Initiatives We Support
Agency Study Groups
In 2022, the National Science Foundation awarded the National Bureau of Economic Research a grant to create the EAGER: Place-Based Innovation Policy Study Group➚. This group, led by two economists with deep expertise in entrepreneurship, innovation, and regional development — Jorge Guzman from Columbia University and Scott Stern from MIT — aimed to provide “timely insight for the NSF Regional Innovation Engines➚ program.” During Fall 2022, the group met regularly with NSF staff to i) provide an assessment of the “state of knowledge” of place-based innovation ecosystems, ii) identify the insights of this research to inform NSF staff on design of their policies, and iii) surface potential means by which to measure and evaluate place-based innovation ecosystems on a rigorous and ongoing basis. In addition to Jorge and Scott, a number of other academics with expertise in a range of adjacent fields – MaryAnn Feldman, Ben Jones, Larry Katz, and Heidi Williams – also regularly participated in this group. Guzman, Stern, and Williams together with Fiona Murray recently completed a paper➚ synthesizing the opportunities and design considerations of the regional innovation engine model, based on the collaborative exploration and insights developed throughout the year.
What We Offer:
We view the structure of this group as an exciting pilot with the potential to encourage the adoption of evidence-based science policies, as well as to direct academic researchers towards neglected questions in the innovation policy sphere. As such, we hope to assist in the formation and maintenance of similar study groups. Our team can help find interested and expert academics, explore appropriate mechanisms across agencies, and support the application of surfaced knowledge into policy.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently completed a working paper Closing the Gender Gap in Patenting: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial at the USPTO➚, describing a randomized controlled trial evaluating a pilot program providing additional assistance to patent applicants without legal representation (pro se applicants). This experiment found the pilot unit — the Pro Se Pilot Examination Unit (PSPEU) — to be highly beneficial, both increasing the probability of a successful application among treated applicants and significantly closing the gender gap in successful applications; success rates jumped by 6.1% for men and 16.8% for women. The USPTO subsequently institutionalized and expanded the PSPEU.
What We Offer:
This rigorous evaluation of a pilot program is an exceptional example of the potential for policy experimentation to uncover effective new strategies and initiatives in the federal science and innovation enterprise. Because we appreciate that conducting such experiments within government agencies is challenging, our group aims to support agencies that are interested in designing and implementing similar efforts. Per agency needs, we can help with matchmaking external research partners, designing pilot experiments, clarifying legal or administrative guidelines, and/or arranging collaborative data sharing and research agreements.
Academic DC Placements
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Visiting Scholars program➚ is a prime example of a federal placement mechanism. By bridging the gap between academia and government, this role has fostered influential contributions to both policy and research. For example, former CBO director Doug Elemendorf has praised➚ the example of MIT finance economist Debbie Lucas taking temporary leave from MIT to build up the CBO’s capacity for financial analysis. On the academic side, Stanford University’s Scholars in Service program➚ is an excellent example of how an academic institution can facilitate placements in Washington, DC. This program supports faculty to take a period of leave from the university and embed themselves within a government or nonprofit organization, and provides financial and professional support, including 1-2 quarters of full salary and benefits, and sometimes additional direct cost support. The program has received strong support from university deans, and participants have discussed➚ significant personal and professional benefits from their tours.
What We Offer:
We aim to assist agencies in developing roles or programs for academic placements and identifying potential participants; we also support academics interested in tours of service and would like information or guidance on the process. Federation of American Scientists➚ — led by one of our members, Dan Correa — runs an established Impact Fellowship program➚ that provides a platform for agencies interested in staffing specific roles and academics seeking short-term, service-oriented positions in government. In addition, our group recently launched a pilot “Sabbaticals in Service”➚ program that aims to streamline academic placements at federal agencies by leveraging researchers’ earned sabbatical credits.
In addition to formal placements, external collaboration between academic researchers and government agencies has repeatedly proven fruitful for both parties. For example, in May 2020, the Rhode Island Department of Health partnered with researchers at Brown University’s Policy Lab➚ to conduct a randomized controlled trial➚ evaluating the effectiveness of different letter designs in encouraging COVID-19 testing. This study identified design principles that improved uptake of testing by 25–60% without increasing cost, and led to follow-on collaborations between the institutions. The North Carolina Office of Strategic Partnerships➚ is a prime example of how government agencies can take steps to facilitate these collaborations. The office recently launched the North Carolina Project Portal➚, which serves as a platform for the agency to share their research needs and for external partners, including academics, to express interest in collaborating on these questions.
What We Offer:
We aim to help agencies form productive collaborations with academic researchers and institutions. Our team can help identify potential partners, advise on the establishment of collaborative agreements, and provide support to ensure the success of the collaboration. We can also assist in the design and implementation of pilot programs and platforms, like the North Carolina Project Portal. Our goal is to help agencies use academic expertise to make evidence-based decisions and improve their policies and procedures.