J-PAL North America, a research center in the MIT Department of Economics, has announced the latest round of its State and Local Innovation Initiative's Innovation Competition, which supports state and local governments in using rigorous evaluation to answer critical questions about what works in reducing poverty.
For the past year, state and local governments across the United States have faced tremendous challenges, including a pandemic that has resulted in incalculable losses for millions of Americans, unprecedented natural disasters brought on by climate change, and ongoing displays of police violence and systemic racism.
These ongoing events — which have disproportionately impacted low-income individuals and communities of color — have both exacerbated and highlighted existing disparities in health, labor, housing, and education. To overcome these myriad challenges that have destabilized the physical, psychological, and economic lives of individuals and communities experiencing poverty, it is critical that state and local leaders look to data and evidence to inform their decision-making. It is important, now more than ever, for policymakers to understand which policies work, and why some work better than others.
Through J-PAL North America’s State and Local Innovation Competition, state and local governments can apply for support in using randomized evaluations to better understand the impact of social policies and programs in their jurisdictions. Selected partners receive pro bono technical support from J-PAL North America staff and connections with J-PAL’s network of leading academic researchers to help them design and implement randomized evaluations of their policies or programs. In addition, applications may be eligible for up to $50,000 in flexible funding for the development of a randomized evaluation.
For this round of funding, J-PAL welcomes evaluations on programs seeking to address today’s most pressing policy problems, including climate change, racial inequity, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Current State and Local Innovation Initiative partnerships
Since the Initiative’s launch in 2015, J-PAL North America and affiliated researchers have partnered with eighteen state and local governments. J-PAL North America’s selected partners are united in their commitment to generating rigorous evidence to inform their policy decisions and ultimately improve lives.
The Office of the Mayor of the City of Rochester, New York — one of the initiative’s first selected partners — is working with J-PAL North America and researchers from the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities to evaluate the local Bridges to Success program, a professional adult mentor program that connects individuals with available wrap-around services and guides them through the application process. Through the evaluation, the city hopes to learn whether the program will improve individuals’ long-term economic mobility, such as household income and job stability.
“The program supports participants in setting and achieving goals across each major area of their life and connecting them to services to assist in those goals,” says Henry Fitts, director of innovation at the mayor’s office. “We plan to use the results to judge whether the program actually produced lasting economic mobility outcomes ... We also plan to use the data to produce a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. If we see positive results from both of these aspects, we will advocate for the expansion of the program and use the evidence as part of our case for funding.”
This past year, Shasta County Superior Court partnered with J-PAL North America and researchers from the University of California at Irvine to develop a randomized evaluation of a court-date text-message reminder program for individuals likely to be experiencing homelessness. The ongoing study will inform the best method of ensuring that individuals likely to be experiencing homelessness show up to their court dates and avoid the consequences of failure to appear, which may result in bench arrest warrants and further involvement with the justice system.
“The Shasta County Superior Court is currently analyzing strategies that could help reduce the incidence of homeless individuals failing to appear in court,” says Melissa Fowler-Bradley, court executive officer of the Shasta County Superior Court. “In Shasta County, about one-third of the people who fail to appear for their court cases are homeless, and similar statistics exist throughout the country. Unfortunately, a failure to appear has an added impact on those who are economically challenged ... A successful project created under this State and Local Innovation Initiative could have a nationwide impact, improve the plight of the impoverished, and increase the efficiency of the criminal justice system.”
Applying to the initiative
State and local governments that are interested in using rigorous impact evaluations to answer policy questions are encouraged to submit an application by April 30. Detailed instructions on how to apply to the State and Local Innovation Competition can be found on the initiative webpage.
For more information about the State and Local Innovation Competition, you may register for an upcoming webinar on Feb. 23 for prospective applicants and sign up for the State and Local Innovative Initiative listserv for updates. A recording of the webinar will be made available on the J-PAL website.