The University of Chicago announces Innovation Challenge

blogimage_uchicago (1)The University of Chicago announced in March that it will launch three additional research labs to continue to build on the success of its Crime Lab and Urban Education Lab. The new labs — Health Lab, Energy and Environment Lab, and Poverty Lab — will focus on using rigorous research to test the impact and efficacy of interventions related to health, energy,environment, and poverty. Using a $15 million seed grant that includes a $10 million grant from the Pritzker Foundation these research centers will comprise a network of urban labs that comprehensively support the development of evidence-based practices in Chicago and beyond.

The labs are run by University of Chicago faculty who are experts in the respective issue areas and are supported by additional research staff and students. The research teams design research methodologies, liaise with community partners, and implement evaluations to understand if, why, and how urban programs improve the well-being of community members. They aim to articulate and answer questions that emerge directly from practitioners’ experiences to ground their research on the deeply-rooted issues that have come to characterize urban life.

Cross-sector collaborations among city officials, academics, and city residents in Chicago reside at the core of these research centers. Labs share data with each other to develop multi-pronged programs that span beyond their topic of interest or specific intervention strategy. This wide focus increases the potential for researchers to look at the intersections between issues like education and health or crime and poverty. Jens Ludwig, director of the Crime Lab and co-director of the Urban Education Lab, mentioned in a press conference that these initiatives will help Chicago, as well as cities across the nation, to figure out what programs and interventions provide “more bang for your buck.” 

As a part of the expansion of the lab network, the university also launched the Urban Labs Innovation Challenge through which non-profit, public, and private-sector organizations are invited to apply to implement promising solutions to city-level issues that Chicagoans confront. A portion of the money from the Pritzker Foundation grant will be used to fund the best ideas for pilot programs submitted to the university labs, and as much as $1 million will be awarded to the winner for up to two years.  The inaugural round of recipients will be announced in September.

Becoming a Man is an initiative that emerged from a competition among non-profits and government agencies to best address juvenile violence in Chicago. After it was awarded $1 million dollars, the Crime Lab conducted a randomized control trial to determine the impact the program had on the youth who participated. Researchers found that victimization and perpetration of violence decreased by 44 percent throughout the length of the youths participation in the program compared to the control group, composed of young people who  did not participate in the program. President Obama visited the organization and included its program strategies as a central objective to My Brother’s Keeper, a national call to action to adopt a cradle-to-career approach that supports boys and young men of color by ensuring access to high quality early childhood education and working to keep them safe from violence and crime.