Evidence for Policy: A Fellowship for Local Government Staff

A one-year program for teams from California cities and counties

The Stanford Impact Labs Evidence for Policy Fellowship is a one-year program developed to support the professional development and policy goals of career staff on teams in local governments in California that have not benefited from policy and programmatic initiatives nationwide to support evidence-based policy and innovation.

Pillars on a government building


The program will support these key staff as they seek to bring data, evidence, and research to bear in the design and implementation of a policy priority in their own communities. A chosen priority might be a new policy or program; a new strategy; or a change in the allocation of resources that addresses a well-defined social problem in the community.

Fellows will receive professional training, dedicated staff support, and a grant to support a concerted push on using evidence to drive this policy change in their communities. The fellowship will also build reciprocal relationships between local government practitioners and Stanford students, faculty, and staff. In the program’s first year, we will select a cohort of up to 10 Fellows focused on policy priorities related to economic opportunity or social mobility. 

Program Overview 

During the program, participants will engage in cohort workshops, one-to-one support, and peer-learning opportunities to build the process, infrastructure, and evidence required to move policy priorities from idea to implementation. Fellows will gather as a cohort to dive into academic insights, share perspectives, and deepen their understanding of the specific problem they face in their community. They will develop frameworks for applying research in their contexts, set goals, solidify their own approach to using data and evidence, and develop a plan to identify, test, and implement approaches that address their policy priorities. After the fellowship, alumni may continue to engage with Stanford Impact Labs (SIL) on an as-needed basis as implementation of their projects continues.

Stanford Impact Labs will grant $50,000 to each participating government agency, which may be spent flexibly during the one-year fellowship period for staff time and costs associated with moving a policy challenge from question to insight to implementation. During the Fellowship year, Stanford Impact Labs staff will arrange talks and broker conversations between Fellows, faculty, and graduate researchers who have expertise in economic opportunity or social mobility. Stanford Impact Labs will also provide one-to-one technical assistance and support on a monthly basis as Fellows execute on their plans.

Throughout the fellowship, SIL staff will look for opportunities to connect Fellows on the front lines of policy change with Stanford faculty and students. The hope is to foster meaningful relationships that support Fellows in their work, drawing on what university-based research has to offer, and to deepen the understanding of scholars about how economic opportunity or social mobility are being experienced and addressed in local communities. Building relationships at the local government level may provide a chance for faculty and students to engage concretely with problems in ways that may inform their existing research, and open up new areas for further research and understanding. SIL staff will also continue to identify opportunities to engage faculty and students in the Fellows’ work as advisors, consultants, and/or formal partners. 

Local Government Eligibility

This fellowship is designed to support staff in cities and counties in California that have not benefited from the policy and programmatic initiatives nationwide to support evidence-based policy and innovation.

As a result, we are seeking applications from staff in small to mid-sized cities (under 150,000 residents) in which at least 25% of the census tracts are designated “disadvantaged” by the Council on Environmental Quality’s Climate and Economic Justice screening tool and from counties that are ranked 16 and below in the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute County Health Rankings

Staff Eligibility

The Evidence for Policy Fellowship aims to support local government staff before they achieve the most senior roles in local government and is an ideal match for those who are looking to build their skills and capacity en route to leadership.

Applicants should have sufficient authority to move the needle on well-defined issues in their portfolio, the autonomy to move projects from idea to completion (in partnership with colleagues), and the time and ability to participate in a fellowship program.


The Evidence for Policy Fellowship will take place over the course of a year. The application will open in July 2023. Fellows will be selected and announced by October 2023. Official fellowship programming will kick off with a two-day in-person gathering November 9-10, 2023, continue with monthly virtual engagements, and conclude with a final in-person gathering (dates TBD). The fellowship will end in October 2024. 

What Does Success Mean?

We expect that the Fellowship will help accelerate the solutions-finding capacity in local government, both by aligning research and resources with local government needs, and by enabling government staff to lead in the design, testing, and implementation of approaches to challenging social problems. We anticipate that Fellows will apply the skills learned during the award period to other policy challenges they may face. Finally, in the most successful cases, we will see local governments moving the needle to advance economic opportunity or social mobility in their communities.  

Why Local Government?

Local governments play a central role in providing quality health services and public education, ensuring security, mitigating the effects of climate change, and spurring economic development. They can also be a key vehicle for identifying and testing solutions by developing best practices locally and sharing what works. When their programs and services are designed intentionally to be equitable, based in evidence, and responsive to community needs, they have the opportunity to be the first line of response to social problems, and improve the conditions of people’s lives. 

Yet, local governments face challenges in marshaling sufficient financial and human resources to use research and evidence for impact. With academic insights behind paywalls, and support and technical assistance flowing to the same few major cities, smaller cities and counties are left to develop their own capacity as learning institutions. The time is ripe to build deliberate pathways to enable all local governments to design, implement, and test solutions to social problems. 

Why Stanford? 

Stanford has renewed its commitment to service and public impact as part of its long-range vision as a “purposeful university”. An ever-growing community of Stanford faculty, students, and staff are applying rigor and creativity to make progress on challenging social problems. As part of that community, SIL builds programs and makes investments that harness social science to drive change. We envision a world where measurable and meaningful approaches to social problems are co-created by communities, leaders, and science working together to unlock solutions and make progress. 

We have spent three years building pathways inside the university for PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty to work on complex problems with partners in the public and social sector. These programs 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. SIL is now turning its attention to support leaders who are using evidence to drive problem-solving in the public and social sectors.