To better support social scientific insights from initial discovery to large-scale impact, Stanford Impact Labs (SIL) makes staged and sequenced investments in collaborative teams of scholars working in partnership with practitioners from the public, social, and private sector to explore and design real-world solutions to social problems. We call these teams “impact labs”.
SIL was born of the belief that universities have a critical responsibility to ensure their investments in research and education generate meaningful impact in the world. With an eye on that commitment, our team is delighted to announce the very first cohort of Stage 1: Seed Partnerships grantees:
Newcomer and immigrant children and families frequently enter the U.S. without a safety net or system of care designed to address complex, multi-faceted needs related to unaddressed childhood adversity and trauma exposure. This team seeks to develop and evaluate model programs that provide integrated, multidisciplinary, trauma-informed services as part of “el encuentro” (“the encounter” or “starting place”) for newcomer children and families.
Women’s voices — their demands, needs, and interests — remain poorly represented in politics and policy across the globe. In India, women continue to face chronic underrepresentation in politics despite the country being home to the largest gender quota policy in the world. In order to ensure that Indian women’s voices are fairly represented, this team will evaluate the efficacy of existing interventions that empower women in politics as a means of catalyzing systemic change.
Peer support groups offer a promising remedy in today’s mental health climate of high need and rampant undertreatment because of their anonymity, empowerment, and accessibility. Developing quality and scalable training for volunteer counselors is key to making peer support an effective source of mental health support for many people who lack access to traditional, in-person psychotherapy. This team will leverage machine learning algorithms and develop reinforcement learning approaches to enhance the quality, scalability, and efficacy of online peer-to-peer counseling on a platform that is already reaching 1 million people per month.
A short-term seasonal work visa for temporary agricultural work in the U.S. is often the only legal pathway available for many migrants. However, guest worker programs can be controversial, raising questions about worker exploitation, job displacement, and bureaucratic red tape. This team seeks to address the social problems born of economic migration by studying guestworker programs' impacts on migrants and destination countries and identifying ways to improve outcomes for migrants, origin communities, and destination countries.
Encountering discolored, foul-tasting, or odorous tap water can erode trust in water quality and consumption and drive people to purchase expensive alternatives, drink less water than recommended, or opt for sugar-sweetened beverages — all of which can negatively impact the health of a household. This team aims to identify patterns of distrust and equip partner communities with better data to advocate for reform and action at the local and state level.
By funding a suite of projects early on in the journey toward solutions, SIL hopes to build greater momentum for the scholar-practitioner approach to social science research. Each of this year’s Stage 1 grantees will receive up to $350k in funding to support work now underway to (1) deepen understanding of the particular social problem, (2) strengthen external partnerships, and (3) create a clear path to designing and testing solutions.
These five Stage 1 impact labs have all clearly defined the social problem they wish to address and are working with key partners proximate to the problem. The teams selected fall into two different categories: some are piloting a new solution; while others are working to better understand the problem and develop potential solutions.
“We’ve seen more high-quality demand than we expected from Stage 1 and are making more investments as a result” said Misan Rewane, SIL’s Executive Director. “Seeding partnerships like these is a key part of building a robust pipeline of teams working on research and development (R&D) to tackle society’s biggest social problems.”
On the Path from Science to Impact
Designing a scalable solution in collaboration with stakeholders immersed in that problem space is, of course, a mammoth task. This sort of work rarely proceeds down a linear path and often demands that problem-solvers gear up for a phased journey marked by challenges and opportunities, blockers and gateways.
“In order to design a solution that is sustainable and equitable, you need to first understand the root causes of the inequities,” notes Pallavi Trikutam, SIL’s Investments & Accountability Program Officer. “Stage 1 funding is designed to give teams the space and time to deepen understanding of a problem in partnership with communities, practitioners, and system leaders. Understanding a problem in theory and addressing it in complex real world settings are two different things.”
What’s more, wrestling with thorny issues around health inequities, migration patterns, or political inequality necessitates a stepwise approach informed by genuine engagement with multiple perspectives and fluencies along the way.
“Lone researchers are unlikely to make meaningful progress against a stubborn social challenge,” says Michael Eddy, SIL’s Director of Investments and Accountability. “Partnership is vital on the path from science to impact, as is understanding a specific problem in a specific context. Our Stage 1 investments ideally support teams to strengthen both. By the end of the grant cycle, we would expect to see each team have a product or solution that they are ready to test on a larger scale with the buy-in of communities and stakeholders who can help take the project to the next level.”
These five Stage 1 investments mark a significant expansion to SIL’s growing portfolio of impact labs. Later this year, the portfolio will expand to include a new cohort of grantees with collaboratively-shaped solutions ready for testing (Stage 2: Test Solutions), and a small number of more mature, tested interventions poised for scale and broader reach (Stage 3: Amplify Impact).