I am still relatively new to this community; if you do not want questions that imply or directly state political persuasions, I promise you won't get any more of them from me.

Let's say that there's a movement to implement a specific idea that you believe could have unusually positive societal benefits.

Could be a net positive for the entire world, in fact.

Let's say that the person leading the movement has hired a team to create a website with volunteer opportunities, and let's say you look at the opportunities that are on display and ask yourself "how does completing this task move us closer to the implementation of the idea"?

This might actually be two questions.

No, wait. Three questions. 

The first question is "how do you evaluate volunteer tasks for their actual efficacy," i.e. "how do you decide what to spend time on," and I'm pretty sure I can find some answers in the Effective Altruism section of LW.

The second question is "at what point do you say ummmm telling your volunteers that you want to see 1000 letters to the editor published by the end of 2021 is a BAD GOAL that you will FAIL because YOU DON'T CONTROL THE OUTCOME and also YOU'RE CONFUSING OP-EDS AND LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, and MOST NEWSPAPERS WILL NOT ACCEPT LETTERS TO THE EDITOR THAT ARE NOT A RESPONSE TO A PREVIOUSLY PRINTED ARTICLE and this is a WASTE OF TIME without either sounding like a jerk or unwittingly volunteering to take control of the entire project?"

The second-point-five question is whether I should wittingly volunteer to take control of the entire project, or at least the volunteer tasks that are related to the industry I've worked in for the past decade.

The third question is how you make an idea into a reality, especially when it involves societal and governmental buy-in.

The (secret) fourth question is whether any of you can guess which idea I'm referring to, and whether you agree that it's worth trying to make real.


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It depends a lot on the idea in question. Aaron Schwartz wrote Theory of Change which is a good read. 

To me, your example sounds like there's a lack of thought about a theory of change. Even without taking over the project talking with the person who runs the project about the theory of change might make sense, especially when you understand better how the structures work. 

There's also a good chance that your idea just sounds good and has problems where you would need to understand the subject domain more to refine the idea or reject it.

I would have guessed this was related to the Scott Alexander/NYT thing, but didn't that resolve months ago?

I'm sure I'm not the person to say whether anything resolved (and also that is not what I am referring to in this case).

2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:57 AM

The general approach that has been proven to work is "turn your idea into a potential money maker and be/find a person who can push it through to completion, like Musk/Jobs/Tiel".

See, that's what I thought -- any hashtag I tweet or editorial letter I write is going to be way less effective than the movement leader telling a journalist that "Stark Doobin" (no, seriously, that's how he announced it) was going to be the person who could push the plan into completion.  

That makes me wonder whether any of the volunteer tasks are useful at all (share a tweet, share a meme, make a blog post, etc.), or whether they exist primarily to keep volunteers engaged. Which is in itself useful, keep the biggest fans on board so they don't get distracted by other shinies, but still.