State and Local Innovation Initiative – Request for Letters of Interest

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J-PAL North America is not currently inviting letters of interest. The instructions for the most recent Request for Letters of Interest (which closed on March 2, 2018) are available for reference below.

The Initiative

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:

  • Up to one year of pro bono technical support from J-PAL North America’s staff of policy and research experts;
  • Flexible pilot funding of up to $100,000; 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 $250,000-500,000, to carry out the evaluation.

The state and local leaders 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.

Application Instructions

J-PAL North America invites state and local government leaders to submit a brief letter of interest describing how rigorous evidence would help answer an important policy question. Selected state and local governments will partner with J-PAL North America to design high-quality randomized evaluations in order to generate credible evidence about the effectiveness of social policies or programs in their jurisdictions.

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 3-5 pages and include a brief description of the following:

  1. The problem. The policy question or challenge that motivates the application. Please provide some evidence of the challenge, including any relevant statistics.
  2. The intervention. The program or policy to address the challenge that the applicant would like to examine and any preliminary evidence that suggests that the program or policy works or will work. 
  3. Sample size. 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.
  4. Opportunity for randomized evaluation. J-PAL North America will work with applicants to determine which programs or policies are most suitable for a randomized evaluation; 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 would be helpful. Please also describe any practical or ethical concerns about carrying out a randomized evaluation and prior experience with randomized evaluations, if any.
  5. Access to data. 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). 
  6. Contact information. The names and titles of the main contact(s) for this application.

Next Steps

Please send letters of interest 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).

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


December 6, 2017      Request for letters of interest announced
March 2, 2018     Deadline to submit letters of interest
Week of April 23, 2018 Finalists selected and invited to submit full proposals
Week of August 6, 2018      Winners announced

J-PAL North America may conduct phone interviews with select applicants in order to clarify our understanding of your proposal, provide you with an opportunity to ask any questions of us, and make sure expectations are aligned in both directions about the partnership between J-PAL North America and selected state and local governments.

What is J-PAL North America looking for?

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 (if any) compare to approaches that have previously been studied?

PDF iconJ-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative – Request for Letters of Interest