The online application is now open. The next deadline for letters of inquiry is January 9, 2020 at 3:00 pm EST.

Overview

The Foundation’s mission is to support research to improve the lives of young people ages 5-25 in the United States. One way that we pursue this mission is by investing in high-quality field-initiated studies on improving the use of research evidence in ways that benefit youth.

Over the past decade, a growing body of research has illuminated the conditions that facilitate the use of research evidence in policy and practice. For example, studies find that when research is relevant to decision makers, deliberated over thoughtfully, and embedded in policymaking processes, routines, and tools, the findings are more likely to be used. Still, there remain many unanswered questions that are critical to understanding how to improve the production and use of research evidence. What’s more, there is a scarcity of evidence supporting the notion that research use in policy and practice will necessarily improve youth outcomes. Serious scientific inquiry is needed. We need to know the conditions under which using research evidence improves decision making, policy implementation, service delivery, and, ultimately, youth outcomes. In short, we need research on the use of research.

Toward this end, we seek studies that identify, build, and test strategies to enhance the use of research evidence in ways that benefit youth. We are particularly interested in research on improving the use of research evidence by state and local decision makers, mid-level managers, and intermediaries. Some investigators will focus on the strategies, relationships, and other supports needed for policy and practice organizations to use research more routinely and constructively. Others may investigate structures and incentives within the research community to encourage deep engagement with decision makers. Still other researchers may examine activities that help findings inform policy ideas, shape practice responses, and improve systems.

DEFINITIONS

  • “Research evidence” is a type of evidence derived from applying systematic methods and analyses to address a predefined question or hypothesis. This includes descriptive studies, intervention or evaluation studies, meta-analyses, and cost-effectiveness studies conducted within or outside research organizations.
  • “Use of research evidence” can happen in many ways and may involve the direct application of research evidence to decision making, conceptual influences on how decision makers think about problems and potential solutions, strategic uses of research to justify existing stances or positions, or imposed uses that require decision makers to engage with research.
  • “Strategies” are systematic and replicable methods, activities, or policies intended to improve the use of research evidence or to maximize its benefits on decision making and youth outcomes.

Studying ways to improve the use of research evidence will require new and innovative ideas, and we welcome creative studies that have potential to advance the field. Proposals for studies are evaluated on the basis of their fit with our interests; the strength and feasibility of their designs, methods, and analyses; their potential to inform improvements to research use; and their contribution to theory and empirical evidence.


Vivian Tseng outlines the Foundation’s call for proposals on research to illuminate strategies for improving research use in ways that can improve outcomes for young people.


The Foundation does not have a preference for a particular research design or method. We begin application reviews by looking at the research questions or hypotheses. Then we evaluate whether the proposed research designs and methods will provide strong empirical evidence on those questions. We support studies from a range of disciplines, fields, and methods, and we encourage investigations into various systems, including justice, housing, child welfare, mental health, and education. The strongest proposals incorporate data from multiple sources and often involve multi-disciplinary teams.

Across all of our programs, we strive to support a diverse group of researchers in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and seniority, and we encourage research projects led by African American, Latinx, Native American, and Asian Pacific American researchers.

Proposing a Study

Studies on improving the use of research evidence should identify, build, and test strategies to ensure that research evidence is used in ways that benefit youth.

We welcome ideas from social scientists across a range of disciplines, fields, and methodologies that can advance their own disciplines and fields and reveal insights about ways to improve the production and use of research evidence. Measures also are needed to capture changes in the nature and degree of research use. We welcome investigations about research use in various systems, including justice, child welfare, mental health, and education. Research teams have drawn on existing conceptual and empirical work from political science, communication science, knowledge mobilization, implementation science, organizational psychology and other areas related to the use of research for improvement, impact, and change in research, policy, and practice institutions. Critical perspectives that inform studies’ research questions, methods, and interpretation of findings are also welcome. Broadening the theoretical perspectives used to study ways to improving the usefulness, use, and impact of research evidence may create a new frontier of important research.

Proposals for studies on improving the use of research evidence must pursue one of the following lines of inquiry:

This work may investigate strategies, mechanisms, or conditions for improving research use. We also encourage studies that measure the effects of deliberate efforts to improve routine and beneficial uses of research in deliberations and decisions that affect young people. For example, prior work suggests that decision makers often lack the institutional resources and requisite skills to seek out and apply research, and certain organizational norms and routines can help overcome those barriers as organizations work to improve. Future projects might study efforts to alter conditions in the decision making environment. For example, studies might compare the effectiveness of different ways (e.g., technical assistance, research-practice partnerships, cross-agency teams, etc.) to connect existing research with decision makers or exploit natural variation across decision making environments to identify the conditions that improve research use.

