The Institutional Challenge Grant encourages research institutions to build sustained research-practice partnerships with public agencies or nonprofit organizations in order to reduce inequality in youth outcomes.
To do so, research institutions will need to build the capacity of researchers to produce relevant work and the capacity of agency and nonprofit partners to use research. Equally important, research institutions will need to shift their policies and practices to value collaborative research.
Policymakers and practitioners need rigorous research evidence that is relevant to their work. But much of the evidence produced by research institutions is shaped by the traditional values of the academy—the work is rigorous, but it speaks most clearly to the research community. Compounded by limited resources and capacity, this misalignment contributes to a stubborn gap between research, policy, and practice.
Research-practice partnerships—long-term, mutually beneficial collaborations that promote the production and use of rigorous and relevant research evidence—are a promising strategy for better aligning these communities. Researchers who partner with practitioners or policymakers are more equipped to understand local contexts and address relevant, pressing questions. They also gain access to insights and data that can facilitate rigorous and groundbreaking research. Policymakers and practitioners, meanwhile, can more easily access, interpret, and use research evidence when they collaborate with researchers and participate in defining research agendas. Partnerships, then, equip public agencies and nonprofit organizations with new knowledge and tools to better serve youth.
But research-practice partnerships have proven difficult to establish and sustain. Developing the trusted relationships that form the foundation of the partnership takes time. Establishing the infrastructure to grow and sustain a partnership requires significant resources. And although we suspect that research-practice partnerships are most robust when they are built at the institutional level, research produced by partnerships is not always valued by institutions. It can therefore be difficult to recruit experienced researchers to participate in research-practice partnerships or to sustain their involvement beyond a single project.
The Institutional Challenge Grant is a direct response to these obstacles, which undermine the potential of partnerships to address persistent problems of policy and practice, particularly inequality in youth outcomes. The program challenges research institutions to consider ways to remove barriers to partnership success, including the careful scrutiny and redesign of internal policies and practices that may limit the longevity of partnerships or discourage exceptional researchers from taking part.
Institutional change is an ambitious goal, but we believe this is what is needed to build sustained partnerships that produce and use relevant research in impactful ways.