Innovations in Data and Experiments for Action (IDEA)

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.

J-PAL’s Innovations in Data and Experiments for Action Initiative (IDEA) supports governments, firms, and non-profits (“data providers”) who want to make their administrative data accessible; 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.

Opportunities to support IDEA

IDEA has received start-up funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to create a handbook of best practices. We are seeking funding for core activities, including:

  • Setting up IDEA Labs at our regional offices in Cairo, Cambridge, Cape Town, Jakarta, New Delhi, Paris, and Santiago to work with regional data providers who want to better analyze their data and use it for experiments to evaluate innovative programs.
  • Issuing competitive RFPs that will provide funding to researcher and data provider teams interested in using administrative data for experiments.
  • Policy outreach to promote wider access to and use of administrative data in experiments.

The IDEA co-chairs are Shawn Cole (Harvard), Iqbal Dhaliwal (J-PAL), and Lars Vilhuber (Cornell). The Initiative Director is Anja Sautmann (J-PAL), and the Initiative staff is Sam Friedlander (J-PAL).

To discuss how to partner with or support IDEA, please contact Sam Friedlander at [email protected].


IDEA has been seeded with start-up support from The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. IDEA is concurrently seeking funding from interested donors for the activities listed above.

Request for Proposals

Check back soon for more information on an upcoming RFP.