Implementation and Policy

Applications accepted on a Rolling basis

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Overview

The Weiss Fund is interested in funding proposals to (a) bring research to bear on important policy questions in collaboration with governments or NGOs working at scale; and (b) support research / implementation studies that may be needed to inform immediate, high impact decisions by implementers.

This call is open across sectors, although initially we are particularly interested in proposals from researchers working with NGOs and governments to address the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Implementation & Policy Grants are capped at $25,000 and will be reviewed on a rolling basis.


Eligibility

For Implementation & Policy grants, principal investigators (PIs) must be a prior Weiss Fund awardee.

All applicants should have sufficient training to conduct research using current techniques and methods in economics. The PI applying for funding (i.e., corresponding PI) must also meet the following criteria:

  • Undergraduates
    • Undergraduates must be enrolled as regular students in a program leading to a bachelor’s degree at one of the participating institutions. They may major in any field but must have taken intermediate micro, statistics and econometrics (or the equivalent). Their research must be supervised by a faculty member with expertise in economics. The proposed project should be completed before graduation.
  • Master’s Students
    • Master’s Students should be enrolled in a program leading to a master’s degree with a specialization in development and a strong quantitative/economics component. Their research must be supervised by a faculty member with expertise in economics.
  • PhD students
    • PhD students should be working under the supervision of a faculty member with expertise in economics and should have sufficient time to devote to completing the project before graduating. The Weiss Fund ordinarily will not provide support to new projects being started by PhD students during their last year of the program unless they can demonstrate continuation in an academic position after graduation that will enable them to successfully complete the project and publish its findings.
  • Postdoctoral fellows and non-ladder faculty
    • Postdoctoral fellows and non-ladder faculty are only eligible if they have already obtained a position from one of the participating institutions as ladder faculty, or, in the case of postdoctoral fellows, they are applying as co-authors with eligible senior faculty.
  • Junior faculty
    • Junior faculty should be working on research projects on economic issues that affect developing countries.
  • Senior Faculty
    • Senior faculty are strongly encouraged to submit applications for projects with large potential marginal return toward the Weiss Fund objectives. Applications from Senior faculty will be weighed against the opportunity cost associated with funding junior researchers or donating to philanthropic humanitarian endeavors. The descriptions provided of marginal benefit and pathway to scale will also be closely reviewed for senior faculty applications. To better promote the goal of the Weiss Fund to “attract talented researchers to the field of development economics and support them in producing creative, rigorous evidence to address complex challenges affecting less-developed countries”, preference will be given to proposals from Senior Faculty that include an undergraduate student, graduate student or postdoc as a co-author. These grants will typically not exceed $100,000; the committee reserves the right to consider applications requesting higher amounts in exceptional circumstances. Senior faculty may request a pre-screening of a research proposal idea to assess against the marginal benefits and pathway to scale criteria. Please contact weissfund@uchicago.edu.

Project Guidelines

The Weiss Fund is funded by Child Relief International and aims to sponsor research that will positively affect the lives of poor people in poor countries. The potential impact of research on the poor can be long run, research can duplicate an existing study in a different context, or it can investigate a negative result – showing that something that is widely done has no impact or less impact than is normally believed. The research could seek to discover flaws in past research findings. Research that challenges conventional wisdom is encouraged. Cross-disciplinary work is welcome.

The Program only funds research in countries, regions, or populations with per capita GDP below $11,000 in current USD; and has a preference for supporting work in countries, regions, or populations with per capita GDP below $5,500. Countries’ GDP per capita is determined according to the most recent data available from the World Bank Open Data portal. The Program does not fund research in developed countries, even on low-income populations within these countries.

Examples of potential projects range from assessments of various health and education initiatives, such as:

  • The health effects of indoor spraying of DDT, adding folic acid and iron to foods, or dispensing Norplant
  • Effects of specific programs on civil society
  • Assessment on the total effects of participation of NGOs or public foreign institutions or for-profit companies in providing services normally provided by domestic institutions
  • Macroeconomic effects of capital inflows (including remittances, aid, or expenditures by NGOs)
  • Understanding the impact of NGOs’ and aid agencies’ policies regarding local hiring and purchasing on wages, cost of commercial property, and the exchange rate
  • Redoing previous randomized evaluations to control for spillover effects such as the effects of micro-finance and remittances on expenditures on weddings, funerals, festivals and other status goods.
  • Explore Previous Weiss Fund Projects

The publication and dissemination of well-designed and implemented research on programs affecting the poor is important in helping donors, governments and NGOs improve their policies and programming. However, the prospects for publication in top journals will not directly enter into funding decisions.

