Staff Profile: Elisabeth O’Toole


What do you do at J-PAL? I provide research support for the Nurse-Family Partnership study, coordinating between the research team and providers on study implementation and analysis. I have also contributed to the facilitation of several J-PAL conferences, including for the State & Local Innovation Initiative and the Health Care Delivery Initiative. Lastly, I have been assisting editing a research resources document regarding RCT challenges.

What drew you to want to work at J-PAL? I rightfully anticipated that J-PAL would be a perfect fit for me to put my economics background to good use. It is incredible that the research resources created and impact evaluations conducted in our department have the potential to impact domestic and even global policy.

What is your favorite place in the world that you have been? Lake Atitlan, Guatemala – I went on a zip-line tour, and despite being incredibly nervous, the views were incredible as we were flying over coffee fields and rain forests as we looked out on the lake.

If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be? I would love the chance to speak again with the departed Fr. Ted Hesburgh, CSC – a former president of my alma mater whose actions had meaningful global impact.

If you could buy one material thing, and money was not an issue, what would you buy? A Viking stove top/oven to bake delicious cookies.

Read Elisabeth’s bio on the J-PAL North America website.

Staff Profile: Ting Wang


Ting_Wang.JPGWhat do you do at J-PAL?   I am a research assistant for MIT professor Amy Finkelstein, working on two of her RCT projects. One project in Pennsylvania studies if the intervention helps increase the take-up rate of SNAP, also known as “food stamps”, among poor and elderly population. The other project investigates the impact of introducing decision-making technology on a provider’s decision to order potentially unnecessary radiology scans for patients.

What drew you to want to work at J-PAL? I audited the “Consumers, Firms and Markets in Developing Countries” class taught by professor Robert Jensen at UPenn when I was on exchange and felt inspired by how economic research can help the poor. I wanted first-hand experience doing this kind of research.

What is your favorite place in the world that you have been?  I love my hometown, Beijing, very much. Besides Beijing, Kyoto in Japan.

If you had to eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? Dumplings (Jiaozi).

Read Ting’s bio on the J-PAL North America website.


Staff Profile: Jamie Daw

jamie_dawWhat do you do at J-PAL? I work with policymakers and health care delivery organizations to develop randomized evaluations of innovative programs and policies. My focus is on facilitating collaborations between J-PAL affiliates and the winners of the Health Care Delivery Innovation Competition, all of which are deploying novel health and social services to improve health outcomes and enhance the accessibility and affordability of quality health care.

What drew you to want to work at J-PAL? J-PAL’s mission to reduce poverty across the globe and the opportunity to act as a liaison between the worlds of research and policy.

What is your favorite place in the world that you have been? My former home, Vancouver B.C., will always have my heart! The juxtaposition of wild nature and a lively, cosmopolitan city is hard to beat.

If you had to eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? The Adventurer Bowl at Life Alive in Cambridge. It tastes great and covers all the food groups!

If you had a million dollars to donate, what would you give it to? Advocacy for universal, affordable child care. I’m passionate about supporting policies that promote gender equality. Access to affordable child care is a huge piece of this puzzle!

Read Jamie’s bio on the J-PAL North America website.

Why pilot? Lessons from a Nurse-Family Partnership case study

The research team prepares iPads for surveying.

This week we released a case study of our Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) Pay for Success Pilot in South Carolina. This document, produced in collaboration with our partners, Nurse-Family Partnership, Social Finance, the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, highlights the value of incorporating a pilot period into a Pay for Success (PFS) project timeline.

In addition to providing sufficient time for the NFP team to strengthen referral pipelines, ramp up operations, and develop strategies for expansion, the pilot period was critical for the research team to test, refine, and finalize the integration of the randomized study design into NFP’s enrollment process.

Randomization of study participants into treatment and control arms is the linchpin of the evaluation. By comparing the outcomes of the two randomly assigned groups, researchers can obtain an accurate estimate of NFP’s effectiveness. Monitoring the random assignment function throughout the pilot period confirmed the process was working as intended and ensured that staff were successfully implementing procedures in the field. Since the completion of the pilot period, our project team has enrolled over 1,000 first-time moms into the study!

