Discovery Grants

Discovery Grants are awarded for exceptionally creative or innovative projects with high potential impact, but which do not fit into the Foundation's existing programs and strategies.

Discovery Grants are identified and selected by a cross-program group of foundation staff and outside advisors, and awarded to promising but unproven approaches to important social problems.

Generally, Discovery Grants:

  • address important social issues where the Foundation can have an impact
  • respond to timely opportunities
  • promise outcomes that can be assessed
  • are ambitious
  • demonstrate awareness of future trends and needs

Grants are not restricted to a particular set of topics, but they must address an important social issue outside of one of the Foundation’s areas of grantmaking. Grants are one time, typically for no more than two years, with amounts ranging from $15,000 to $500,000. Grants are awarded based on the recommendation of the Discovery Grants Committee, which is drawn from across the foundation and holds meetings open to all MacArthur staff roughly ten times per year.

Representative Grants


American Academy of Arts and Sciences
$250,000 over two years
January 2015 
This award supports a multidisciplinary study group on new ethical dilemmas arising from the intersection of contemporary political developments and changes in military technology, including the use of drones and autonomous weapons systems that operate independently of human control and make complex decisions about how to seek, identify, and attack targets. The project addresses the legal, moral and policy concerns that will help shape the debate about these weapons, which are likely to be in regular use within the next decade, and will help to build a common understanding of autonomous weapons systems, and ensure that policy makers are well informed about their options.

The Data & Society Research Institute
$400,000 over two years
May 2014

The Data & Society Research Institute is dedicated to addressing social, technical, ethical, legal, and policy issues created by emerging data-centric technologies. This grant will explore the legal, economic, and cultural implications of "intelligent systems," software that exercises judgment and control in lieu of human management, in fields such as medicine, finance, transportation, and security. It will seek underlying principles that can be applied across these fields, build networks between legal, technical, and economic experts, develop specific legal recommendations, and respond to the needs of policy makers.

The Equitable Food Initiative
$1,000,000 over two years
December 2014 
The Equitable Food Initiative is a new organization, incubated as a project of Oxfam America, that is pioneering a multi-stakeholder approach to advancing worker protections, food safety, and environmental sustainability in the $140 billion fresh produce industry. This award supports the scale-up of the Initiative’s voluntary scheme for certifying fresh produce farms that meet a rigorous set of standards for worker conditions, food safety practices, and responsible pesticide use. Through this program, farmworkers are trained to meet these standards and help identify and correct violations. The resulting reduction in unsalable, wasted produce will lead to greater margins for growers and higher wages for workers. A consumer-facing Equitable Food Initiative label, piloted by leading food retailers, will help drive consumer demand for produce from certified farms.

Justice Entrepreneurs Project
$400,000 over two years
December 2014 
The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) is the charitable arm of The Chicago Bar Association. Its Justice Entrepreneurs Project (the Project) is an initiative of the CBF to address a failure of the market for legal assistance for low- and moderate-income people in the Chicago area. The Project serves as a small business incubator for recent law school graduates starting socially conscious law practices intended to serve those with too much income to qualify for free legal aid, but without the means to pay for market rate legal services.

National Academy of Sciences: Human Gene Editing
$200,000 over two years
November 2015 
This project will address the global risks, opportunities, and ethical implications of advanced research into a gene editing technique called CRISPR/Cas9. Though less than four years old, Crispr/Cas9 has already been used to make cells impervious to the AIDS virus, to reverse a genetic mutation that causes blindness, and to introduce heritable characteristics into human embryos. The potential social consequences are far reaching; while Crispr/Cas9 may provide enormous savings for health care systems by eliminating chronic diseases, it also threatens a future in which extraordinary powers to change future generations of people will reside with a small number of individuals. The project will help researchers, funders, and policy makers understand and respond to the ethical implications regarding this research.

Retraction Watch
$400,000 over two years
August 2014
Retraction Watch is a research organization that works to improve practices in science, publishing, research funding, and peer review by collecting and analyzing notices issued by leading academic journals, publishers, and scientific societies regarding acknowledged errors, corrections, and retractions. It publishes its findings via its website, RetractionWatch.com, which serves roughly 100,000 readers per month, many of whom actively contribute information to the site about scientific controversies, errors, and misconduct. The proposed grant will provide project support for a comprehensive database of retractions, and for a series of long form reports about errors in scientific research and publishing.

 


Updated July 2016

Staff

Portrait of Cecilia A. Conrad

Cecilia A. Conrad

Managing Director
Portrait of Jeff Ubois

Jeff Ubois

Program Officer