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State and local governments invited to apply for funding, support on pressing policy challenges

Selected governments will partner with MIT's J-PAL North America to test which programs work, which work best, and why.
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“State and local governments can serve as laboratories of innovation and test out new approaches to tackling challenging social problems,” says Mary Ann Bates, deputy director of J-PAL North America.
“State and local governments can serve as laboratories of innovation and test out new approaches to tackling challenging social problems,” says Mary Ann Bates, deputy director of J-PAL North America.
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J-PAL North America, a research center at MIT, has announced that it is now accepting letters of interest from U.S. state and local governments through the J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative. This initiative supports state and local governments in using randomized evaluations to answer their priority policy questions.

State and local governments are increasingly looking for rigorous evidence about which social programs are most effective and cost effective. The governments selected to participate in this initiative will receive flexible pilot funding of up to $100,000, pro bono technical support from J-PAL North America staff, and connections with experienced researchers from J-PAL’s network. State and local governments that have partnered with a researcher to design a high-quality randomized evaluation can later apply for additional funding, typically in the range of $250,000 to 500,000, to carry out the evaluations.

“State and local governments can serve as laboratories of innovation and test out new approaches to tackling challenging social problems,” said J-PAL North America deputy director and initiative co-chair Mary Ann Bates. “By partnering state and local governments with J-PAL staff and affiliated researchers, we can build the capacity of state and local governments to generate and use rigorous evidence — and, ultimatel,y better serve their citizens.”

In the inaugural round of its competition, J-PAL North America selected five state and local governments — Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, Philadelphia, and Rochester — from a strong group of applicants across the United States. Together with J-PAL North America staff and researchers from J-PAL’s network, these governments will develop and test innovative approaches to increasing employment, helping people move out of poverty, expanding opportunity for young people, and finding more effective treatments for substance use disorders.

“I’m thrilled that Pennsylvania will have the opportunity to participate in the J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative,” said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. “My administration is committed to using rigorous evidence to find solutions to Pennsylvania’s most urgent challenges. On behalf of the citizens of the commonwealth, I look forward to working with J-PAL’s exceptional team of researchers to learn important lessons that will support the fight against the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic that is plaguing Pennsylvania and the nation.”

Over the course of this five-year initiative, J-PAL North America will partner with at least 12 state and local governments and share the evidence generated to ensure that it reaches other state and local governments facing similar challenges. Building on a recent movement toward evidence-based policymaking, these state and local leaders will serve as a model for others across the country.

“We are excited to partner with state and local policymakers who want to better understand the impact of their programs and policies and give them the tools they need to develop high-quality and policy-relevant evaluations,” said Jonathan Guryan, associate professor of human development and social policy and economics at Northwestern University and initiative co-chair.

“State and local governments face many policy challenges and often don't have the staff or technical capacity to engage in evidence collection. The goal of this initiative is to help governments build the evidence base they need to tackle the challenges they identify as important to their particular jurisdiction,” said Melissa Kearney, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and initiative co-chair.

The deadline to submit Letters of interest is Feb. 17, 2017. Winners from this round of applications will be announced the following April. J-PAL North America will host a webinar Thursday, Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. EST to share more information about the initiative and how to apply. For more information, visit

J-PAL North America is a regional office of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). J-PAL was established in 2003 as a research center at MIT’s Department of Economics. Since then, it has built a global network of affiliated professors based at over 40 universities and regional offices in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. J-PAL North America was established with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and works to improve the effectiveness of social programs in the region through three core activities: research, policy outreach, and capacity building.

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