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 more than 180 affiliated professors—48 of whom focus on research within the North America context—and a 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.
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.
Why use randomized evaluations?
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.
In 2016, J-PAL North America announced the first cohort of five jurisdictions selected through the State and Local Innovation Initiative. In one of these partnerships, the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN), are collaborating with J-PAL North America and Professor Sara Heller (University of Pennsylvania), a J-PAL affiliate, to develop a randomized evaluation of a summer youth employment program. The six-week program, called Work Ready Philadelphia, offers an educationally enriched and paid work opportunity to youth ages 12–24. The City and PYN plan to use administrative data to explore the impact of summer youth employment on important measures of well-being such as academic achievement, future employment, substance abuse, and pregnancy. J-PAL North America will work with Philadelphia and other state and local governments to develop and test innovative approaches to policy issues ranging from increasing employment among social assistance recipients to improving opioid abuse treatment. These jurisdictions will also participate in trainings and convenings to build capacity on how to create and use rigorous evidence.
Through our Health Care Delivery Initiative, we partnered with the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate their nurse-family partnership (NFP) program, which provides regular home visits to low-income, first-time mothers to improve outcomes of both mothers and their children. South Carolina is expanding NFP through an innovative pay-for-success initiative but will not be able to serve all of the roughly 11,500 eligible women. We helped South Carolina randomly allocate slots in the program through a lottery, which facilitated a randomized evaluation. Led by our affiliate Katherine Baicker (Harvard School of Public Health), this randomized evaluation will assess NFP’s effectiveness on a range of criteria, such as reducing injuries among newborns and toddlers and the long-term health and wellbeing of mothers and children. The evidence from this study will inform decision-makers at both the state and federal level about the cost-effectiveness of using public health insurance funds outside of traditional healthcare settings while holding programs accountable for achieving improved outcomes.
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.