The program seeks to avoid financing research that should be funded by for profit companies that will directly benefit from the results.

Replication studies

In addition to standard research proposals for original research, we are also interested in funding proposals for replication and for connecting NGO and government policymakers with research, as discussed below.

The Weiss Fund is interested in supporting high-quality, policy-relevant replication studies. We recognize that many studies have some elements that are original and others that replicate earlier work, and such hybrid studies are also of interest. Applicants proposing replication studies should outline the current state of the literature and what the proposed replication would add. Replication study proposals should describe both the similarities and differences with the existing studies on the topic. They should also outline how the replication might inform efforts to develop generalizable policy-relevant lessons. In addition to discussing the value of generating estimates in a different context, replication study proposals should also compare the proposed implementation approach with that in existing studies. For example, if they propose to vary the implementation conditions by moving from the equivalent of an efficacy trial to an effectiveness trial, or from small-scale NGO implementation to large-scale government implementation, they should discuss that.


Budget Guidelines

Funding decisions will be based on the balance of the benefits and cost of the project. The Selection Committee will not look favorably on proposals that appear budgeted to hit the maximum limits.

The EOIs will be judged based on expected return per dollar of funding requested. The Weiss Fund takes value for money very seriously. Budget narratives should include a short explanation about the proposed work’s cost effectiveness, marginal impact and pathways to scale.

Eligible costs

Funding is limited to covering the cost of specific projects and is not available for tuition, researcher salaries, and/or stipends. Typical expenses covered include travel to collect data or other direct data collection costs, materials, data purchase, and research assistant time. Any equipment purchased with the grant should be donated to a non-profit organization after completion of the study; if the applicant has other plans, these should be described briefly within the proposal. While data entry and data aggregation costs are eligible, undergraduates and graduate students will not normally receive funding to hire research assistants.

Indirect costs (e.g., a percentage for overhead) are not eligible. If appropriate, costs for items such as office rent in the developing country or accounting services are eligible, but only if directly attributable to the project and itemized in the proposed budget. Thus, for example, an applicant who plans to work with an organization like Innovations for Poverty Action must itemize and justify specific expenses. Do not simply include overhead or a “country management fee” as a fixed percentage of other costs.

Budget and budget narrative

The proposal is to include a detailed budget spreadsheet (in Excel) describing the anticipated budget, including project costs and sources of funding obtained or requested. The budgeted costs should be as frugal as possible and clearly justified; budgets that appear to be padded will be viewed negatively by the committee. We would also like to see evidence that alternative sources of funding are being pursued and that there are efforts to catalyze additional funding.

Funding should be disaggregated by source and status (e.g., obtained, requested), and the allocation of funds to costs should be specified. An example budget submitted by successful applicants from a previous round is provided here. The accompanying budget narrative should list the period for which the award is requested, explain the proposed project budget and provide justification for the amount being requested from the Weiss Fund in the context of other funding obtained or to be sought. The narrative should include brief justification/context for the main budget items such as enumerator or RA costs (including appropriateness of the level of compensation). It should also describe the contributions expected of the research partner(s) (e.g., NGO, government, for-profit firm), if any, whether monetary or in-kind. If no contribution is expected of the research partner, this should be stated clearly.

Please use the Weiss Fund budget template.

Submitting multiple proposals

Submission of multiple proposals should not be used to circumvent budget limits. If you submit more than one proposal in a funding round, please indicate your priority ranking, discuss any budget complementarities and potential cost savings, and explain whether and how you will have enough time to implement more than one project in the proposed timeline.

Funding from other sources

Funding should be disaggregated by source and status (e.g., obtained, requested), and the allocation of funds to costs should be specified. Whenever a project submitted to the Weiss Fund is co-funded, applicants should indicate what the marginal contribution of Weiss funding would be (i.e. what a grant from the Weiss Fund would allow the applicant to do that would not be possible otherwise). An example budget submitted by successful applicants from a previous round is provided here.

