About

Incubating breakthrough approaches that use research to accelerate social change.

The Research to Action Lab is an innovation hub serving decisionmakers and creative thinkers eager to effect social change. We draw on the breadth and depth of the Urban Institute’s research insights to test new strategies and develop cutting-edge tools, programs, and trainings, as well as to provide strategic and philanthropic advice to public, nonprofit, and private-sector leaders. Nimble and creative, the Lab takes an integrated approach to helping decisionmakers navigate current challenges and seize future opportunities in localities throughout the United States. Our multidisciplinary team offers expertise in identifying and cultivating approaches that shape public debate, improve decisionmaking, and spark disruptive solutions to today’s complex social and economic challenges.

Our team also partners with Urban’s researchers in designing and delivering evidence-informed programs that catalyze meaningful change for people and communities. And by engaging directly with policymakers and practitioners, we ensure that our efforts inform the most pressing challenges and generate tailored solutions. Our offerings include the following:

  • Strategic advice and assistance. We help stakeholders understand research and use fact-based insights and solutions to address their immediate challenges.
  • Convening. Our team brings together thought leaders and changemakers with complementary areas of expertise to build and share knowledge.
  • Integrated program management. Drawing on Urban’s breadth of cross-cutting expertise, we manage and implement complex, multiyear initiatives with and for partners who want to make a difference. As a trusted thought partner, the Lab, working alongside Urban researchers, contributes to accelerating innovation and social change through various engagements. Among them:

Helping governments innovate and invest in what works. Our Pay for Success Initiative and Evidence-Based Policymaking Collaborative help decisionmakers navigate evidence to identify high-quality programs and interventions that improve outcomes for people and communities. We develop toolkits, deliver technical assistance, and support communities of practice that promote the integration of evidence in government policy. Through these engagements, we are advancing outcomes-oriented government.

Elevating the debate on housing and place. In Chicago, Detroit, Miami, and other cities, our team is documenting housing trends, proposing solutions, and convening policymakers and practitioners to raise issues and motivate change. In 2016, we co-convened an event in Chicago with the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) that explored the connections between place, race, and economic mobility. A year later, we partnered with MPC on a report about the cost of segregation, which documents the impacts of segregation on income, education, and violence in Chicago neighborhoods.

Advising philanthropic strategy. As a thought partner to the Joyce Foundation, we are helping its leaders reframe the foundation’s philanthropic strategy to focus more on economic mobility, race, and the next generation growing up in the Great Lakes region. By leveraging Urban’s demographic modeling tools and policy expertise, the foundation is identifying new avenues of inquiry and grounding its decisionmaking, strategic planning, and grantmaking approach in evidence.

Reducing the jail population. Urban is working with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to test bold new ideas for safely reducing the jail population nationwide while not compromising public safety. We are making modest grants, providing technical assistance to local jurisdictions advancing novel practices and strategies, and documenting local innovations to inform the broader field.