Reflecting on a decade of impactful research at J-PAL North America

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Clockwise, starting top left: Doctor and patient in masks; student and tutor; people in jumpsuits looking at a whiteboard; people in suits on steps

In J-PAL North America’s ten-year anniversary blog series, we revisit some of the most impactful randomized evaluations and bodies of research that our organization has supported over the past decade. We also celebrate the tremendous contributions of our researcher network and the policymakers and practitioners who have made this research possible. And throughout this series, we highlight critical elements and key learnings in our efforts to transform policy with evidence, from rigorous research design to implementing proven solutions at scale. 

Reviewing ten years of growth in the field of evidence-based policymaking

When we (Amy and Larry) launched the J-PAL North America office back in 2013, our primary goal was to increase the number of randomized evaluations conducted by academic researchers in the region. We weren’t sure at the time how hard it would be to identify and support important, policy-relevant, high-quality, low-cost randomized evaluations in key policy areas. Ten years later, we reflect on how far we’ve come—not just in the number of studies launched, but also in our ability to influence how these studies are conducted to maximize rigor and their connection to policy priorities. 

The field of evidence-based policymaking in the United States has seen a dramatic shift throughout the past decade. Along with the passage of the bipartisan federal Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEBP) of 2018 and recent federal legislation that provides funding for government investment in evaluation, there has been a growing interest among governments at all levels in the United States in using data and evidence to inform public policy. At J-PAL North America, we strove to capitalize on this opportunity with fervor. Over the past ten years, we’ve funded 165 randomized evaluations, built a network of more than 260 researchers, partnered with over 30 government jurisdictions, and shifted more than $518 million dollars in government funds toward evidence-based programming. Through this work, we’ve impacted more than 35 million lives, about one-tenth of the US population.  

We are incredibly grateful to the community of stakeholders who have made these achievements possible. As we celebrate our anniversary this month, we recognize the partners, research network, research participants, funders, and our dedicated staff who are working with us to build an evidence base that addresses poverty and improves lives. 

J-PAL North America’s ten-year anniversary also gives us the opportunity to reflect on key elements of success and key takeaways of this work. We’ve learned tremendously over the past decade—from the importance of supporting research implementation to how to meaningfully engage policymakers throughout research partnerships. As we continue to grow and learn as an organization, we are applying those insights to our work.

A blog series on impactful research and continuous learning

This week, we are rolling out a blog series featuring reflections on some of the most impactful research conducted by academic researchers in our network and supported by J-PAL North America. These stories illustrate how rigorously studying poverty is not only possible but also incredibly valuable in informing effective economic mobility strategies for individuals and communities throughout the region. In the series, we also discuss how rigorous research design, effective implementation, strong partnerships, precise measurement, and robust dissemination are all critical elements that enable research to inform policy and improve lives.
Stay tuned as we post the following pieces in our impactful research blog series each day this week:

  • Ensuring rigorous research design and effective implementation: Part two of the series reflects on the role of study design and implementation. We look at past studies on provider race concordance, strategies to increase SNAP take-up, and hiring discrimination in large employers to distill key lessons on ensuring rigorous research design and effective implementation to build an evidence base on poverty reduction strategies.
  • Forming strong research-practitioner partnerships: In part three of the series, we dive into research partnerships and look at the evidence from Summer Youth Employment Programs (SYEPs) and Creating Moves to Opportunity to illuminate key lessons on the effective collaboration between researchers and practitioners needed to build an evidence base on poverty reduction strategies.
  • Credibly identifying program impact: Part four of the series discusses how credible evidence from randomized evaluations is informative in identifying effective strategies to reduce poverty, regardless of the impact estimate. We share what we have learned from evaluations with positive results—such as Baby’s First Years, an intervention to decrease court non-appearances, and high-impact tutoring—and from evaluations with null results—such as health care hotspotting and workplace wellness programs— to provide key lessons for making all research results meaningful.
  • Informing crucial policy decisions at scale: In part five of the series, we dig into how policy can be informed at scale. We look at the bodies of evidence on high-dosage tutoring, SYEPs, and sectoral employment training to understand how high-quality evidence can inform policy and inform decisions to impact people’s lives at scale.

Our vision for the future

Moving forward, there are many exciting opportunities to continue to evolve the evidence-building landscape through growing new capabilities and expanding the J-PAL network in the North American context. Learn more about our top priorities for the coming decade, including deepening our work with state and local governments, centering racial equity in research, and advancing evidence-based policymaking to improve lives. We are excited to continue this important work together with you in the decade to come.

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