About J-PAL North America

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 130 affiliated professors from over 40 universities, and a full-time staff of about 30 researchers, policy experts, and administrative professionals, to 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?

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.

Our initiatives

J-PAL North America currently runs three major initiatives to support randomized evaluations and evidence-informed policymaking. These initiatives target areas where there is demand from decisionmakers for more evidence and aim to fill evidence gaps concerning innovative—if untested—interventions that seek to reduce poverty.

State & Local Innovation Initiative: Through our State & Local Innovation Initiative, we partner with leaders in government to answer their high-priority policy questions. We provide funding, technical support, and collaboration with preeminent researchers to implement randomized evaluations. Our staff offer support to governments at an early stage to identify programs or interventions that policymakers want to evaluate and are also practical candidates for randomized evaluations. We then match these organizations with academics in our network to develop a detailed evaluation design that specifies outcomes of interest, sources of data, and timelines. Once a feasible evaluation is designed, organizations that have partnered with a J-PAL-affiliated academic can apply for funding to implement the evaluation.

Health Care Delivery Initiative: Through our Health Care Delivery Initiative, we use randomized evaluations to identify effective policies and programs in health care delivery. J-PAL-affiliated researchers, health care agencies, and nonprofits may submit proposals. Academics who have partnered with an implementing health organization may receive funding directly through the initiative. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations may apply to the Health Care Delivery Innovation Competition. J-PAL staff provide support to winners of the competition in designing and implementing randomized evaluations to test health care delivery models with potential to improve health outcomes, enhance access to care, and reduce healthcare costs for disadvantaged communities.

Education, Technology, and Opportunity Initiative: Through our Education, Technology, and Opportunity Initiative, we support education leaders in using randomized evaluations to generate evidence on how and to what extent uses of technology and innovation work to improve student learning. The goal of the initiative is to identify scalable strategies to improve learning outcomes in the United States, particularly for disadvantaged students.

Work of the Future Initiative: Through our Work of the Future Initiative, we support randomized evaluations of strategies and innovations that address the changing nature of work in North America. Organizations interested in evaluating the impact of their program are invited to submit letters of interest through our Innovation Competition. Selected partners receive technical assistance from J-PAL staff in designing an evaluation, matchmaking with J-PAL’s network of affiliated researchers, and flexible funding to get an evaluation off the ground. Affiliated researchers can submit proposals for funding to conduct a randomized evaluation during our RFP cycles.

Social Policy Research Initiative: Finally, we support impact evaluations that address important social policy questions beyond the scope of our topic-specific initiatives through our Social Policy Research Initiative, which supports research across a broad range of sectors, including consumer finance, crime, education, technology, government efficiency, labor, and employment.

Partnership examples

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.