The budget narrative should also describe the contributions expected of the research partner(s) (e.g., NGO, government, for-profit firm), if any, whether monetary or in-kind. If no contribution is expected of the research partner, this should be stated clearly.

If at any point during or after the application and review process you receive other awards for your proposed project, please email weissfund@uchicago.edu within one week with an explanation of how this affects the proposed overall Weiss budget and how costs shift accordingly.


Evaluation Criteria

Projects will be judged by a committee of PhD economists. Expected impact per dollar spent will be the overriding criteria. Projects will be judged based on:

    1. The ability of the applicant(s) to successfully implement the proposal.
    2. Letter of recommendation (for students).
    3. Potential long-run impact on the well-being of people in less developed countries.
    4. Appropriateness of proposed budget, alternative sources of funding being adequately pursued, marginal impact, pathways to scale and catalyzation of additional funding. The budget should be as frugal as possible and clearly justified.
    5. Senior faculty, in particular, will be weighed against the opportunity cost associated with funding junior researchers or donating to philanthropic humanitarian endeavors with particular scrutiny on potential for marginal impact and pathway to scale.

The Weiss Fund will aim to notify applicants of their decision within two months of the application deadline. The review committee will evaluate each submitted application and either

    1. approve project funding
    2. decline the request
    3. ask the applicant to revise and resubmit a full proposal either in the same round, or the following round.

Award Rules

Actual receipt of funding cannot take place until procedures at the relevant institution have been completed. Awardees must provide evidence of human subjects’ review approval, or of an exemption.

Winners of awards will be expected to utilize the Weiss Fund online grant management portal (also used for application submission). Award notifications and reports will be routed through this system.

Winners of awards are required to submit the following progress reports.

Programmatic reporting

  • ​​For pilot projects, submit progress reports every six months  (semi-annually starting 6 months after the start of the project)
  • Submit a final project report (due within 3 months of the project end date)
  • Notify the Weiss Fund of publications from the Weiss-funded project
  • Acknowledge financial support from the Weiss Fund. Presentations and publications about the funded project should indicate: “This research is funded by The Weiss Fund for Research in Development Economics at the University of Chicago.”

Funding management and reporting

Funding for research grants will be made in 3 tranches, as follows:

  • 30% of approved total budget upon full execution of the award agreement between the University of Chicago and the awardee institution;
  • 50% of approved total budget upon receipt and approval of an interim financial report due starting 6 months from the project start date;
  • 20% of approved total budget upon completion of the project and receipt of the final financial report due within 3 months of the project end date
  • Awardees may request earlier release or higher % of funding by submitting a formal request with justification for deviation to The Weiss Fund. Approval is subject to review by staff and committee.
  • Changes to a cost category that exceed a 10% change up or down require submission of a budget realignment to the Weiss Fund.

Funding reporting schedule

  • For pilot grants, an interim financial report due 6 months from the project start date.
  • A final financial report due within 3 months of the project end date.

Grant recipients are expected to meet with a representative of Weiss to discuss the progress of their work. Award recipients may also be expected to present the results of their research at events organized by the Weiss Fund. Once grants have been awarded, researchers will have complete academic freedom, subject to the normal rules of their institution.

Grant recipients must adhere to these terms of award. Non-compliance with these requirements may affect your eligibility for future Weiss Fund opportunities. 


Application Instructions

Deadlines

Fall 2021 Application Season Closes October 31, 2021 at 11:59pm CST.

Apply Online through the Weiss Fund Online Portal

All applications from Universities other than the University of Chicago must follow the grant application procedures established by their home institutions. In many cases, this includes sending the grant application to the home-institution Sponsored Projects Office (SPO) for review and approval at least 1-2 weeks prior to the application deadline.

It is the applicant’s responsibility to comply with any procedures mandated by their home institution; the Weiss Fund is unable to provide assistance or extensions to accommodate these internal processes.