This work may investigate and assess ways to create incentives, structures, and relationships that facilitate the production of research that responds to decision makers’ needs. Applicants might seek to identify strategies for altering the incentive structures or organizational cultures of research institutions so that researchers conduct more practice- or policy-relevant studies and are rewarded for research products that are considered useful by decision makers. Other applicants might seek to identify the relationships and organizational structures that lead to decision makers’ needs being prioritized in the development of new research. Studies may also examine ways to optimize organized collaborations among researchers, decision makers, intermediaries, and other stakeholders to benefit youth. For example, one might investigate the effectiveness of funders’ efforts to incentivize joint work between researchers and decision makers. Other projects might develop and test effective curriculum and training experiences that develop researchers’ capacity to conduct collaborative work with practitioners.

This is a long-standing implicit assumption, but the case for using research would be more compelling if there were a body of evidence showing that using research benefits youth. We want to know the conditions under which using research evidence improves decision making and youth outcomes, and welcome tests of related hypotheses.

We suspect that simply using research will not be sufficient to yield positive outcomes. The relationship between the use of research evidence and youth outcomes will be affected by a number of conditions. One hypothesis is that the quality of the research and the quality of the decision making will work synergistically to yield strong outcomes for youth. For the purpose of this example, we represented high-quality research as rigorous, relevant, and designed for use. High-quality use is represented as critical consideration and appropriate application of research.

Applicants are encouraged to identify and test other conditions under which using research evidence improves youth outcomes. For example, recent federal policies have instituted mandates and incentives to increase the adoption of programs with evidence of effectiveness from randomized controlled trials, with the expectation that the use of these programs will lead to better outcomes. Do these policies actually increase the use of those programs and improve child and youth outcomes?

The lines of inquiry described above require a range of methods, from experimental to observational designs, from comparative case approaches to systematic reviews. The research design should provide credible evidence to support or refute hypotheses about the strategies that improve use of research. For example, a randomized controlled trial might test whether an intervention that provides schools with technical assistance and coaching on the use of research evidence is more likely to lead to adoption of evidence-based programs. We also welcome observational studies that leverage state variation to examine whether states that use research when making decisions improve youth outcomes.

Where appropriate, applicants should consider using existing methods, measures, and analytic tools so that findings can be compared and aggregated across studies. That said, existing measures may not be well-suited for some inquiries, and thus we welcome studies that adapt existing measures or develop new ones that can be employed in future studies. Finally, we continue to promote the use of mixed methods wherein multiple types of data are collected and integrated.

We encourage applicants proposing projects on the use of research evidence to review the resources provided on our website, including writing by staff, grantees, and others in the field.

Awards

Major research grants

Major research grants on improving the use of research evidence range between $100,000 and $1,000,000 and cover two to four years of support.

Projects involving secondary data analysis are at the lower end of the budget range, whereas projects involving new data collection and sample recruitment can be at the higher end. Proposals to launch experiments in which settings (e.g., classrooms, schools, youth programs) are randomly assigned to conditions sometimes have awards at the higher end.

In addition to financial support, the Foundation invests significant time and resources in capacity-building for research grantees. We provide opportunities for connections with other scholars, policymakers, and practitioners, and we organize learning communities for grantees in each focus area. Such meetings allow grantees to discuss challenges, seek advice from peers and colleagues, and collaborate across projects. To strengthen our grantees’ capacities to conduct and implement strong qualitative and mixed-methods work, the Foundation provides access to a consultation service.

Officers’ research grants

Officers’ research grants on improving the use of research evidence are a separate funding mechanism for smaller projects with budgets ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. Some are stand-alone projects; others build off larger projects. The budget should be appropriate for the activities proposed. Projects involving secondary data analysis are typically at the lower end of the budget range, whereas projects involving new data collection and sample recruitment can be at the higher end.

Submissions for the Officers’ research grants will be accepted on the January 9, 2020 and August 4, 2020 deadlines. Letters of inquiry for the Officer’s research grants will not be accepted for the May 6, 2020 deadline.

Similar to the major grants program, we encourage research projects led by African American, Latinx, Native American, and Asian Pacific American researchers. Early career scholars are also encouraged to apply for these grants as a way to build their research programs.

Eligibility

Eligible Organizations

Grants are made to organizations, not individuals. Grants are limited, without exception, to tax-exempt organizations. A copy of the Internal Revenue Service tax-exempt status determination letter is required from each applying organization. We do not support or make contributions to building funds, fundraising drives, endowment funds, general operating budgets, or scholarships.

Eligible Principal Investigators

Please consult with your institution about their eligibility criteria regarding who can act as Principal Investigator (PI) or Co-Principal Investigator on a grant.

