MacArthur’s policy-related grantmaking aims to improve and inform decision making at the federal, state and local levels through general operating support to a small portfolio of organizations across an array of issues and special fiscal, demographic and analytical projects with broad implications for domestic policy.
The purpose of our policy research grantmaking is to help develop more effective domestic policy by: advancing the state of knowledge in specific areas, with outcomes that benefit individuals, families and communities, and society as a whole; informing and improving federal, state and local decision making; and strengthening the links among research, policy and practice. MacArthur’s policy research grantmaking provides general operating support to a small portfolio of organizations across an array of issues, and funds special fiscal, demographic and analytical projects that have broad implications for domestic policy.
Government policy has profound effects on society. It establishes systems and institutions, determines spending priorities, and affects private enterprise, civil society and citizens’ lives. For these reasons, we focus on how we should best think about policy, how policy change occurs, and how best to communicate promising policy innovations.
This policy focus is part of an approach across the domestic program that integrates research, practice and policy in addressing social problems. It includes:
- interdisciplinary research networks of scientists and researchers, some of which have had a significant influence on public policy;
- grantee organizations that engage in various stages of the policy process through research, policy analysis, and educational campaigns;
- investment in the professional development of creative individuals who work in policy areas; and
- convening experts to address policy challenges.
Evidence is only one factor in achieving social change—we also seek to foster individual and group leadership to increase policy organizations’ impact and to work for government action.
Our Strategic Approach
Our theory of change is that sound empirical research leads to advice that is persuasive to policymakers and policies that are more likely to work in practice. In most cases, our work seeks to inform and advise government (local or federal), which has the authority and resources to effect systemic change. We select fields we consider important, and fund leading researchers, scientists, and policy experts to conduct research and develop policy proposals in those fields. The goal is to have a comprehensive understanding of an issue and produce policy proposals that will have real impact.
The program has two principal elements.
Institutional Support to Key Organizations
We provide general operating support to a small portfolio of organizations working on issues that cut across areas of interest to the domestic program, with a particular focus on budget and tax policies. These organizations conduct research, examine data, and produce independent analyses for use by diverse parties, including public officials, corporations, nonprofit entities, the media, and the general public. To keep the portfolio open and fresh, we allocate a small portion of the portfolio for innovative policy organizations that are not as well established, but have potential.
Special Policy Projects
Currently, four special initiatives with broad implications for domestic policy are underway.
The Power of Measuring Social Benefits
A motivating hypothesis of this project is that effective social policies that invest in individuals who are in need or at-risk not only improve individual life chances, but, in many instances, also benefit the larger society and generate public returns long after assistance has ended. Grants help strengthen the case for social policymaking that is more firmly grounded in evidence-of-effectiveness and with complementary benefits to recipients and society. More than 20 projects include benefit-cost studies of effective social programs, new methods to make benefit-cost analysis easier to use, and resources for organizations working with government agencies to improve decision making.
U.S. Fiscal Future and American Society
This project seeks to inform the debate about the country’s fiscal situation and the long-term implications that demographic, social and economic trends have for the nation’s fiscal future. The Foundation supported the convening of an expert committee under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration that produced Choosing the Nation’s Fiscal Future, which identified multiple different paths to fiscal stability that reflect the diversity of values and preferences of the American public. Other grants supported additional research, analysis and public education about the nation’s fiscal challenges. As an extension of the federal fiscal work the Foundation is initiating work on the fiscal condition of states and localities.
MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society
This project is exploring the social, institutional and policy implications of an aging society, characterized by a significant increase in disability-free life expectancy and the arrival at retirement age of the 76-million-member “baby boom” generation. These two factors will affect virtually all institutions and relationships in American life, from the family, neighborhood, businesses and civic life to government policies, economic productivity and global competitiveness. A key contribution of the Network is new U.S. population and mortality projections that take account of advances in bio-gerontology with its life-extending potential and the effects of unhealthy life conditions, which will have major implications for social, economic, and health policy.
Building Resilient Regions
This project aims to develop new knowledge that can be used to make U.S. metropolitan regions more resilient. The centerpiece of this project is the MacArthur Research Network on Building Regional Resilience, which is designed to help local, regional, and state leaders understand the dynamic demographic, economic, and technological changes that are affecting major metropolitan areas, and to provide new knowledge and effective, practical strategies to address challenges arising from them.
In 2009, an internal review of the institutional support portfolio and an assessment of the changing policy landscape led us to move away from an approach that provided grants to organizations that represented the interests and views of certain groups or populations and to instead sharpen our focus on tax and budget issues, which affect the allocation of resources and services for everyone. The effectiveness of each of the organizations within the portfolio and of the portfolio as a whole is assessed periodically.
An interim evaluation of The Power of Measuring Social Benefits benefit-cost analysis project is being led by the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, and plans for final evaluation are being developed, as is an assessment strategy for the fiscal future work at the federal, state and local levels. An assessment of the first three years of work of the Research Network on Aging Society was completed and contributed to a new round of funding.