What Is the Griffin Applied Economics Incubator?

The Kenneth C. Griffin Applied Economics Incubator aims to elevate the status of the University of Chicago as a hub for generating key initiatives that drive broad-based thought and policy changes. Each academic year, the Incubator is dedicated to a specific topic of importance to society that stands to benefit from focused research attention and ideation. Scholars from all disciplines, as well as practitioners and policy makers are engaged in the Incubator’s activities, which culminate in an annual conference.


The inaugural year of the Griffin Applied Economics Incubator will focus on research in early childhood and the science of scaling evidence-based interventions within the field. Conceptualized and executed by the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health in partnership with the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, the Incubator will support the translation of ambitious and policy-relevant early childhood research into the realm of real-world applications.

Planned Activities

The Incubator will transform the way science is used to both develop behavioral interventions that strengthen opportunities and outcomes for children age birth to five, as well as use the science of scaling to replicate and disseminate evidence-based interventions at scale. Towards that end, the Incubator will bring together researchers and thought leaders from different disciplines such as economics, medicine, psychology, social work, and public policy to stimulate thinking and lead to the cross-pollination of ideas. Specifically, we envision the Incubator will serve as a platform to develop innovative approaches, advance and disseminate new research, and accelerate talent in the fields of early childhood and research on scaling promising approaches:

  • Innovation Fund: Translational research often suffers from a lack of funding due to its experimental nature. The Incubator will identify and invest in the most promising research focused on early childhood and issues around scaling, providing them with seed funds necessary to develop and test innovative approaches that yield transformative policy results, thus bridging the funding gap and catalyzing other sources of support.
  • Accelerator: The Incubator will host visiting professors, lecturers and post-doctoral students at the University of Chicago for a range of activities. As part of their visits, researchers will explore partnerships and emerging lines of inquiry to advance the field of early childhood. Senior professors will provide mentorship to junior faculty and post-doctoral students to strengthen their research skills and develop a pipeline of future leaders. Visitors will also conduct presentations, deliver lectures, and in some cases, teach special courses.
  • Conferences and Seminars: The Incubator will host convenings of researchers and thought leaders to advance the field by encouraging cross-pollination of ideas across diverse fields. There will be conferences in Fall 2019 and in Summer 2020. Potential conference topics include challenges and lessons for scaling evidence-based interventions in early childhood; addressing beliefs and behaviors through intervention development in early childhood; and lessons from early childhood interventions and practices from other parts of the world. In addition to the conferences, the Incubator will partner with existing educational workshops to promote collaboration among researchers and spearhead new lines of inquiry.
  • Publications: The Incubator will encourage and produce a wide range of publications, ensuring that the ideas generated by its participants reach a broad and diverse audience. Planned publications include:
    • The Scale-up Effect in Early Childhood and Public Policy: Why interventions lose impact at scale and what we can do about it,” an edited volume that brings together some of the best policy-relevant research on early childhood and the burgeoning literature on the science of scaling—and explores the relationship between the two.
    • A dedicated issue of the Journal of Political Economy (JPE)
    • Additional journal articles, policy briefs and essays authored by Incubator participants and affiliates

General questions about the The Kenneth C. Griffin Applied Incubator? Contact Diana Smith at dianas@uchicago.edu.

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