Documents

You will need the following PDF documents to complete your application:

    1. CV for all PI’s and CoPI’s
      • PDF document with a maximum two pages;
    2. Unofficial transcript for all student PI’s and CoPI’s;
    3. Student PI’s must include a statement which includes a description of research background and evidence of ability to complete the project;
    4. Budget in Excel:
    5. If your proposal is a Revise and Resubmit from a previous round, you’ll be asked to upload a document with your responses to the committee comments and how the proposal has been changed;
    6. EOI which includes the information described in the application directions below;
    7. Student applicants should have their advisor send a recommendation letter to the online application system
      • Student applicants must have a recommendation letter from the project advisor.
        • This should include a statement that s/he will supervise the proposed project, support it intellectually, and the expected time commitment (e.g., weekly or monthly meetings.)
        • The recommendation letter will be requested via the online application form. Submitters will include their recommender name and email address.
        • A request will be sent directly to the recommender who can upload the recommendation letter through the online portal.  Please ask your recommender to use the following naming convention: last name of primary PI, last name of recommender, then “_rec” (e.g., Smith_Doe_rec).
    8. An explanation (minimum 200 words) for what the research team will do if funding is not granted including an explanation of what other funding exists for which the research team would be eligible.
    9. An explanation (minimum 200 words) describing the plausible pathway for how this research will impact the lives of the poor at scale in a reasonable timeframe and what the research team plan to do to advance down that pathway.

Research proposal

Maximum 8 pages total (excluding appendix), double-spaced, Times New Roman 12-point font, 1-in margins. The proposal should include the sections described below and use this template.

The research proposal should include the following components and each section should be shorter than the maximum section page limits specified below with total page count not exceeding that stated above:

    1. Introduction and background (1.5 pages)
      1. An outline of the research hypothesis and relevance to the Fund’s mission (see Project Guidelines below).
      2. Very concise background/motivation.
    2. Methodology and research approach (6 pages)
      1. Detailed description of methods and identification strategy (for empirical proposals intended to estimate a causal effect).
      2. Detailed explanation of outcome variables, and their measurement.
      3. Explanation of the availability of data (for empirical proposals).
      4. If a randomized trial: power calculations, sample size and description of sample stratification (to achieve similar control and treatment groups). We strongly encourage stratification to provide more power for given sample size and cost. EOIs that do not incorporate stratification should state why stratification is not appropriate for the proposal. Proposals that do not meet this rule will be considered ineligible and will not be evaluated by the committee.1
      5. If the proposal is to work with a private firm: a convincing case that Weiss Fund support is necessary and why the firm cannot fund the project itself. The Fund seeks to avoid giving a competitive advantage to any particular private firm and may disqualify proposals on these grounds. Any distortion of the market towards a particular firm will significantly decrease the probability of the project being funded. The benefits to society beyond the private firm would have to be commensurately greater for a project that benefits a private firm to be considered favorably.
    3. Timeline and budget (1.5 pages)
      1. Project timeline
      2. Budget narrative and cost-effectiveness explanation including description of the marginal impact and pathway to scale (see budget guidelines above for instructions).
      3. An explanation (minimum 200 words) for what the research team will do if funding is not granted including an explanation of what other funding exists for which the research team would be eligible.
    4. An explanation (minimum 200 words) describing the plausible pathway for how this research will impact the lives of the poor at scale in a reasonable timeframe and what the research team plan to do to advance down that pathway.
    5. Appendix (optional). This can contain tables, figures, survey questions/instruments, protocols, devices used, etc. Appendix will not count towards page limit but may not include a continuation of the proposal narrative.

The Expression of Interest should describe the project in sufficient detail to allow reviewers to determine its feasibility and potential impact on development policy. The background/motivation section is to be extremely concise. The proposal should focus on the nuts and bolts of the study and the proposed budget. For example, if the project includes a survey, description of survey content (and survey questions, if these have already been developed), and detail about the data collection approach should be provided; if the project involves a game, the game design should be described in sufficient detail for reviewers to judge it.

A good primer on designing randomized evaluations is Glennerster, R., & Takavarasha, K. (2013). Running randomized evaluations: A practical guide.  JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cgd52. Another useful resource that discusses methods to improve balance on observables, and advantages of stratification, is Bruhn, Miriam, and David McKenzie. “In Pursuit of Balance: Randomization in Practice in Development Field Experiments.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, vol. 1, no. 4, 2009, pp. 200–232.