New Resources and Strategies for Local Governments and Nonprofits

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Stanford Impact Labs launches two new practitioner-facing fellowships

Illustration of a handshake and arrows, showing partnership

In an effort to support the broader ecosystem of leaders in California putting evidence to work for society, Stanford Impact Labs (SIL) is delighted to launch two new fellowship opportunities. The Evidence for Change Fellowship will serve social sector organizations. The Evidence for Policy Fellowship will serve local government officials.

Working for social change is incredibly hard, often thankless, work. Social problems, by their very nature, are massive, complex, and (in the absence of effective solutions) persistent. Making meaningful progress on issues as multifaceted as poverty, health equity, and housing insecurity necessarily requires the engagement of many players and the participation of many voices.

Leaders and advocates in the public and social sectors who spend every day facing the challenges of historic disinvestment in communities, constrained capacity, and limited financial resources frequently struggle to address social issues effectively and equitably when operating alone. All too often, they encounter barriers to developing, designing, and delivering programs, policies, and advocacy efforts that can transform the conditions of people’s lives. Meanwhile, university-based social scientists keen to lend expertise in useful ways may not be cued in the right direction by an academic system prone to prioritizing publication over practicality. 

At Stanford Impact Labs, we envision a world where measurable and meaningful solutions to social problems are co-created by communities, leaders, and scholars working together to unlock ideas and make progress. We recognize that may sound ambitious; we believe it is vital.

Over the past three years, we have developed fellowship programs inside the university for PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty to work on complex problems with partners in the public and social sectors. Through these fellowships, we’ve helped equip scholars with the necessary skills to work closely with people outside of the university, to generate evidence and insights that are put into practice. 

Pivoting the direction of university programs to generate more solutions-oriented collaborations is necessary work. We aren’t alone in doing or valuing it, and we intend to both continue and expand these programs. But we also know that providing tools and resources primarily to those inside the university isn’t enough to make real progress against the problems of our time. Putting social science to work for society requires supporting both scholars and practitioners and governments in their efforts to use data and evidence for impact. We need a thriving ecosystem of people and institutions in all sectors using research to tackle tough issues.  

Such research can, of course, take many forms. At its core, research is simply the systematic gathering of information or data about something. It is an integrated approach to understanding, learning, and documenting — which can lead to greater impact and more effective advocacy. 

Organizations in the public and social sectors working for social change are conducting research and using data and evidence all the time, whether to design policies and programs; to understand and call out injustices in the communities in which they work; to gather information that strengthens an advocacy effort, program, or service; or to evaluate efforts and identify how to maximize impact. This kind of analytical work, however, often is not recognized, resourced, or lifted up as “research” even though it can be highly relevant and useful — particularly when it comes to valuing the wisdom and lived experience of impacted communities. 

Expanding our Network of Support

In crafting what programs to support individuals and organizations outside the university could and should look like, we sought input from a variety of people across the public and social sectors who face challenges in (1) collecting and organizing data, (2) analyzing that data to unlock insights, (3) using those insights to inform critical decisions, and (4) aligning limited financial and human resources in support of those decisions. 

We plan to support practitioners and organizations with pathways designed to help them better understand the academic research relevant to their field, to build systems and processes that support the research they’re already doing, and to bring both together to move the needle on thorny problems. 

Our new fellowship programs will: 

  • Support organizations with professional training, resources, and tools to use data and evidence in their work 
  • Provide an opportunity for peer-learning and cohort-wide exchanges of ideas 
  • Equip participants to identify opportunities for social science to support their work (policies, projects, programs, advocacy initiatives)
  • Provide insight to participants about the ways that universities and researchers operate, and start to build bridges between universities and communities.

All of this — we hope — may also pave the way for greater and more fruitful collaboration between scholars at Stanford and external organizations in the future. 

We invite you to contact us with questions about our new offerings for social sector organizations, and local government officials. It is our hope that both fellowship programs will support the research that is already happening in government agencies and in nonprofits, and turbocharge it with resources, fresh strategies, and more avenues to drive progress.