know each other. Some structure is ideal in situations where:
- You are expecting people who are new to EA
- Many attendees don’t know each other
- Your group has people who dominate conversations
- You think a structured meeting would be more productive than an unstructured one
Unstructured socials require less organisation and allow people to talk about whatever they like. Running these is fine, but it’s best to run some structured social events as well. If you’re concerned about meetings getting formal, kick off with a casual activity to get everyone relaxed and familiar with each other.
An anecdote from one organiser: “I ran a casual picnic with no structured conversation, and half the people that turned up were unfamiliar with EA. Several of them talked to each other about quite ineffective altruistic topics, probably thinking all along they were learning about EA. I attempted to guide their conversations a bit, but it came off a bit forced. In this situation, it would have been better to have some structure to the social event. Those new people would have gotten a more accurate picture of EA during their first event.”
General information about running an event can be found here.
Additional considerations for social events
Social events are supposed to be social (obviously!), but are sometimes a lot more social for people who already know each other, and can be less fun for new people, or people who are less confident conversationalists. Hosts should join people who are sitting by themselves, or who are listening but not contributing to the conversation, and make them feel welcomed.
If you are expecting people who are new to EA to come along to your social event, it is helpful to give a short introduction to EA - either to the whole group, or invite new people to chat with some experienced members of the group to give them an overview.
EA London analysed the gender split of their events and found that their social events were male-dominated while other events (talks, reading groups) were gender-balanced, so it is worth considering whether your social events are appealing to a diverse group of people interested in EA.
The “Venues” page has a list of ideas and considerations about choosing venues for social events.
Food and Drink
The “Food and Drink” page contains ideas and considerations for food at social events.
Non-EA Themed Activities
Some EA groups have arranged activities that are not EA related, but can be a great way to get involved
Walk or Hike: Going for a walk or hike can be ideal for naturally generating smaller two-person conversations, it is cheap, and is good exercise too! While many people like walking, some people may be hesitant to come if they don’t know how long, difficult or fast the walk will be, as it is never nice to feel left behind, or feel like you are struggling to keep up. Recommendations to reduce this problem:
- Give a description and, if available, a map of the proposed walk, including the exact meeting location, distance, expected time, and approximate elevation gain if the area is hilly. Indicate if you think this is likely to be challenging for people with a low to moderate level of fitness.
- Have a plan B route in mind for if it looks like the group is travelling much slower than expected.
- State on your event details that the walk will go at the pace of the slowest person, and enforce this on the walk by having a quiet word with people who are likely to be fast walkers, and suggesting slowing down and stopping. Sometimes people can get carried away walking faster while chatting, but if they’ve been told to stop at regular intervals (and at all intersections) and wait until everyone has caught up and has had a break before leaving again then this can be managed.
- As a facilitator, it is suggested that you bring a first aid kit, and give people a suggested list of items to bring in a backpack (water, raincoat, snacks).
Easy rock climbing
Soccer, frisbee, or some other team game
Geocaching or Orienteering (some areas have permanent courses set up and can be used for free)
Board Games, Card Games or Role Playing Game nights - while a game doesn’t need to be EA related, these can be made EA related by choosing a game such as Pandemic. Pandemic is a cooperative board game involves 2-4 players (up to 6 with expansion packs) fighting a global pandemic - thus making it EA related, although we can’t comment on its scientific accuracy. Other games that are cooperative or resource-oriented may also present interesting discussion topics.
Movie nights - these can be made EA related by choosing an EA related movie .
Vegan cooking classes - this can be as simple as having some group members teaching other group members how to create their favourite dishes.
Many more ideas are on Spencer Greenberg’s list of group activity formats.
EA Themed Activities
“When thoughtful people with access to the same information reach very different conclusions from each other, we should be curious about why” - Julia Galef
‘Speed Updating’ (a play on the term ‘speed dating’), also known as ‘Productive Disagreements’, involves participants getting matched with a person that disagrees with them about a topic for around 10 minutes (can be more or less depending on the question or time available). The goal is to find out the cause of the disagreement, and potentially “update” your position. This activity has been used with excellent reviews in EA UQ, EA ANU, and EA Christchurch. Then people move onto a different question, and a different conversation partner.
This activity can be run many times with the same group, choosing different sets of questions each time. You may wish to theme each Speed Updating session to tackle different topics. Groups have run sessions on cause prioritisation, mental health, and ethics, but there could be an infinite number of themes.
