The research grants programs support high-quality field-initiated studies that are relevant to policies and practices that affect the lives of young people ages 5 to 25 in the United States. Research proposals are evaluated on the basis of their fit with a given focus area; the strength and feasibility of their designs, methods, and analyses; their potential to inform change; and their contribution to theory and empirical evidence.
In our focus area of improving the use of research evidence, we support research to identify, build, and test strategies to ensure that research evidence is used 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.
The online application is now closed. The next deadline for letters of inquiry is January 9, 2020 at 3:00 pm EST. 2020 application guidelines are forthcoming.
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.
You may have been drawn to a career in research by an aspiration for your work to make a difference—to discover ways to make people’s lives better. Across disciplines and methodologies, researchers strive to explore complex challenges, reveal new ideas, or build on existing knowledge that can make a positive impact in the real world. But these aspirations go unrealized far too often. Be it a single study or a body of compelling evidence, research is simply not used enough to contribute to the change we envision.
The literature suggests that for research to be used it needs to address issues that are relevant to decision makers; it needs to be deliberated; and it needs to be supported by the values, routines, and tools of users. Trusting relationships can help develop research that is relevant, facilitate deliberation, and help repurpose resources, redirect politics, and reshape routines to use research evidence.
Still, there remain unanswered questions that are critical to understanding how to improve the production and use of relevant research evidence. To answer these questions, we need social scientists to identify and test strategies to create the conditions for use. Some investigators will focus on the strategies, relationships, and other supports needed for the decision makers and their 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.
What’s more, there is a scarcity of evidence supporting the notion that research use in policy and practice will improve youth outcomes. Serious scientific inquiry is needed. We need to know how the use of research may improve decision making, policy implementation, service delivery, and, ultimately, youth outcomes.
In short, we need research on the use of research. The William T. Grant Foundation is recognized for its leadership and support of high-quality research in this area. We welcome ideas initiated by social scientists across a range of disciplines and diverse methodologies to advance researchers’ own disciplinary work and scholarship and reveal insights about ways to improve the use of research evidence. Research teams have drawn on existing conceptual and empirical work about the use of research evidence, political science, knowledge mobilization, implementation science, and other relevant areas that can teach us about using research for improvement, impact, and changing research, policy, and practice institutions. Measures also are needed to capture changes in the nature and degree of research use. We also welcome investigations about research use in various systems, including justice, child welfare, mental health, and education.
- “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.
Proposing Research on Improving the Use of Research Evidence
We seek studies about how to improve the use of research evidence in ways that benefit youth. We are particularly interested in investigations that identify and test strategies for improving the use of research among state and local decision makers, mid-level managers, and intermediaries.
Proposed research in this focus area must pursue one of the following lines of inquiry:
This work may investigate strategies, mechanisms, or conditions for improving research use. Alternatively, studies may 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 (Honig, Venkateswaran, & Twitchell, 2014; Mosley & Courtney, 2012; Nicholson, 2014). 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 includes examining ways to create incentives, structures, and relationships that facilitate the production of research that responds to decision makers’ needs. Applicants might 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 identify the relationships and organizational structures that lead to the prioritization of decision makers’ research needs.
Studies may also examine ways to optimize researchers’, decision makers’, and intermediaries’ joint work 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.
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 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. Did 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.
We also recognize that studying ways to improve the use of research evidence will require new and innovative ideas, and welcome creative studies that have potential to advance the field.
Major research grants
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 higher awards.
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, 2019 and August 1, 2019 deadlines. Letters of inquiry for the Officer’s research grants will not be accepted for the May 1, 2019 deadline.
Similar to the major grants program, we encourage research projects led by African American, Latinx, Native American, and Asian American researchers. Early career scholars are also encouraged to apply for these grants as a way to build their research programs.
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.
All letters of inquiry for research grants on reducing inequality—for both major grants and Officer’s grants—will be reviewed internally. The letter of inquiry functions as a mini-proposal, and should meet the selection criteria detailed below:
- Research questions should inform strategies to improve the use of research evidence in ways that benefit youth.
- 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.
After internal review of a letter of inquiry, the Foundation will decide whether to decline the LOI or invite a full proposal for further consideration. The investigator will be notified of this decision within eight weeks of the LOI deadline. In recent years, about fifteen percent of the letters received for major grants have been invited to submit a full proposal. Typically, applicants are offered two deadlines for full proposals, ranging from approximately six weeks to six months from the time of the invitation. We do not accept unsolicited full proposals.
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.
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.