[This post is largely from the perspective of AI safety, but most of it should generalize.]

For recipients, well calibrated estimates about funding probability and quantity are extremely valuable. Funding-dependent individuals and organizations need information to optimize their decisionmaking; incorrect estimates cause waste.

At the moment, getting that information seems unnecessarily hard.

To help with this, I would ask organizations up the funding chain to systematically and continuously provide bite-sized updates from their own perspectives on the funding situation when possible.

This needn't be in the form of a lengthy report or deep-dive (though those are nice too!). For example, for a grantmaking organization with open applications, maybe something like:

We've received V requests for funding totaling $W in the last month. We anticipate funding up to $X of these requests; we would fund up to about $Y if we had more funding.

We don't anticipate significant changes in our funding capacity by default.

Reports like this are already done occasionally. For example, I deeply appreciate reports like this one.[1] My concern is that I'm not aware of any consistent source for this information.

I worry that this is partially because writing a dense report takes a lot of time, and many of these organizations are massively overwhelmed as it is. To the extent that this is limiting reports, I would suggest that giving a tweet-sized miniupdate as things change (or just every few months) would be a huge improvement over the status quo.

Even "oof, we're REALLY funding constrained" would be great! If you don't have time for collecting any numbers at all, a vibecheck is still useful!

There's also no need for each report to attempt to capture the entire field's status, just the perspective of that one organization.[2] 

An anecdote of awareness not propagating like it should

For the last six-ish months, I've been trying to figure out how to prioritize earning to give and direct alignment research. I've gotten in touch with several people and heard a number of different perspectives.

None of them were "yeah, the field's pretty funding constrained right now, there are more people than funds, it's a major bottleneck."

This continued a confusion I had starting with the FTX collapse. While I fully expected the field to be in a crunch immediately following the collapse, the vibe I collected from a number of people was that this was a probably-temporary thing, and this was seemingly supported by other things I heard a few months later.

A lot of hints—organizations not being able to hire everyone they'd like to hire, not as many grants flowing as I'd expect, and salary targets way too low for a field with tons of cash on hand relative to talent—were inconsistent with the "unconstrained" narrative, but they were too weak in isolation to update me to reality.

One side effect of this confusion was that I started work on a project before receiving grant funding for it based on an incorrectly high probability of being funded. It fell through[3]; it's not a catastrophe, and I was prepared for that possibility, but I would have chosen differently if I had all the information that had existed privately at the time.

Then it seems like everything snapped together with the common knowledge created by one post.

If this is our collective mechanism for creating awareness, something seems broken.

The future

While I've felt reasonably productive in my grant-funded research so far, it seems unlikely that my comparative advantage is in full-time alignment research as opposed to earning to give if this kind of funding environment continues.

In addition to periodic updates about the current funding situation, I've love it if a number of people in positions with more information than mine to make explicit predictions about the relative value of future funding versus direct work.

High variance and wide distributions are expected, but I'm guessing there would still be something interesting to be learned from a bunch of different people filling in values for propositions like:

It would be better to have $X dollars of additional funding available in the field by the year Y than an additional Z hours of direct work per week starting today.

Even if you aren't involved in a grantmaking/funding organization, I'd still like to hear your perspective on that sort of question!

  1. ^

    There are a number of other ones scattered around, too, but the information is often in the form of random comments that are difficult to find. Sufficiently difficult, in fact, that I'm struggling to find links to the examples I remember! I suspect a most people who would have wanted to know never even saw them.

    Manifund is an interesting case where a lot of the relevant information is visible as a byproduct of how the system works. That's nice to have, though even there, having a standardized tweet-sized summary occasionally would be nice.

  2. ^

    I suspect Open Philanthropy has a wider net for this kind of information; having that perspective continuously available would be great.

  3. ^

    At least for now. I'll probably apply for funding elsewhere.

New to LessWrong?

New Comment
4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:53 AM

For this Lightspeed Grants round we received ~600 requests for funding, totaling around $150M in total default-request size and $350M in maximum request size (following a somewhat heavy-tailed but not extremely heavy-tailed distribution).

When I evaluated these grants, I felt like I identified around $15M-$20M in grants that I would have made at the bar that I've historically had for previous SFF rounds and LTFF grants. My guess is if I had spent more time, I could have probably identified another $5M-$10M of funding opportunities of that quality. 

My guess is we will distribute between $5M and $10M this round, meaning we will only fund a quite small fraction of grants that I think are worth funding.

Thanks!

(An earlier update from you about Lightspeed's status is what solidified the thought of "it sure would be nice if this was a widely available thing," so thanks for that too!)

On the Manifund regranting program: we've received 60 requests for funding in the last month, and have commited $670k to date (or about 1/3rd of our initial budget of $1.9m). My rough guess is we could productively distribute another $1m immediately, or $10m total by the end of the year.

I'm not sure if the other tallies are as useful for us -- in contrast to an open call, a regranting program scales up pretty easily; we have a backlog of both new regrantors to onboard and existing regrantors to increase budgets, and regrantors tend to generate opportunities based on the size of their budgets.

(With a few million in unrestricted funding, we'd also branch out beyond regranting and start experimenting with other programs such as impact certificates, retroactive funding, and peer bonuses in EA)

Thank you!