- Choose questions that you think will be accessible and not likely to be sensitive to all your attendees OR make questions optional, so people can choose to not discuss the question, for example, if they don’t know enough to answer or find the topic uncomfortable to talk about.
- EA New Zealands long list of questions ranging over many topics - only select a few of these questions.
- In cause prioritisation themed events, EA UQ set all questions as “Do you think -insert cause- is a priority?”. EA ANU used “What percentage of EA resources should be spent on -insert cause-?”.
- EA UQ’s cause area question cards.
- EA UQ’s open questions list.
- Spencer Greenburg’s spreadsheet of 59 controversial topics.
Ways of finding disagreeing partners
- Choose a particular statement for each 5-10 minute session, and have people indicate whether they agree or disagree with the statement by holding up Green or Red tokens to indicate “agree” or “disagree”, then have people find each other.
- Have a page of questions that people answer at the start of the session. They then can find another person, compare answers, and choose a question on the page which they disagree about to discuss.
- EA ANU created a program in python to match people. They made a list of questions with numerical answers which people answered in an online survey, then ran a program to match people together and inform each pair which question they disagreed the most on.
Running the event
- Explain the purpose of the event, and some guidelines if you feel that would be useful for your group.
- Here are some sample guidelines: EA Christchurch (text to read out), EA UQ (slides), or the Productive Disagreements guide from Spencer Greenburg.
- Since we are actively looking for disagreements, the guidelines may set the stage for productive disagreement between participants and allow participants to avoid conversations that cause discomfort. You may also wish to look over guidelines for discussion groups for advice on how to moderate discussions if needed.
- Use the method chosen to get people into pairs. Let people know how long each conversation will be.
- Let people know when they have 1 minute remaining, and ask them to share what they’ve learnt from the conversation.
- At the end of the event, you may wish to call the whole group together, and people to share if they changed their mind on particular questions and why.
EA “Would You Rather”
These are a series of questions, where people choose which of two scenarios they’d prefer, e.g. ‘Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?’ (but EA “Would You Rather”s usually have more EA related questions than this one).
A game where participants choose three cards to make up the purpose of a silly charity, in the form of “My charity (activity) (recipients) in (location/additional info)”. Participants then have to argue why their charity is the best using the “Scale, Neglectedness, Tractability” framework. Instructions and sample cards are here. By Rebecca Baron.
Fermi Estimation Competition
Fermi Estimates are rough numerical estimates of unknown quantities, named after physicist Enrico Fermi, who was famous for making uncannily accurate estimations with very little data. Usually, Fermi estimates are made by splitting up the problem into several factors that we can approximate, and then doing a simple calculation. This guide on LessWrong gives more information, and examples of Fermi estimates.
Fermi Estimation Competitions can be prepared by choosing a bunch of numerical questions that participants are unlikely to know off the top of their head, and finding the correct answer on the internet.
- Harvard’s Fermi Estimation google slides. Some of these questions are out of date and some are American-centric so you might want to change the questions and check the answers. This folder also contains a google spreadsheet that you can use to score the game if you wish - make a copy to put on your own google drive.
- EA Cambridge’s Fermi Estimate questions, divided into near term- and longterm-focused.
- Examples linked at the end of the LessWrong guide.
- Make up your own. It would be good to have some EA related questions. Don’t worry too much about the quality of the questions; it’s probably better to spend time on optimising the structure of the event, ensuring that attendees know what is expected of them throughout the event.
How to run the session
- Bring pens and papers for participants to use. If possible, have a whiteboard and markers so people can show their working when explaining how they solved the problem. You may also want a projector to show questions and answers.
- If running the event virtually, having a break out rooms function is very important if you have more than 4 attendees. Zoom allows you to move participants into break out rooms to work on the problems in small groups, and then you can bring people back into the main virtual room to discuss questions and answers. More advice on using Zoom.
- Briefly teach the group what Fermi estimates are. You could use an example like this Passenger Car question (alter to suit your own country), and either get people to share how they would calculate the answer, or demonstrate how you answered the question.
- Get people to gather in groups of two to four. The collaboration aspect seems very important for making this a fun event.
- Set the ground rules - using pen, paper, and a calculator app on your phone is okay, but no internet!
- Present a question, then give people a set amount of time to answer (~ 5 minutes). Encourage people to chat in their groups as they go.
- Get each group to share their answer (and write or type it up).
- Then reveal the answer, work out who was closest (and give them a point).
- Ask the winning team how they worked out their answer.
- Continue with the next question.
