Policy Research Grant Guidelines

Understand guideline and funding cycles

MacArthur publishes program guidelines to help applicants determine whether their idea for a grant fits within a particular grantmaking strategy.

As a general rule, applicants should base this decision on three related criteria that appear in program guidelines: the topical focus addressed by the grantmaking strategy; the geographic area covered by the grantmaking strategy; and, finally, the type of funding (i.e., general operating support, research, program support, etc.) that supports the grantmaking strategy.

Like most strategic grantmaking foundations, the MacArthur Foundation considers funding only those applications that closely match the topical, geographic, and funding criteria for a specific grantmaking strategy.


Domestic policy-related activities — research, analysis, and the education of policymakers and the general public — are included in both the Policy Research program area and in every other grantmaking area. The goals of MacArthur’s grantmaking in policy research are to:

  • Advance the state of knowledge in specific areas, with outcomes that benefit individuals, families and communities, and society as a whole
  • Improve decision-making by policymakers at the federal, state and local levels
  • Strengthen the links among research, policy and practice, with each activity informing the others and providing evidence of what works for use in decision-making
  • Apply policy analysis to and foster transparency of complex political processes

Questions about this grantmaking area can be addressed to Director of Policy Research Valerie Chang.

What MacArthur Funds

Institutional Support to Key Organizations

Awarded to a small number of organizations, institutional support grants are multi-year, general operating grants to organizations that produce rigorous research and analysis on issues critical to the grantmaking strategies of the entire domestic program, and translate that work in ways that enhance its value to policymakers, the media, and the general public. At this time, the institutional support portfolio is principally targeted toward organizations focusing on fiscal and budgetary issues. There also are a small number of opportunistic grants for new initiatives that are well-positioned to advance policy change.

The institutional support portfolio is currently targeted toward organizations focusing on fiscal and budgetary issues.

MacArthur is not accepting unsolicited proposals for institutional support grants at this time.

Special Policy Projects

The Foundation undertakes special initiatives with broad implications for domestic policy. Currently, there are four underway. Three inter-related projects address economic, social, and demographic trends in U.S. society and more data- and evidence-driven policymaking, and a fourth is a new research network focused on opening governance.

The Power of Measuring Social Benefits
A motivating premise 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. However, evidence to support this premise is not always readily available. The Power of Measuring Social Benefits initiative is focused on addressing this lack of evidence, and the grant strategy is focused on the use of benefit-cost analysis as a tool to inform policymakers. Grants support high-quality benefit-cost analyses across multiple policy domains; strengthen the field by improving methods and standards; and stimulate the demand for social benefit-cost analysis from policymakers. Signature initiatives include the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative and the Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy initiative at the University of Pennsylvania.

U.S. Fiscal Future and American Society
Now drawing to a close, 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 federal fiscal stability that reflect the diversity of values and preferences of the American public. Beyond the federal government, states and local governments are also facing fiscal pressures. The strategy is supporting qualitative, quantitative, and comparative research, as well as policy analysis and development, to help policymakers understand better the drivers of state and local fiscal conditions. The strategy also has a particular emphasis on fiscal conditions in the state of Illinois.

MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance
This research network seeks to develop blueprints for more effective and legitimate democratic institutions to help improve people’s lives. The Network convenes a range of experts to study what happens when governments and institutions open themselves to diverse participation, pursue collaborative problem-solving, and seek input and expertise from a range of people.

Combining empirical research with real-world experiments, the Research Network will study what happens when governments and institutions open themselves to diverse participation, pursue collaborative problem-solving, and seek input and expertise from a range of people. Network members include twelve experts in computer science, political science, policy informatics, social psychology and philosophy, law, and communications. This core group is complemented by an advisory network of academics, technologists, and current and former government officials. Together, they will assess existing innovations in governing and experiment with new practices and how institutions make decisions at the local, national, and international levels.

MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society
The Network is concluding its formal operations in 2015. The spring issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, features research of Research Network members. The Network has explored 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.

MacArthur is not accepting unsolicited proposals for work relating to policy research at this time. Those interested in suggesting a project in this area should submit a letter of inquiry to the Foundation.


Updated March 2015