Selection Criteria

All letters of inquiry for research grants on improving the use of research evidence—for both major grants and Officers’ research grants—will be reviewed internally. The letter of inquiry functions as a mini-proposal, and should meet the selection criteria detailed below:

Proposed research on improving the use of research evidence should pursue one of the following lines of inquiry:

  • Identify or test strategies to improve the use of existing research.
  • Identify or test strategies for producing more useful research evidence.
  • Test the assumption that using high-quality research improves decision making and youth outcomes.
  • Proposals must reflect a mastery of relevant theory and empirical findings, and clearly state the theoretical and empirical contributions they will make to the existing research base.
  • Projects may focus on either generating or testing theory, depending on the state of knowledge about a topic.
  • Although we do not expect that any one project will or should impact policy or practice, all proposals should discuss how the findings will be relevant to policy or practice.
  • Projects should employ rigorous methods that are commensurate with the proposal’s goals. The Foundation welcomes quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods projects.
  • The study’s design, methods, and analysis plan should fit the research questions. Further, the description of the research design should make clear how the empirical work will test, refine, or elaborate specific theoretical notions. Quantitative analyses might emphasize hypotheses and plans for testing them, while qualitative analyses might elaborate on how the research will illuminate processes underlying programs, policies, or practices.
  • Plans for case selection, sampling, and measurement should clearly state why they are well-suited to address the research questions or hypotheses. For example, samples should be appropriate in size and composition to answer the study’s questions. Qualitative case selection–whether critical, comparative, or otherwise– should also be appropriate to answer the proposed questions.
  • The quantitative and/or qualitative analysis plan should demonstrate awareness of the strengths and limits of the specific analytic techniques and how they will be applied in the current case.
  • If proposing mixed methods, plans for integrating the methods and data should be clear and compelling.
  • Where relevant, attention should be paid to the generalizability of findings.
  • Quantitative studies should describe the statistical power to detect meaningful effects.
  • The proposal must demonstrate adequate consideration of the gender, ethnic, and cultural appropriateness of concepts, methods, and measures.
  • The methods, time frame, staffing plan, and other resources must be realistic.
  • Prior training and publications should demonstrate that the applicant has a track record of conducting strong research and communicating it successfully.

Where appropriate, we value projects that:

  • harness the learning potential of mixed methods and interdisciplinary work;
  • involve practitioners or policymakers in meaningful ways to shape the research questions, interpret preliminary and final results, and communicate their implications for policy and practice;
  • combine senior and junior staff in ways that facilitate mentoring of junior staff;
  • are led by members of racial or ethnic groups underrepresented in academic fields;
  • generate data useful to other researchers and make such data available for public use; and
  • demonstrate significant creativity and the potential to advance the field by, for example, introducing new research paradigms or extending existing measures.

Application Review Process

Major research grants

Letters of inquiry are reviewed internally by staff with social science expertise. Given the breadth of work presented in LOIs, internal reviewers may lack deep knowledge of an applicant’s specific area of work, so applications should be written with this in mind. On occasion, internal reviewers will request more information from applicants or solicit expert opinions in order to more adequately assess a project.

The full proposal follows a format similar to that of the letter of inquiry, and includes a proposal narrative of about 25 pages, a budget and budget justification, and full curriculum vitae or resumes for key staff and investigators. (Institutional Review Board Approval is not required at the time of the proposal’s submission, but is required before issuing grant funds.) Full proposals are reviewed using a scientific peer review process involving two or more external reviewers. The Foundation chooses reviewers with content, methodological, and disciplinary expertise in the proposed work.

The Foundation’s Senior Program Team then reviews promising proposals and offers additional feedback.

Applicants who receive positive reviews with critiques that can be addressed within a short time frame are given an opportunity to provide written responses to reviewers’ comments. Full proposals, external reviews, and applicants’ responses to external reviews are then further reviewed by the Senior Program Team. The Team makes funding recommendations to the Program Committee and Board of Trustees. Approved awards are made available shortly after Board meetings, which occur in late March, June, and October.

The review process for a successful application, beginning with the submission of a letter of inquiry and ending with approval by our Board of Trustees, is 10 to 15 months.

Officers’ research grants

Applications for Officers’ research grants are accepted two times per year, and share the same deadlines in January and August as the larger research grants program. Officers’ research grants are awarded on the merit of the letter of inquiry alone and the review process is usually eight weeks from the corresponding deadline. Awards are made available after internal review. Recently, about 8-10% of the letters of inquiry for an Officers’ research grant have been approved for funding.

Investigators will receive an email notification of staff’s decision within eight weeks of the LOI submission date.