Social Policy Research Initiative Request for Proposals


J-PAL North America's Social Policy Research Initiative (SPRI), formerly known as the General Research Initiative, invites affiliated and invited researchers to apply to the SPRI Request for Proposals (RFP).

This request for proposals welcomes proposals from invited researchers in any sector that contribute to J-PAL’s mission of reducing poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by rigorous evidence (see “Relevance to Public Policy and Issues of Poverty” at the bottom of this page). This includes randomized evaluations across a broad range of sectors including consumer finance, crime, education, environment, government efficiency, labor, employment, and training, etc. As a special focus for the current RFP round, a donor has made additional funds available for studies that will contribute to efforts to reduce racial disparities and foster equity in life outcomes for youth and young adults. For guidance on additional information that should be provided by applicants who would like their proposal to be considered for SPRI special topic funds as well as general RFP funds, please see “Relevance to Public Policy and Issues of Poverty.

Types of Proposals

Full Research Projects

Full research projects are typically awarded $150,000 to $250,000, with a maximum budget of $400,000. The award period may be up to three years. A full project proposal is one where applicants: 

  • Can propose a clear and well-developed research question 
  • Can provide detailed randomization design and power calculations (see below)
  • Can indicate outcomes of interest
  • Can provide proof of commitment from partner organizations (in the form of letters of support)

Full project proposals may be submitted for an ongoing study that has already begun without J-PAL North America funding. 

Pilot Studies 

Pilot studies may be awarded a maximum of $50,000. The award period may be up to three years.  A pilot proposal is one where applicants: 

  • Seek to answer a particular research question but the design and implementation require further testing and development before a full project launches
  • Can clearly explain how the pilot will lead to a randomized evaluation in the future, although random assignment does not necessarily need to occur during the pilot
  • Pilot funds may also be used for activities intended to facilitate access to administrative data for designing or conducting an RCT.

Research Management Support

Researchers are strongly encouraged to apply for research management support (RMS, formerly known as STReaM) when submitting their proposals. RMS is a program that provides around six months of support from experienced J-PAL North America staff for either full studies or pilots. Support may include activities such as coordinating communication across stakeholders; refining randomization design and consent procedures; piloting design and implementation, and study implementation monitoring. More information can be found on the website, or by contacting [email protected].

Travel/proposal development grants

Researchers may be awarded a maximum of $5,000 for one year. Grants are to be used for early-stage research activities which may include travel, exploring access to administrative data, or other costs incurred while conducting fieldwork. Travel/proposal development grants are paid by direct reimbursement to the PI and cannot cover any activity that requires review by an IRB.
To apply, please submit an application via the portal and email [email protected] with any questions.

Eligibility Criteria 

J-PAL affiliates, J-PAL post-doctoral fellows, and researchers invited by J-PAL North America (invited researchers) to participate in the initiative are eligible to apply for funding of any type. Applicants may submit a maximum of three proposals per 12-month period to a single initiative. PI and co-PI status are counted towards this limit.

Graduate students may apply for all types of funding. To apply, graduate students must meet the following criteria: 

  • They have a J-PAL affiliate on their thesis committee. The affiliate does not need to be based at the same university as the student. Note: having an invited researcher on a student’s thesis committee does not satisfy this criterion.
  • Pre-thesis PhD students may apply if they anticipate an affiliate will be on their thesis committee and the affiliate will supervise the proposed project. 
  • To apply for full funding, graduate students must have previously received a grant from J-PAL for the same evaluation or have documented evidence of successful piloting activities. Note, funding is limited to $50,000 per evaluation for graduate students.

Covid Guidelines 

The following modifications are in place as of October 29, 2020 until noted otherwise.

1. All applications must follow J-PAL’s Covid-19 response guidelines in regard to in-person interactions with subjects.

2. If your proposed project will feature in-person interactions with subjects, vendors, or partners, please note that the evolving situation could result in changes to these guidelines at a future date. Therefore, please be sure to include the following in your application materials:

  • Budget Narrative: Include a discussion of what funds will and will not be spent in what timeframes if the proposed project is paused, modified, or dissolved because of Covid-19 related disruptions.
  • Proposal Narrative: Outline aspects of the proposed project that can be completed right away vs aspects dependent on the status of the Covid response more broadly. The proposal should also include plans for conducting fieldwork, and how this will evolve should Covid-19 prevent in-person contact.

3. Per MIT guidance, J-PAL North America will not be sponsoring travel for the foreseeable future. However, if you wish to include travel as a line item in your budget, please address as indicated in point 2 above. 


October 5, 2021 – RFP is issued
January 12, 2022 – Proposal Submission Deadline
Week of March 12, 2022 – Awards Announced

Future rounds are expected to occur once a year. In rare instances, J-PAL North America will consider off-cycle proposals for projects, including pilots, facing time constraints due to factors outside of their control. Decisions on these applications are typically made in about two weeks. We accept travel/proposal development grants at any time of the year.

Relevance to Public Policy and Issues of Poverty

  • Does the proposal make the case for how answering the proposed research question and/or evaluating the proposed intervention has the potential to generate benefits for the following populations? 
    • People who are low-income or living in poverty
    • People who have risk factors associated with falling into poverty
    • People who identify as members of racial/ethnic groups who are at greater risk of living in or falling into poverty due to economic marginalization produced through structural racism in North America, such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)
  • Is the proposal addressing a pressing public policy issue in North America? How is this policy issue relevant to one or more of the populations described above?
    • Policy issue has a significant or disproportionate impact on low-income and/or economically marginalized populations
    • The intervention being studied is designed to improve or increase access to resources and choices for low-income and/or economically marginalized populations
  • Policy issue is one that, if unaddressed, could lead people to fall into poverty
  • Policy issue relates to issues of structural racism that economically marginalized specific racial/ethnic groups in the North America context. What information will the study provide to guide policymaking in this area?
  • Will lessons learned from this study have broader relevance or applications for policy or decision-making beyond this test case? 

As a special focus for the current RFP round, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has made additional funds available for studies that will contribute to efforts to reduce racial disparities and foster equity in life outcomes for youth and young adults.  If you would like your proposal to be considered for these special topic funds in addition to regular RFP funds, please include a discussion of the following in your proposal narrative:

  • How this study will contribute to the goal of reducing racial disparities and fostering equity in life outcomes for youth and young adults aged 12-24, in particular those who may be low-income, disconnected from work or school, system-involved, and/or parenting.
  • Details on how you plan to measure impact on or across one or more of the following populations:
    • Youth and young adults aged 12-24, households with dependents in that age-range or households headed by pregnant or parenting individuals in that age-range. 
    • Youth and young adults who identify as members of groups that face obstacles rooted in structural racism because of their race/ethnicity, such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). 
    • Youth and young adults with individual status considerations such as involvement in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems. 

You may find examples of evaluations previously funded by the Social Policy Research Initiative here.


Who will review applications?

The Review Board is composed of J-PAL North America’s Scientific Director Lawrence Katz, as well as J-PAL affiliates Alicia Sasser Modestino and Judd Kessler. Each proposal will be peer reviewed by one member of the Review Board and two researchers and/or policy experts not on the Review Board. The Review Board will meet to agree on final funding decisions.

Who can I contact?

For questions about the NA SPRI RFP, please email [email protected]

Application Documents

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