Request for Letters of Interest

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The J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative is led by J-PAL North America, a research center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The goal of the J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative is to support US state and local governments in using randomized evaluations to generate new and applicable lessons about which policies and programs work, which work best, and why.

Through this initiative, state and local governments can apply for:

  • Pro bono technical support from J-PAL North America’s staff of policy and research experts;
  • Flexible funding of up to $50,000; and
  • Connections with J-PAL’s network of leading academic researchers.

J-PAL’s network of researchers includes affiliated professors at more than 40 universities around the world who use randomized evaluations to design, test, and improve programs and policies aimed at alleviating poverty. State and local governments that have partnered with a researcher from J-PAL’s network to design a high-quality randomized evaluation can apply for funding, typically in the range of $150,000-400,000, to carry out the evaluation. 

The state and local governments selected to participate in this initiative serve as models for others across the United States, demonstrating that state and local governments can create and use rigorous evidence to address challenging social problems.


J-PAL North America invites state and local government leaders to submit a brief letter of interest describing the policy question or challenges that motivates their application, the potential opportunity to partner with J-PAL North America to develop a randomized evaluation, and how a partnership with J-PAL North America would advance their efforts to use evidence to inform decision-making. 

Selected finalists will receive scholarships to attend J-PAL’s weeklong Executive Education course, Evaluating Social Programs, and support from J-PAL North America staff in refining their ideas for evaluation and developing a full proposal and budget for funding. 

State and local governments selected for funding will partner with J-PAL North America and academic researchers to identify and assess opportunities for evaluation, design one or more high-quality randomized evaluations, and engage in training and capacity building activities. Because this initiative is focused on helping state and local governments design and carry out randomized evaluations, applicants to this competition must be open to working with J-PAL North America to look for ways to include random assignment in the implementation of the program or policy they are interested in testing. For example, an oversubscribed program’s slots might be allocated by a lottery; eligible beneficiaries of an undersubscribed program might be randomly encouraged to sign up; and pilot programs or programs being expanded to new locations could provide opportunities to randomly select who receives the program first.

Letters of interest should be not more than five pages (not including the cover sheet and any letters of support) and include the following information:

1. Cover sheet. Please complete the cover sheet, available here.

2. The applicant. Please briefly describe your office or agency and your major activities, including the key policies and programs that you oversee or administer.

3. The policy question or challenge. Please describe one or more policy questions or challenges that motivate the application, including any relevant statistics. Please also provide a description of the program or policy to address each challenge that you would like to evaluate, whether it is in the planning or implementation stage, and any preliminary evidence that suggests that the program or policy works or will work. 

4. Opportunity for randomized evaluation. Please provide the following information in order to help J-PAL North America assess which programs or policies are most suitable for a randomized evaluation:

  • An estimate of how many people or other units are currently reached by the program or policy and over what timeframe (e.g., 400 students tutored each semester). If different, please also provide an estimate of how many people or other units you estimate could potentially be reached, if resources were not a constraint.
  • The primary outcomes you expect to change as a result of the program or policy and any existing sources of data that could be used for measuring outcomes (e.g., hospital admissions, student test scores, arrest records). 
  • An explanation of how individuals are selected to receive the program or policy, and any initial thoughts on how a fair lottery or other form of random assignment could be used to determine who gets access to the program or policy.
  • Any practical or ethical concerns about carrying out a randomized evaluation and prior experience with randomized evaluations, if any.

5. Commitment to using evidence to inform decision-making. Please describe your office or agency’s commitment to pursuing new opportunities for rigorous evaluation and using evidence to inform decision-making and how a partnership with J-PAL North America and academic researchers would advance these efforts.

  • Please describe who in your office or agency would play the lead role in developing a partnership with J-PAL North America and what other staff would be available to support the partnership.
  • Please describe any experience with research and evaluation to date, including any partnerships with external researchers. 
  • Please provide any additional information on the potential scope of your office or agency’s partnership with J-PAL North America and how this partnership would support your office or agency’s priorities.  

6. Letter of support. You are also encouraged to provide a letter of support for your application from senior leadership, for example your Governor, Mayor, City Manager, County Commissioner or Supervisor, or agency leader.

J-PAL North America staff, who are not members of the initiative’s Review Board, are available to provide support to help prospective applicants prepare stronger applications. Prospective applicants are encouraged to reach out to Kim Dadisman, J-PAL North America Policy and Research Manager, at [email protected] to schedule a 30-minute phone consultation.

For more information on identifying opportunities for randomized evaluation, see our Guide to Implementing Randomized Evaluations in Government. For answers to common questions, see our Q&A. 


Please send the completed cover sheet, letter of interest, and letters of support to [email protected]. Letters must be submitted by an authorized representative of a U.S. state or local government (including states, counties, cities, and other municipalities).

J-PAL North America may conduct phone interviews with select applicants in order to clarify our understanding of your proposal.


January 9, 2019 - Request for letters of interest announced

January 29, 2019 - Webinar for prospective applicants

April 1, 2019 - Deadline to submit letters of interest

May 1, 2019 -Finalists selected and invited to submit full proposals for funding

June 2019 - Finalists attend Executive Education course in Cambridge

August 2, 2019 - Deadline for full proposals

Week of September 16, 2019 - Winners announced


J-PAL North America will consider the following general criteria in reviewing letters of interest:

  1. Clear description of an important policy question or challenge. Does the proposal address questions that are crucial for the government? Are these questions relevant for other jurisdictions?
  2. Promising approach to addressing the policy challenge. Is there an opportunity to test a promising program or policy?
  3. Feasible opportunity for a randomized evaluation. Are state and local leaders open to conducting a randomized evaluation? Are there any practical or political concerns about implementing a randomized evaluation?
  4. Commitment to using evidence to inform decision-making. Is there demonstrated commitment from senior leaders within the government to use evidence to inform decision-making?
  5. Potential contribution to the evidence base. Would a randomized evaluation of an intervention addressing this policy issue make a significant contribution toward advancing the state of knowledge? How do the proposed interventions compare to approaches that have previously been studied?

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