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MIT’s J-PAL North America launches State and Local Innovation Initiative

New program out of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT aims to help state and local governments find solutions to key public policy issues.
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J-PAL North America, the regional office of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, has launched a new State and Local Innovation Initiative that will partner U.S. state and local governments with leading academic researchers from J-PAL’s global network to find evidence-informed solutions to challenging social problems. 

The J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative will encourage new research projects across a wide range of social issues including crime, education, employment, health, and housing. Through the initiative, selected U.S. state and local governments will receive funding, on-the-ground technical support, and access to J-PAL’s network of affiliated professors from leading universities across the U.S. to help them design and implement randomized evaluations and use the evidence generated to inform their policy decisions. The J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative is supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

“If state and local governments are going to implement evidence-based policy, they must have the capacity to perform high-quality evaluations of their programs,” said Ron Haskins, senior fellow in the Economic Studies program and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution and senior consultant at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore. “The J-PAL project to provide state and local governments with help in developing this capacity is timely, and J-PAL is the perfect organization to provide this essential service.”

“The new J-PAL initiative is a fantastic opportunity for governments who want to better understand the impact of their programs,” said Linda Gibbs, principal at Bloomberg Associates and former New York City deputy mayor of health and human services. “In working with many state and local governments, I've seen how difficult it can be to obtain the necessary funding and technical support to get useful testing and research up and running. This initiative is exactly what is needed to take evidence-based policy to the next level.”

State and local governments selected in Phase I of the competition can access up to $100,000 in flexible pilot funds to help get evaluations off the ground and will receive ongoing technical support from J-PAL North America staff for a period of up to one year to provide project management, connect them to other research resources and technical experts at J-PAL, and facilitate partnerships with J-PAL’s network of leading academic researchers. In Phase II of the competition, state and local governments that have partnered with a researcher to design a high-quality randomized evaluation can apply for funding, typically in the range of $250,000-500,000, to carry out the evaluations.

Over the course of the five-year initiative, selected state and local leaders can participate in custom trainings and convenings to showcase them as leaders in creating and using evidence to inform policy, facilitate lasting connections between state and local governments and researchers, and help advance the spread of innovative ideas.

“State and local policymakers work to address a range of policy challenges, often with limited resources and tight budgets,” said Melissa Kearney, professor of economics at the University of Maryland and co-chair for the J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative. “We hope this new collaborative initiative will advance the use of rigorous evidence at the local and state levels of government and ultimately help these leaders identify the most cost-effective programs and policies. With the benefit of rigorous research and evaluations, state and local officials will be in a better position to make informed policy decisions and achieve their policy goals.”

“An evaluation allows a program to have an impact beyond those individuals it serves directly by generating evidence about what works,” said Jonathan Guryan, associate professor of human development and social policy and economics at Northwestern University and co-chair for the J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative. “Evidence from randomized evaluations of projects involving a few hundred people have informed the development of programs that now reach millions.”

“We’re open for business and look forward to receiving letters of interest from a wide range of government partners,” said Mary Ann Bates, deputy director of J-PAL North America and project director for the initiative. “We anticipate that people will have many questions, and we’re here to talk with you and understand your priorities.”  

Interested state and local leaders should submit letters of interest by February 16, 2016, and winners will be announced by June 6, 2016. J-PAL North America will be hosting a webinar on Dec. 9 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. EST to provide an introduction to the initiative, review the application process, and respond to questions.

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