Research at Siegel Family Endowment: Our Approach

by John Irons

I’m very pleased to have joined Siegel Family Endowment (SFE) as a Senior Vice President and Head of Research, and to be leading the build out of the organization’s internal research capabilities. This research capacity (and my role) is entirely new for the organization, and a major first, considering SFE has never before housed a research function.  So why start developing an in-house research program? What is the precedent for doing research at a foundation? What does this sort of function set an organization like Siegel Family Endowment up to achieve? How will we do the work? Learn more about the historical precedent for this kind of work, and 

About SFE’s approach to research
In the spirit of transparency and soliciting input, I wanted to share some earth thinking on our approach.

Our strategic approach for our research efforts are still in development, but it begins with what I’m tentatively calling the 3 “N”’s: Knowledge, Networks, and Insights. (It works better if you say it out loud!)

The primary function of any research effort is knowledge creation. Whether that knowledge is produced from theoretical or empirical work, or is synthesized from various external sources, or by a combination of those two; the broadest goal is to develop a body of information that advances understanding in or across fields of study. We hope that advancing knowledge in our grantmaking interest areas will lead (together with other efforts) to better decision making for ourselves and other funders, and also for policy makers and leaders in the private and nonprofit sectors. 

SFE will continue to fund a variety of research projects in partnership with other researchers and centers, but will also build internal capacity. 

These internal research efforts — which will be conducted by a small team of researchers that we’re planning to build out over the coming months — will sit at the intersection of proactive research and information synthesis. While there needs to be research and analysis for many short-term issues (say the impact of a particular bill introduced in Congress, for example), we believe that others are better situated to respond (such as DC-based think tanks in this example); and our value-add will be on longer-term trends and fundamental questions facing society and the economy. And while there needs to be in-depth, cutting edge research within individual academic disciples, we believe that we can best further knowledge by supporting those already conducting that research in academia and at research labs where progress is already being made. 

By focusing our internal resources on proactive, and primarily synthesis work – connecting the dots across sectors and issues – we believe that we have the best chance of creating novel insights that will be of the greatest use to decision makers.

As noted above, our aim is to produce research outputs that synthesize existing knowledge, and build new frameworks. We also hope to contribute novel insights that are guided by a diverse range of different approaches, and that add nuance to the state of knowledge and debate.

In our information-rich world, there are many places to go to find in-depth knowledge and information on any particular topic, and we do not intend to reinvent existing efforts. It’s our intention to undertake projects that connect the dots between issue areas: e.g. How can AI be used to achieve better outcomes for people in the workplace? How does inadequate investment in broadband lead to educational and employment disparities?

SFE will aim to link findings from across our program areas to share novel and actionable insights. 

With rare exceptions, long gone are the days where an individual toiling in their office, lab, garage or basement, can make significant strides in knowledge on their own. Sharing ideas, combining and recombining hunches, and working across ideological and disciplinary boundaries are more important than ever.

We will also aim to support networks of researchers as well as to be active contributing members of those networks as researchers ourselves.

A Look Ahead
While it will take us some time to get our work up and running, you can expect to see us produce a variety of reports and perspectives and to be in conversation with you all through public events. In the meantime, you can connect with us in several ways:

John Irons is Senior Vice President and Head of Research at Siegel Family Endowment