Careful study design and thoughtful execution are critical for generating high-quality, robust estimates of a program’s impact. Read more about our pilot period in Charting the Course: Reflections on the South Carolina Nurse-Family Partnership Pay for Success Pilot.

Staff Profile: Hannah Myers


What do you do at J-PAL? As a Communications Associate, I work to ensure our research reaches people who can act on it. I identify decision makers–from those who create policy to those who are affected by it—and connect them with research to inform their choices.

What drew you to want to work at J-PAL? I am inspired by J-PAL’s commitment to translate research into action. J-PAL asks tough questions and answers them meticulously, supporting those who have to make hard choices about the best way to tackle poverty.

What is your favorite place in the world that you have been? Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica.

If you had to eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? Burritos.

If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be? Diana Nyad.

Read Hannah’s bio on the J-PAL North America website.

On a J-PAL Site Visit: Pauline Shoemaker shares stories from South Carolina

We partnered with the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services through our Health Care Delivery Initiative to evaluate their Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program. Nurses with NFP regularly visit low-income, first-time mothers at their homes to provide support for both mothers and children from pregnancy until the child’s second birthday.

Last month, J-PAL North America research assistant Pauline Shoemaker traveled to South Carolina for an NFP site visit. We asked Pauline to share some insights from her trip.

Pauline Shoemaker, second from left, with the J-PAL North America NFP research and policy team.

Why are site visits valuable for you as a researcher?

When on site visits, I have the opportunity to explore health centers located throughout South Carolina. Each implementing agency differs greatly, but every staff I’ve met has been welcoming and engaged. I’ve had the genuine pleasure of sitting with nurses, listening to their stories, taking notes and providing technical assistance when needed. We often conjure the best ideas as a group on how to improve J-PAL’s systems during these sessions.

Tell us about an interesting experience you had with

At one site, the site supervisor constructed a long looped paper chain to visually signify
each month’s enrollment target. When a nurse returns from her newest enrollment, she can detach a loop from the end of the paper chain to show everyone on site that they are one step closer to their enrollment goal.

I will also add that I have learned heaps about the various assessments for newborns, early child development, new motherhood, and more than I would have liked about the birth process in graphic clinical detail.

For those of us who don’t get to participate in an NFP training, what is it like?

This September marked our third training in Columbia, South Carolina! The J-PAL training is meant to teach nurses the skills necessary for the successful implementation of the study, as well as to provide a bigger picture understanding of why we evaluate. We normally start with stories of how the Pay for Success project came into existence through the collaboration and hard work of our partners. We like to explain the value of measuring impact in programs, and most importantly that the end goal for everyone is to improve health outcomes for vulnerable mothers in the state. Throughout the training, we guide nurses through the technical skills required to collect quality data by practicing on digital surveys and role playing informed consent. And of course, we always break for lunch.

What motivated you to become a research assistant on the NFP project?

I have a passion for understanding reproductive and maternal healthcare that I have been pursuing for the past several years through non-profits, individual research and now with J-PAL. It is tremendously interesting to see home visitation in practice, a Pay for Success contract up close, and policymakers at work—not to mention work with brilliant researchers on my team at Harvard and MIT.

Staff Profile: Sophie Shank

sophie_shankWhat do you do at J-PAL? As a Policy Associate, I conduct outreach to support evidence-informed policy and decision-making. I help develop research partnerships between J-PAL affiliated researchers and practitioners, and I share key results that come out of these studies.

What drew you to want to work at J-PAL? I was drawn to J-PAL when I learned about its work to rigorously evaluate and subsequently improve programs designed to reduce poverty and address social issues. I am excited about the way that J-PAL shares research results broadly in order to support policymakers, nonprofits, and other leaders in making informed decisions and effectively serving vulnerable populations.

What is your favorite place in the world that you have been? Banff National Park in Canada. I got to visit Banff this summer, and the mountains, glaciers, and vividly turquoise lakes were unbelievable.

If you had to eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? Blueberries. I know it’s not a very practical choice, but blueberries are hands down my favorite food.

If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be? Michelle Obama.

Read Sophie’s bio on the J-PAL North America website.