About J-PAL North America

J-PAL North America is a regional office of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a global network of researchers who use randomized evaluations to answer critical policy questions in the fight against poverty. Our mission is to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence.

Founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2013, J-PAL North America leverages scholarship from our network of affiliated professors and full-time staff of about forty researchers, policy experts, and administrative professionals. Together, we generate and disseminate rigorous evidence about which anti-poverty social policies work and why.

To address the complex causes and consequences of poverty, our work spans a range of sectors including health care, housing, criminal justice, education, and labor markets.

Watch: About J-PAL North America

J-PAL North America Staff Core Values

Our staff have collectively developed a values statement to complement our mission and guide our approach. While our mission lays out what we do, our values statement says who we are and how we carry out our work. We are committed to generating rigorous research to answer policy-relevant questions, translating evidence into action, and, ultimately, reducing poverty. We approach our work with the following set of guiding principles:

  • Be humble and respectful. We listen to and learn from the people we work with, both internally and externally.
  • Build inclusive and collaborative relationships. We value our partners’ ideas and experiences and believe a wide range of perspectives makes the research and policy impact stronger. Among staff, we approach our work as a team and provide opportunities to allow everyone to contribute meaningfully.
  • Embrace equity. We evaluate policies and programs that intend to increase opportunity, reduce disparities, and improve people’s lives. We equip staff with an understanding of structural and institutional barriers related to inequality, engage in long-term efforts to build a diverse network of researchers and staff, and strive to make the research equitable and useful to participant communities.
  • Act with integrity and transparency. We build trust through proactive communication and consistent follow- through. We implement rigorous processes to ensure research integrity, and we communicate nuanced results thoughtfully and accurately. Among staff, we exchange thoughtful feedback and provide opportunities for ownership.
  • Pursue learning. We challenge assumptions about which approaches to reduce poverty are effective, and we build others’ capacity to do the same. We nurture curiosity and learning by investing in our staff’s professional development goals.

Commitment to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion 

J-PAL North America is committed to building a diverse community. We are working to promote a culture that is welcoming and inclusive to all. 

Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion is essential to address the complex causes and consequences of poverty. To advance our mission, J-PAL North America must draw on diverse experiences from our staff and affiliated researchers in order to ask better questions and identify better solutions. We are working to increase the limited representation of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds in the economics profession. Our organization is  implementing strategies to attract, develop, and advance a diverse staff and building a pipeline to increase diversity among economic researchers. We are committed to engaging in self-reflection, learning, and dialogue to nurture understanding across differences. Together, we will build an equitable, inclusive culture where everyone is respected, empowered, and heard.

Why use randomized evaluations?

Core activities

J-PAL North America works to improve the effectiveness of social programs in the region through three core activities: research, policy outreach, and capacity-building.

Research: Our affiliated professors conduct randomized evaluations to test and improve the effectiveness of programs aimed at reducing poverty. J-PAL North America hosts conferences and facilitates conversations between leading researchers and implementing partners to spur innovative, collaborative research. Our evidence wrap-up summarizes key evaluations in North America.

Policy Outreach: We share research results with those who can act on them and build partnerships with policymakers to ensure that policy is driven by evidence and effective programs are scaled up.

Capacity Building: We train policymakers and practitioners about how to become better producers and users of evidence through courses, workshops, and ongoing partnerships.

Partnership examples

In 2021, J-PAL North America launched the Bay Area Evaluation (BAE) Incubator with support from Google.org. The BAE Incubator comprised six Bay Area organizations interested in piloting and evaluating cash transfer programs. J-PAL North America kicked off the engagement by providing three customized trainings on randomized evaluations, covering key concepts including theory of change, data and measurement, and design methodologies. Over the course of the following year, J-PAL North America’s staff of policy and research experts provided technical assistance to Compass Family ServicesHamilton FamiliesAbode Services, and Larkin Street Youth Services to help build out their early-stage evaluation ideas. Staff then connected these partners to researchers in J-PAL’s network who worked with the organizations to design randomized evaluations of their programs. The engagement catalyzed one pilot project and two full randomized evaluations by four leading service providers and three J-PAL affiliated researchers

Since 2015, J-PAL North America has run an Evaluation Incubator for state and local government agencies in the United States. We have partnered with over thirty jurisdictions to assess the feasibility of randomized evaluations addressing pressing policy-relevant research questions. J-PAL's staff support our partners by connecting them to academic researchers, increasing agency team capacity, and providing coaching and training on randomized evaluation. Our partners include Oregon's Jackson County Fire District 3, who designed a randomized evaluation to evaluate a program encouraging households to take-up wildfire prevention practices, and Minnesota Management and Budget, who developed a research partnership assessing how various letters affected physicians’ use of Minnesota’s prescription monitoring program (PMP) in an effort to address the state's opioid crisis. We have also supported the County of San Diego's Office of Evaluation, Performance, and Analytics in building a research partnership to evaluate a rental subsidy program for older adults in the County of San Diego. The evidence from these studies will inform critical decision-making in these jurisdictions and serve as a resource for other state and local agencies with similar questions across the country.

J-PAL North America played a supporting role in establishing the White House’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Team in 2014. We provided training, matchmaking, and staff support—including assigning a senior member of J-PAL’s staff to help launch the team—to design and evaluate interventions informed by behavioral insights. In response to the team’s first successful year, President Obama signed an executive order making SBST permanent and directing federal agencies to apply behavioral science insights to their programs to better serve the American people.