EV investigation into Owen and Community Health


Last year, Owen Cotton-Barratt resigned from EV UK’s board of directors following reports of sexual misconduct. Prior to his resignation, accusations of misconduct from Owen had been reported to Julia Wise at CEA’s Community Health team, which is led by Nicole Ross.

EV US and EV UK jointly commissioned an independent investigation led by the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills into Owen’s conduct and whether the Community Health team had acted appropriately with the information they had been given. Following the investigation, the boards of EV US[1] and EV UK jointly deliberated over the findings and the appropriate response.

Below, the EV boards report their determinations and actions. We considered saying nothing or sharing significantly less information but decided it was in the best interests of the community to have some information upon which to update on the behavior of Owen Cotton-Barratt and the Community Health team. Our desire for transparency was not particularly motivated by the magnitude of the findings, and was instead motivated by the relevancy of the information for informing community members’ future interactions with Owen and /​ or Community Health, the public nature of Owen’s resignation, and community norms towards transparency and accountability.

Additionally, we felt that sharing as much information as we could was particularly important because of the recent news that EV’s projects are spinning out, as the boards’ decisions only have an effect for projects so long as they remain part of EV. Projects will eventually set their own policies and won’t have access to all of the facts we do, so we wanted to provide some information to enable the broader EA ecosystem to make better-informed decisions.

With that being said, we are constrained in how much detail we can share without risking the anonymity of the interviewees. The investigators noted that multiple interviewees made requests to protect their anonymity, and given their voluntary participation, we want to respect their wishes. We want people to continue to feel comfortable coming forward in investigations knowing that potentially identifying information will not be made public.

This means that in some cases below we present claims and board actions without all of the underlying evidence or reasoning. We recognize that this post does not have the same level of reasoning transparency we would normally aim for and think readers should update less than they would if they had as much detail as we do, but we ultimately felt like this was a reasonable middle ground to strike to allow us to share as much information with the community as possible while protecting the anonymity of interviewees. We’ve also included some detail about the process in an appendix below.

Determinations regarding Owen Cotton-Barratt

The boards unanimously agree on the following:

  • On multiple occasions, Owen expressed sexual and /​ or romantic interest in women who were younger and less influential than he was. There were important power differentials between Owen and the women involved, sometimes formal and sometimes informal.

  • Multiple women expressed being upset by Owen’s advances. Both the frequency and the content of the advances contributed to the women’s feelings.

  • Julia Wise from CEA’s Community Health Team gave Owen feedback that his behavior was inappropriate prior to some of the later instances of similar behavior.

  • Owen was inconsistent at acknowledging potential conflicts of interest with persons whom he expressed sexual and /​ or romantic interest in. He recused himself in at least one professional context, but did not seem to consistently acknowledge other potential conflicts in other instances.

  • In at least one case, Owen did not stop making repeated unwanted attempts at contact after being asked to do so[2].

  • In some cases, it was difficult for the women to avoid interacting with Owen while the inappropriate actions were taking place, e.g. with a woman staying at Owen’s house.

The boards believe Owen’s actions caused substantial harm in a way that should have at least in part been predictable to Owen. This sexual misconduct is not acceptable in our community.

Based on the above, the boards decided on the following course of action:

  • Owen will be banned from EV-hosted activities (including those sponsored by our projects) for 2 years from the date of his departure from the board. Owen stepped down on February 11th, 2023, so the ban is in effect until February 11th, 2025[3]. This ban includes (but is not necessarily limited to) employment, contracting, volunteering, attendance at events, retreats, and being a member of EV coworking spaces[4][5].

  • After February 11th, 2025, Owen Cotton-Barratt will need to appeal to the boards of EV US and EV UK to participate in any overnight events or to be a member in an EV coworking space. (We recognize there is a possibility that EV may no longer exist by that time, in which case EV’s spunout projects will be able to make their own decisions).

  • Before participating in any EV-hosted activities, Owen will need to complete training on sexual misconduct.

  • Any grant applications from Owen to any EV entities during this period must be flagged to the EV boards, who may or may not decide to veto the grant request depending on the specifics of the grant and the potential risks it poses.