Jeopardy is a quiz game format where contestants or teams answer questions to get points. This EA Jeopardy game has a variety of questions already. Click “edit” and then clone the template so you can create your own version. A data projector or a large screen is required.
Wits and Wagers
This is a game where people in teams of 2-4 people are given questions with numerical questions. Everyone’s answers are then displayed on the screen then each team bets some or all of their points on the answers they think are the closest. The real answer is revealed then points are awarded for the closest answer and the most accurate bets.
This game can be a lot more engaging than regular quizzes because even if your team has no idea of the answers, you might be able to guess which of the other teams might know the answers and still win the game. There are also strategic decisions to make about betting.
The excel spreadsheet contains all the instructions to set up and run the game. It also completes all the calculations for the quizmaster.
The quizmaster will need to make up their own questions, and the quizmaster needs to find out the correct answers and enter the answers onto the spreadsheet before the game.
- Excel spreadsheet template (no questions)
- Excel spreadsheet with sample EA questions (used by EA New Zealand)
Required: A computer with Excel installed and data projector.
Questions at quiz nights can be entirely EA-themed, but can also contain non-EA related questions. Ensure you choose your questions to suit your audience, as people may not enjoy the quiz if they can’t answer many questions.
EA Penn has sample quiz questions, answers, and answers sheets here.
EA Against Humanity
EA Against Humanity is a hilarious PG-13 and EA-themed adaptation of the party game “Cards Against Humanity,” in which any number of players tries to respond to a prompt with the funniest answer they can. The game is suitable for involved group members as newcomers won’t get many of the references, although you could choose to remove the more obscure references. This original tutorials explaining how to set up and then play the game. To create your own deck, consider using Many Decks for preparation and Massive Decks for gameplay. EA Harvard, Stanford, and NYU Abu Dhabi have collaborated on a usable deck that is available here.
One-on-one conversations between community members are often the highest-rated parts of EA retreats (as reported by London and New Zealand retreat attendees). These conversations can be arranged in regular social meetups if you don’t have the luxury of a retreat. While retreats often have 20 or 30 minute long conversations, for shorter events you may wish to have shorter times.
While many people are happy to chat away without prompts, it can be nice to have a few suggested questions that can get people started. Here is a list of 67 questions that you can choose from.
EA related movies, TV shows and documentaries to watch with your group.
- “Carnage (Swallowing the Past)” - Mockumentary. It’s 2067, the UK is vegan, but older generations are suffering the guilt of their carnivorous past.. Warning - it contains some slaughterhouse footage - viewers should be informed before watching. Available in the UK on iPlayer.
- “Dr. Strangelove” - An insane general triggers a path to nuclear holocaust that a War Room full of politicians and generals frantically tries to stop.
- “Gattaca” - A genetically inferior man assumes the identity of a superior one in order to pursue his lifelong dream of space travel.
- “Schindler’s List” - In German-occupied Poland during World War II, industrialist Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.
- “Contagion” - Healthcare professionals, government officials and everyday people find themselves in the midst of a worldwide epidemic as the CDC works to find a cure.
- “Ex Machina” - A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a highly advanced humanoid A.I. (Note: It demonstrates the “control problem” but holes in the logic might be frustrating for AI safety enthusiasts).
- “The Immortalists” - Documentary style film where two eccentric scientists struggle to create eternal youth in a world they call “blind to the tragedy of old age.” As they battle their own aging and suffer the losses of loved ones, their scientific journeys ultimately become personal. Features anti-aging researcher Aubrey de Grey as himself.
- “The Man Who Saved The World” - Engaging documentary about Stanislav Petrov who became known as “the man who single-handedly saved the world from nuclear war” for his role in the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident.
- “The Life Equation” - Gives insight into health care in a variety of countries, and features Peter Singer. The documentary mentions DALYs and cost-effectiveness, it doesn’t explain these in much depth and leaves it as an open question to the viewer whether to use cost-effectiveness when assessing health care interventions.
- “Don’t Panic, End Poverty” with Hans Rosling. An informative documentary about how we may be able to end extreme poverty by 2030.
- “Earthlings” - A documentary about animal farming. Contains graphic footage.
- “Dominion” - A documentary about animal farming. Contains graphic footage filmed in Australia.
- “The Good Place” (available on Netflix). Includes light-hearted discussions of ethics and philosophy.
- The Black Mirror episode “White Christmas” features tales of technology running amok.
More movies and documentaries about global health, poverty and injustice can be found in The Life You Can Save’s film list.
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