Research Networks

The Foundation supports interdisciplinary research networks, "research institutions without walls," on topics related primarily to human and community development. They are Foundation-initiated projects that bring together highly talented individuals from a spectrum of disciplines, perspectives, and research methods. The networks examine problems and address empirical questions that will increase the understanding of fundamental social issues and are likely to yield significant improvements in policy and practice.

Active Networks

Research Network on Connected Learning

Understanding the opportunities and risks for learning afforded by today's changing media ecology, as well as building new learning environments that support effective learning and educational equity

Research Network on Law and Neuroscience

Examining multiple effects of modern neuroscience on criminal law and trying to make neuroscience accessible and beneficial to America’s courtrooms

Research Network on Opening Governance

Developing blueprints for more effective and legitimate democratic institutions to help improve people’s lives, and exploring 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

Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics

Exploring the nature and extent of young people's use of digital communications tools, social media and the Internet, and how those tools influences their engagement with participatory politics

About Our Research Networks


Research networks are a signature MacArthur “way of working.” They are designed to identify a big problem and bring together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers from multiple disciplines to work collaboratively over an extended period of time, typically six to as many as ten years. Ambitious and innovative −but not prescriptive−research networks liberate their members to pursue work that has the potential to change prevailing paradigms.

We do not know from the beginning what the results of a research network will be; however, our experience suggests that providing the space and resources for motivated, dynamic thinkers to come together to solve complex challenges can be often fruitful.


Through the Foundation’s first two decades, the networks were clustered in five areas: human development; mental illness; mental health and physical health; parasite biology; and economics.

Over the years, research networks have evolved. Initially focused on funding individual investigators in academic research, networks now embrace both academic and applied research. Moreover, recent research networks have been designed with explicit attention to how research findings can be communicated to and inform policymakers and practitioners, and include practitioner members to help ground the inquiry in real world concerns.

Research networks have been credited with multiple accomplishments. Work through the suite of economics networks helped lay the early foundations for what is now widely known as behavioral economics. Research from the Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice found that adolescent brains are not fully mature. This science provided the basis for the argument that adolescents should not be treated as adults by the criminal justice system, and ultimately informed the Supreme Court decisions (which cited the research) to ban the juvenile death penalty and juvenile life without parole sentences.

Why Research Networks

In 2000, the Foundation commissioned a review of research networks, which described the evolution of networks, provided examples of scientific and policy contributions, and evaluated the networks completed or underway at that time. That review concluded that networks are an effective means of accelerating scientific breakthroughs, changing concepts, tackling complex problems, and using research evidence to impact practice and policy. Recommendations from that review helped to shape and inform more recent networks.

Unlike project support or institutional operating support, research networks create a more open space for ideation and collaboration, with the goal of breaking new ground on big, timely challenges. Intensive preparatory activities to frame research network inquiries, identify network members, and vet initial and renewal network proposals with outside experts increase the potential for research networks not only to make distinctive conceptual contributions, but also to have real-world relevance and impact.

Our Research Quality Standards and Practices ›

Past Research Networks


Updated April 2017

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