Stanford Impact Labs Invests in Five Early-Stage Solutions-Focused Projects

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Teams will address health equity, changing energy markets, and access to justice

Stage 1 investments

No evidence-based remedy to a challenge confronting society – be it rampant food insecurity, climate change, or the mental health crisis – can deliver real impact unless that proposed solution is shaped in such a way that considers who is affected by the problem, how they’re affected, and what else has been done (or is underway) to exacerbate, shift, or resolve the challenge. 

At Stanford Impact Labs (SIL), we believe that universities have a critical role to play in funding, supporting, and incentivizing exactly this type of solutions-focused research—research that leverages not only hard data and evidence, but also includes and accounts for vital perspectives and contributions from stakeholders beyond the academy. 

To that end, we make staged and sequenced investments in research teams across Stanford University working in collaborative partnership with practitioners from the public, social, and private sector to explore, design, test, and scale real-world solutions to pressing and nuanced social problems. 

We call these teams impact labs and we invest in them at three levels, deploying progressively larger amounts of resources along the pipeline from early-stage work (Stage 1) to large-scale impact (Stage 3). 

A Stage 1 impact lab receives funding for activities such as strengthening partnerships or engaging additional stakeholders, implementing a community engagement plan, collecting data, or piloting an intervention with a partner. Today, we are delighted to announce five 2024 Stage 1: Seed Partnerships investments. 


Approaches to Healthier Smartphone Use

Children and adolescents are experiencing a crisis of mental health. A growing consensus attributes this crisis, at least in part, to the proliferation of smartphone and social media usage among youth. Despite widespread attention paid to the potential risks of digital media, the existing body of evidence remains lacking on what solutions would best guide young people toward a healthier amount of time spent on social media and smartphones, as well as which of these strategies would have the most positive impact on youth outcomes. This team hopes to develop scientific insights and scalable interventions to foster healthier smartphone and social media use among children aged 9-14.


Building a Coalition for Improved Resource Adequacy Policy in a High-Renewables West

Jurisdictions in North America and beyond are building massive amounts of new renewable energy. These developments hold promise for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, yet the old ways of making sure there is always enough electricity to meet demand no longer work when a lot of your supply depends on whether the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. This team aims to build a coalition that empowers regulators to translate the latest scientific knowledge about long- and short-term market design for high-renewables grids into regulatory policies that benefit consumers. 


Fortifying Families through Digital Access to Justice

The American civil justice system is in crisis. In 75% of the 20 million civil cases filed in state courts each year, at least one side lacks a lawyer. Without a lawyer, many individuals and families cannot protect their rights, and millions of cases end in “default judgment”, an automatic loss when a party fails to take any action. The fundamental unfairness and social cost of this “justice gap” are acutely evident in eviction cases. In many of these cases, tenants fail to respond despite viable defenses that could delay or prevent displacement, with rippling consequences for housing and family stability, employment, and health.  This project seeks to expand access to justice through evidence-based digital innovation and modernization designed to make court processes more fair and accessible for all court users.


Optimizing the Delivery of Family-Centered Care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

Over 300,000 babies in the U.S. are admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) each year, where they are vulnerable to complications, infections, and poor weight gain. A NICU stay may increase a child’s risk for exhibiting developmental and neurodevelopmental delays later in life. It can also cause parents to experience a lack of bonding with their newborn, which can exacerbate their mental health and the well-being of the family. Family-centered care (FCC) in the NICU is a practical approach that promotes parental involvement in the planning and delivery of care. This team aims to explore FCC practices at a scale that exceeds prior studies, so as to develop first-ever FCC benchmarks in the NICU, and identify ways to overcome barriers to FCC implementation.


Scaling Food as Medicine Across Populations and Geography

Over the past decade, diverse Food as Medicine (also called Food is Medicine) interventions have been implemented across the U.S. and demonstrated positive health-related outcomes. However, there are significant barriers to scaling Food as Medicine to ensure that each patient is able to participate in the program most appropriate for their health needs, which may range from medically tailored meals to groceries to produce prescriptions. The goal of this project is to build partnerships and conduct formative research aimed at scaling Food as Medicine as a strategy to address the inter-related challenges of nutrition insecurity and health equity. 


Stage 1 funding offers impact lab teams up to $350,000 to support early-stage work to better understand a social problem and deepen external partnerships in a way that creates a clear path to testing solutions. Stage 1 investments are allocated on a competitive basis to teams that clearly define the social problem they wish to assess, provide evidence of a partnership in place to facilitate the research and development (R&D) process, and propose a plan that lays the groundwork for a future solutions-focused R&D cycle.