Building Sustained Research-Practice Partnerships

A targeted funding program enables research institutions to shift their policies and practices to value collaborative research

January 2023

Research-practice partnerships bring together experts from the research and practice communities to develop a joint research agenda to address pressing questions. However, despite its considerable benefits, collaborative work of this type is not always valued by universities and, as a result, policies and practices within universities can inadvertently create disincentives for faculty members to participate in research-practice partnerships. 

In response to these obstacles, the William T. Grant Foundation established the Institutional Challenge Grant program, encouraging research institutions to remove barriers that inhibit collaborative work. In addition to supporting an existing institutional partnership to pursue a joint research agenda, these grants enable changes in institutional policy and practice to value research-practice partnerships and enhance the capacity of researchers and practitioners to together produce and use high-quality rigorous research results. 

In this webinar, W. T. Grant Foundation Senior Program Officer Jenny Irons described how the Institutional Challenge Grant program supports universities in building sustained research-practice partnerships that will reduce inequality in youth outcomes. Grant recipient Alicia Sasser Modestino from Northeastern University described how the funding has enabled a lasting partnership with The City of Boston’s Department of Youth Engagement and Employment, and created a number of organizational change efforts within the university aimed at building a supportive infrastructure and changing what it means to be a “successful researcher” at the university. 

While these grants are intended specifically to enable research-practice partnerships, the institutional changes they create will more broadly enable researchers to participate in HIBAR projects, as well as other forms of community-engaged research. We are delighted to share this inspirational funding initiative with the HIBAR Research Alliance community as part of our webinar series.


Key Takeaway Messages

  • Successful changes within academic departments can catalyze broader institutional change.
  • For a change effort to succeed, it is important to identify and act upon the levers for change.
  • Research teams may find it surprisingly challenging to convey what societal impact looks like for the problem they are addressing.
  • Many faculty members benefit greatly from ongoing coaching for building effective relationships with external partners.
  • Building and sustaining an effective research relationship takes a great deal of time.

Watch the full webinar recording and a short video with key takeaway messages below. 

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Jenny Irons
William T. Grant Foundation

Alicia Sasser Modestino
Northeastern University

Jenny Irons is a Senior Program Officer at the William T. Grant Foundation, where she leads the Institutional Challenge Grant program and the major grants funding initiative to support research on reducing inequality among youth. She serves on the Foundation’s senior program team, which sets program directions, develops new initiatives, and reviews grants. 

Alicia Sasser Modestino is an Associate Professor with appointments in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the Department of Economics at Northeastern University, where she also serves as the Research Director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

Watch the full webinar recording

Watch key excerpts from the webinar