2. Domain Expert Research

Domain experts refer to people who have a lot of experience in a particular cause area or career path, especially within a country or organisation. If you’re at an early stage of investigation, it might help to interview people who’ve worked at different organisations, if you’ve narrowed down to a specific organisation, it might help to talk to senior people who work there. If you’re interested in looking at promising solutions within a particular cause, then see Charity Entrepreneurship's use of experts.

2.1 Prepare a set of questions

These questions were adapted from Charity Entrepreneurship’s resources on cause-neutral and 4 cause areas. They are structured as follows:

  • 35 percent general cause neutral questions
  • 45 percent customized cause (e.g. mental health)
  • 20 percent customized person (e.g. expert X)

2.1.1 Questions - Cause-neutral (36-60 mins)

Introduction (~5 mins)

  • Introduce the project: (ideally 2-3 minutes)
  • Introduce your background (45 seconds)
  • Give an outline of the interview (types of questions, length, etc.) (40 seconds)“In this interview I would like to ask you about promising jobs and organizations in your area. The interview would last for about 1 hour. Does it sound good for you?”
  • Could I record our interview for the purpose of making more accurate conversation notes later? Or can we take notes? At the end we’ll discuss if something can be shared or not. (40 seconds)
  • Ask about hard-limits for the time of the interview

Introduction of the expert (~5 mins)

Goal: Establishing the expert’s domain and knowledge of EA.

  • What area do you focus on?
  • How did you come to it?OrHow long have you been working in/researching <cause area> and what got you interested in it?
    • We want to understand how deep the expertise of the interviewee is
  • Are you familiar with concepts of EA?

Field or career path overview (~20 mins)

  • What are the main directions of the field, and which of them are the most important? (4-8 min)
    • Field landscape
  • What are the most pressing problems? (2-3 min unless something is really interesting)
    • What are the bottlenecks of the field?
    • (Do they even lie within this field, e.g. economics for climate change)
  • Neglected areas (2-3 min)
    • Are there some directions or jobs that you think can create a big value but people often overlook?

Local opportunities (5+ min)

Do you know any particularly promising organizations/positions in the local region that we can recommend people?

  • Are there any commercial organizations?
  • How much influence on the field do these organizations have? How much prestige?
  • Are there some orgs, which are not focusing on the area, but could have a lot of influence?
    • Like UN, EU
  • What do these organisations do?

How to get there (7-10 min)

General career path or guide questions

  • Main roles and backgrounds, which can be useful here. The most important skills.
  • How can one develop a skill set to become suitable for such a position? What are the general good starting points?
    • Examples of skill-sets:
      • Being very good at understanding & writing legislation
      • social skills and network
      • Technical expertise in specific domain
    • Any internships?
    • General advice for yourself 15 years ago
    • How long does it take to start contributing to the field after graduation? 3 years? 10?
    • Master or PhD programmes on the topic worth looking at? Preferably local.
    • Ask about the ways other than the one the expert used themselves.
  • Fast way to test your fit
    • Any possible individual projects?(repeat a research from a paper, go to summer camp, volunteering, internship, etc)

Some other questions you might want to consider:

  • What are examples of people who’ve made a big impact in this space?
    • What kind of impact did they have?
    • What positions did they occupy?
    • Is their journey typical or unique in this field?
  • Which are the highest-impact and/or most influential positions in this space?
    • Which are the key “ways in” to these positions?
    • If a young graduate wanted to become the top person in this domain in ten years time, what should they be doing now? Who should they be talking to, where should they be working, etc? etc.
  • Are there any relevant written resources (articles, websites, blogs or books) of this advice?

Effective Interventions (5-7 min)

  • The most effective interventions
    • Are there any resources on the prioritization?
    • If there is some references which we need to know about for specific interventions, would be nice to have that as well
  • What intervention or organization do most people think is effective but in your opinion is not? Why?
    • Interventions, which didn't work
  • Any advice on evaluating the interventions / organizations?

Prioritization of this area (~5 mins)

  • Why is this area more important than others? (0-4 min)
    • What are the crucial considerations for prioritizing this area?
    • Any considerations EAs don’t take into account thinking about the area?
    • It’s mostly important for non-investigated areas
  • How much better is our region in this area compared to other regions / countries? (1-3 min)
    • Would it be better to relocate somewhere?

Other (0-3 mins)

  • Recommendations of other experts (0-2 min)
    • Who else in the area do you think would give valuable information about these sorts of questions?
    • Can I ask you later for an introduction to them?
  • Resources to learn more (1 min)

Conclusion (5 min)

  • Do you have any questions for me?
  • This conversation was really helpful. Next, I’m going to write up a summary of some of the points we talked about.
  • Offer to send them a copy of any notes we take so they can comment if they feel we misunderstood anything.
  • Who are the other people we should talk to to cover other parts of the area?
  • Can we reference their personal opinion (named or anonymized) in the docs within EA?
    • Some experts are happy for us to put up a published set of conversation notes on the topic. But we can also anonymize the conversation or combine it with points from other experts into a more overall view (eg., five out of twelve experts think that this is the most promising intervention) depending on what you are most comfortable with.
  • Would it be fine to get in touch later for the feedback about our research?

2.1.2 Questions - Cause-specific

Near-term AI

  • What's Europe 's role in it? How does it relate to the whole world?
  • Should the initiative come from the companies or from the governmental organizations? Any ways to stimulate companies?

Possible roles:

  • Cyber-security expert
  • ML expert
  • Policy expert

Relevant reading:

Climate change Interventions

  • Ask about some resources on interventions, as there is probably too many of them
    • The goal is to be able to evaluate paths ourselves later
  • Ask, which subfields the interviewee is the most experienced in. Then, focus on these fields.
    • If possible, ask for prioritization between the subfields
  • Impact of commercial organizations comparing to non-profits
  • There are a lot of startups on climate change (e.g. from Katapult). How to distinguish if they’re impactful?
  • Ask experts, related to different subfields
  • Do you see any individual interventions that are better or comparable to the most effective charities?


2.2 Find a domain expert

  • How to find experts
    • People from your community who can already have expert knowledge
    • Ask friends, EAs both in-person and offline about experts they know
    • Consider attending relevant conferences, events and talks
    • Be especially willing to cold-email people, see a sample email here
  • Read these tips about how to speak to experts
  • If your expert is not familiar with EA thinking, consider how to rephrase your questions so that they will be able to give answers that make sense in an EA context. If it seems like the expert can't answer the question precisely, ask useful proxy questions that might help you answer them yourself. It may be worthwhile to brainstorm such proxy questions before you meet with them
    • For example, your expert may not know if their field is neglected on a global scale, but they may be able to tell you how much funding is available in the space, how they are doing relative to other fields and how competitive the job market is.

2.3 Prepare for an interview

  • View information about the expert (e.g. linkedin profile, org profile)
  • Understand where exactly their expertise lies in. Prepare to focus on these areas to use the time optimally.
  • Read the problem profile if it exists
  • Create a list of possible ways to work in the area
    • E.g. think tanks, research institutions, government positions, etc
  • Think if there are organizations to ask about
  • Prepare to be kind and humble :)

2.4 Iterate based on feedback

When you’re speaking with experts

  • Enrich your list of questions with relevant considerations that come up in conversation
  • Expand your expert network by asking experts for further connections.

2.5 Repeat 2 throughout your expert network