  • Once the ban is complete and Owen has completed sexual misconduct training, it will be up to decision-makers within EV’s individual projects to make their own decisions on whether and how to engage with Owen, with the exception of the aforementioned requirement to appeal to the boards before participating in overnight events or be a member of a coworking space. Individual decision-makers may still decide to ban him.

The EV boards have also begun to proactively check with Community Health before bringing on new board members, as well as conducting more thorough independent background and reference checks.

Determinations regarding the Community Health team

The boards unanimously agree on the following:

  • The Community Health team made important mistakes during the process of investigating Owen. The boards do not believe any of these mistakes were intentional, but believe that they had a negative impact. The boards considered taking disciplinary action (e.g. firing or suspension) against members of the Community Health team and decided they did not reach a threshold to do so based on either intent or impact, but the boards do believe improvements and reforms should occur.

  • There were multiple reports of concerning behavior about Owen, some of which we believe were handled reasonably by Community Health, and some of which we believe were not.

  • A consistent mistake was the lack of policies and oversight:

    • Julia Wise was friends with Owen. While we do not have clear evidence that suggests Julia’s response was unduly biased towards Owen, the lack of formal mechanisms to mitigate these issues (e.g. handing off the case to another team member) and the potential perception of bias undermined the credibility of Julia’s investigation.

    • There was no clear policy in place for when an issue deserved escalation to the boards or others. Julia only alerted the full boards to Owen’s conduct after Owen was (anonymously) described in an article by TIME magazine[6].

    • There were few checks on Julia’s decisions, and Nicole had only partial information about the accusations against Owen[7].

  • Given the potential for a pattern of behavior among the reports and Owen’s stature in the community, we think the Community Health team insufficiently prioritized gathering follow-up information from at least one of the women involved.

  • The boards have directed the Community Health team to formalize their operating principles, including via the creation of team-wide policies governing conflicts of interests and escalation. These policies will require review and signoff from EV US and EV UK’s general counsels, with any unresolved issues being escalated to EV US and EV UK’s CEOs.

The Community Health team also conducted an internal reflection and review on the Owen case and their policies (previously mentioned here) and independently have been making significant updates to their policies[8]. They will be sharing information about these updates shortly.

Appendix: Investigative process

  • The investigators spoke with Owen Cotton-Barratt, Julia Wise, Nicole Ross, Toby Ord, and multiple women who Julia was aware had relevant prior interactions with Owen.

  • The investigators also considered contemporaneous documents (e.g. communications between Owen and the other interviewees), as well as follow-up messages from interviewees adding more detail.

  • Only the EV US and EV UK boards and legal teams have seen the full report; interviewees have not seen the full report or had a chance to respond directly. The report summarized the investigators’ findings and did not include the detailed interview notes. This was intentional to help preserve the anonymity of the interviewees.

  • A draft of this post was shown to Owen and the Community Health team before posting. In response to their feedback, we have made a few minor modifications for precision and clarity, but the substance of the post remains largely the same, and should not be read as a shared perspective or joint statement with either Owen or Community Health. We expect there may be disagreements with some of these conclusions, and anyone discussed in this post is of course welcome to share their own perspectives.

  1. ^

    Nicole Ross is on EV US’s board; she was recused from this process

  2. ^

    When Owen was shown a draft of this post, he noted that he was confused by this finding. We will leave it to Owen to share more detail on his perspective if he chooses to do so.

  3. ^

    Before the boards had made their final determinations regarding the investigation, Owen had previously been told by CEA that he could not attend their events and had also been told he could not go to Trajan (an EV-operated workspace).

  4. ^

    Owen may not be a member of EV coworking spaces but he may enter EV coworking spaces if he does so for the explicit purpose of attending a specific meeting that he was invited to by a member of that EV coworking space.

  5. ^

    This is not intended to stop Owen from posting on the EA Forum.

  6. ^

    Julia had previously told Toby Ord and Nicole Ross some information regarding Owen’s behavior, but did so in their capacity as an FHI staff member (not in Toby’s capacity as a board member, which he was at the time) and Julia’s colleague and later manager, respectively.

  7. ^

    Other team members were unaware of the concerns until after the TIME piece.

  8. ^

    These policies are still subject to review insofar as they intersect with the boards’ determinations.