J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once observed that a “state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

This notion – that states and local governments can be “laboratories of democracy” – is at the core of an exciting new initiative we have recently launched at J-PAL North America.

Through our State & Local Innovation Initiative, we will support state and local leaders who are at the forefront of creating and using evidence to address important social issues.

Next week, February 16 is the deadline for expressions of interest for our first wave of state and local partners. Through this process, we will work to support state and local governments in using randomized evaluations to generate new and widely applicable lessons about which social programs work best and why.

Through this initiative, J-PAL North America will

  • Build the capacity of state and local governments to create and use rigorous evidence;
  • Share this evidence with other jurisdictions that may be facing similar challenges; and
  • Document and disseminate best practices for feasibly implementing randomized evaluations at the state and local level.

We don’t expect our state and government partners to come to us with fully formed ideas at this point. Instead, we’ve structured the initiative in two phases.

In the first phase (by February 16), we ask for state and local leaders to submit a brief letter of interest identifying the policy questions they would like to answer using randomized evaluations.

We will select a few partners to work with, and these state and local leaders will receive the help they need to turn their priority policy questions into feasible research plans. We will provide technical support from J-PAL staff for a period of up to one year, flexible pilot funding of up to $100,000, and matchmaking with J-PAL’s world-class network of researchers.

In the second phase of the competition, state and local governments that have partnered with a researcher from J-PAL’s network to design a high-quality randomized evaluation can apply for funding (typically in the range of $250,000–500,000) to carry out the evaluation.

The state and local leaders selected to participate in this initiative will serve as a model for others across the country, demonstrating that state and local governments can create and use rigorous evidence to address challenging social problems.

If you work in a state or local government in the United States, we hope you will consider sending us a letter of interest by February 16.  But next week is just the beginning — there will multiple rounds of both Phase I and Phase II of the competition over five years.

For more information, you can view our webinars on the initiative here and here.


Author: Quentin Palfrey

Quentin Palfrey is the Executive Director of J-PAL North America, which works to improve the effectiveness of social programs in North America through research, policy outreach, and capacity building. Based at MIT, J-PAL North America seeks to help decision-makers use research evidence in policy decisions and program design and to provide training courses on the value of impact evaluation.

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