Laying the foundation to diversify the economics field and center racial equity in economics research

Laying the foundation to diversify the economics field and center racial equity in economics research

J-PAL North America is embarking on a year-long planning period to advance racial equity in its work. Throughout this year, J-PAL North America will develop a strategic vision for how to effectively and intentionally prioritize research that addresses racial equity. This includes developing guidance to determine when and how randomized evaluations can advance research related to racial equity, as well as actions to increase the capacity of researchers to approach research related to racial equity by supporting inclusive research practices. Another major goal of the planning period is to increase representation and engagement of Black, Latino/a/x, and Indigenous researchers who are in the J-PAL North America research network. Damon Jones, an associate professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and a J-PAL affiliated researcher, will serve as the scientific advisor for this work, as well as the chair of a newly established advisory committee that will collaborate with J-PAL North America to provide guidance and expertise on planning key activities for advancing a racial equity strategy.

As a network of researchers, a funder of research, and an organization that trains and supports economists in conducting randomized evaluations, J-PAL North America plays an important role in influencing the types of studies that are generated and who works on them. To guide this new area of work, the organization will develop an advisory committee of researchers within and outside the J-PAL network who will bring expertise in designing, implementing, and communicating about research related to racial equity, as well as diversifying the field of economics. J-PAL North America will leverage its network of researchers, staff, and existing infrastructure to collaborate with the advisory committee in developing a racial equity strategy. 

“I am incredibly excited that Damon Jones has agreed to serve as the scientific advisor for J-PAL North America’s racial equity work and will chair the advisory committee, and I am looking forward to working with him. He has a unique combination of experience carrying out innovative randomized experiments alongside wide-ranging expertise in research on race and racism, inside and outside of economics,” says Matthew Notowidigdo, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and co-scientific director of J-PAL North America.

The advisory committee will bring expertise about technical considerations for conducting research related to racial equity and experience with implementing equitable and inclusive research practices. Their knowledge will inform the development of a research strategy that outlines where and how randomized evaluations can advance research related to racial equity. “I’m eager to gather a group of scholars who can give us insightful, and even critical, feedback on the state of research on race in economics, and the potential limitations of doing that work using field experiments. As is the case when we invest in making sure researchers and potential partners have buy-in and the capacity to carry out experimental studies, we also want to do the same when it comes to making sure researchers have a robust understanding of race and racism as it is studied in the social sciences,” says Jones. J-PAL North America will prioritize the inclusion of Black, Latino/a/x, and Indigenous researchers who are advancing work related to racial equity in the committee composition.

Black, Latino/a/x, and Indigenous researchers are underrepresented in the field of economics and in J-PAL North America’s research network. Fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive field of economics is necessary to make the discipline more reflective of the populations it impacts. J-PAL North America will revise its researcher nomination process to increase inclusion of Black, Latino/a/x, and Indigenous researchers in its network. In doing so, the organization will lay the groundwork for greater representation among economists in its network to ensure policymaking reflects the realities and needs of communities of color.

Research related to racial equity is underfunded and under-prioritized in the field of economics. J-PAL North America will develop guidance to prioritize research related to racial equity, racism, and racial disparities, while also creating guidance for considering when randomized evaluations are — and are not — appropriate to address topics related to racial equity. 

J-PAL North America will leverage its experience with developing and disseminating research resources to increase the capacity of researchers in utilizing inclusive research practices. The Researching Racial Equity blog series will highlight practices, methods, and tools to support ethical randomized evaluations that mitigate bias and promote racial equity. Previous resources developed by J-PAL North America include inclusive language guidelines, which help researchers convey an understanding and appreciation of diverse experiences to promote equity and bolster the accuracy and accessibility of research findings. 

Complementing these efforts, J-PAL North America has a well-established request for proposals (RFP) model that catalyzes new research on policy-relevant topics across several sectors. In its work to prioritize racial equity in research, J-PAL North America will examine processes related to its RFP model to support evaluations that prioritize racial equity. 

Development of this strategic vision is made possible through support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. J-PAL North America is a regional office of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a global research center based in the Department of Economics at MIT. Readers interested in learning more about this work can contact Senior Research Manager Noreen Giga.

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