Founders’ Letter 01
Investing in Transformational Change
We are pleased to present the first Annual Report of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF). This year marks a turning point for LJAF. We have achieved significant milestones in our core issue areas, and a critical mass of our projects has now moved from the concept stage to execution.
When we started the foundation in 2008, we knew we wanted to improve society in a substantive, lasting way. Since we were not starting with a particular issue (medical, social, cultural, or otherwise) as a natural focal point, we felt the freedom to select our issue areas with minimal bias. As to geography, we felt strongly from the outset that our work should be focused on the United States as a whole rather than exclusively on pre-decided cities, states, neighborhoods, or groups. And perhaps most importantly, we wished to attack systemic problems at their root, not just address the surface symptoms of underlying dysfunction.
As is true with many philanthropists, our journey began with investments in K‑12 education, as we believe education is at the root of every social and economic problem this country faces. As we spent more time in the education field, our focus quickly turned to broader policy questions. We became interested in the consequences of a failing education system and, more broadly, in the government choices and policies that disproportionately affect the communities that are the system’s primary consumers. As we worked systematically through this process, we developed an investment practice that we would eventually apply to each successive issue area on which we would work. First, we survey all existing data and valid research. Second, we seek the most creative thinking and best advice from experts in the field. Third, we pilot positive disruptive models with concurrent credible testing to measure results. And finally, we make larger investments in larger scale roll-outs of now-proven interventions. This process has become the core of our internal culture and our external practice, and is reflected in every one of our issue areas today.
Our work this past year has fully blossomed in four major core issue areas — criminal justice, public accountability, research integrity, and education. In criminal justice, we have developed a best in class (and first of its kind) non-interview pretrial risk-assessment tool that can dramatically increase efficiency and fairness in the front end of the criminal justice system. In public accountability, we have added transparency to the conversations about fiscal sustainability and have advanced an emphasis on data- driven decision-making and innovative financing and efficacy testing of social impact interventions. In research integrity, we have seeded organizations that promote responsible, transparent, and replicable research. And in education, we continue to prove out the concept of a portfolio model of school governance and support technological advances in the classroom.
In other areas, we have begun to lay the groundwork for disruptive innovations that we are confident will contribute to sustainable and transformative change. Our team continues to pursue initiatives in a range of areas, from health care to investigative reporting, but always with a focus on data, outcomes, and rigorous analysis.
We expect that, in 2015, we will continue to replicate our data-driven approach in both our existing issue areas and in new areas of focus.
Laura and John Arnold