Innovations in Data and Experiments for Action Initiative

map of the world with data points overlay
J-PAL’s Innovations in Data and Experiments for Action Initiative (IDEA) aims to increase the use of administrative data by governments, non-profits, and private firms for evidence-informed decision-making.

Around the world, vast amounts of data are now being digitally collected or stored, which creates tremendous opportunities to transform lives through improved social policy. Using these data sets in creative and innovative ways to evaluate programs and therefore improve outcomes is a vital step toward making significant progress in the fight against poverty worldwide.

Yet so little data is accessed, analyzed, or used in research to improve decision-making. The core challenges we aim to address with IDEA include: cumbersome or non-existent data use policies and access modalities; low usability of data stored in outmoded formats and disconnected databases; and a lack of advanced technical skills for analysis and experiments.

IDEA supports governments, firms, and non-profit organizations (“data providers”) who want to make their administrative data accessible in a safe and ethical way; analyze it to improve decision-making; and partner with researchers in using this data to design innovative programs, evaluate program impact through randomized experiments, and scale up successful programs. IDEA will also build the capacity of data providers to conduct these types of activities with their own data in the future. IDEA will create long-term institutional partnerships with data providers who are interested in partnering with J-PAL at each step along this pathway.

Supporting access and protecting privacy

The IDEA Initiative is led by co-chairs with diverse backgrounds in data security, privacy and ethics, research, and government systems. In 2020, J-PAL published the Handbook on Using Administrative Data for Research and Evidence-based Policy, bringing together contributions from experts on data security, statistical and differential privacy, crafting data use agreements, and more. The Handbook serves as a go-to reference for researchers seeking to use administrative data and for data providers looking to make their data accessible for research. It offers technical expertise and practical use cases to inform high-quality, ethical research that will unlock data to improve lives while addressing any privacy and security concerns. Learn more about the Handbook below. 

Key Facts

J-PAL Global
Open to J-PAL affiliated professors and invited researchers working with administrative data.


IDEA Handbook

IDEA received funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to create a handbook of best practices, The Handbook of Using Administrative Data for Research and Evidence-Based Policy. The handbook was published in September 2020, accompanied by a webinar series featuring Handbook authors. 

Initiative Staff

Eitan Paul, Research Manager (IDEA Initiative) 
Aparna Krishnan, Project Director (South Asia Initiative Focal Point)
Claudia Macias, Associate Director of Policy, Training and Research (LAC Initiative Focal Point)

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