Researcher spotlight: Erin Crossett, GiveWell Program Officer

Our research team spends over 50,000 hours a year looking for cost-effective organizations and interventions to save and improve lives, with the goal of producing the world’s top research on where to give. This interview with Program Officer Erin Crossett provides a glimpse into the world of GiveWell research.

Q: What made you interested in joining the GiveWell research team?
A: I really cared about working at a place where evidence of real impact was the key determinant of what we investigated and what we funded. I think a lot of organizations nominally care about impact, and the term “impact” gets thrown around a lot. But I think it really means something at GiveWell—it’s a core part of the GiveWell research DNA, and that’s very motivating.
Q: What grant are you most proud of contributing to during your time at GiveWell?
A: Actually the first grant I made at GiveWell: a grant to the Development Innovation Lab (DIL) at the University of Chicago to launch what we hoped would be a large, multi-site randomized controlled trial of water quality interventions. The trial was powered to detect mortality, looking at the effect of vouchers (coupons to redeem for free chlorine) and in-line chlorination (chlorine provided via an automatic dispenser added to an existing water pump) on all-cause mortality in children under five.
This grant was exciting for a number of reasons—it’s really rare to be able to run trials that are powered to detect mortality because it requires a really big sample size, and logistically, it’s quite complex to run a trial of that size. So the fact that we could do it, or even that we just took the first step to do it, is very exciting.
Before I joined GiveWell, a couple researchers on the team did a lot of work to make our first investments in clean water, but we were really uncertain about the effect of chlorination on all-cause mortality. This trial could reduce some of that uncertainty and potentially lead us to invest significantly more in water quality interventions. If the results are less promising than we thought, that could instead lead us to direct money to other interventions that are more cost-effective. So this research has real implications for how we direct large amounts of money. We would also learn

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