Research Grant Applications

The mission of the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership is the promotion of effective leadership, bipartisan approaches to public policy, and well-researched policy. The Thompson Center funds research across the UW System that will advance public leadership and help leaders to address pressing policy challenges. Tommy G. Thompson Research Grants are intended to help researchers throughout the University of Wisconsin System research issues in need of attention here in Wisconsin.

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Tenured or tenure-track faculty across the UW System are eligible to apply as a Principal Investigator (PI) assuming they retain PI status on their campus. UW System employees (e.g., academic staff) who do not hold faculty status must submit a letter from their institution confirming they would be approved to serve as a Principal Investigator for the project with their proposal. Applications from research teams are allowed. Faculty and researchers from any discipline are welcome to propose projects, as long as they address or have clear implications for public leadership and address the topics identified under Research Priorities.

The Thompson Center has allocated a sizable amount of funds for research. Individual allocations may range from $5,000-$500,000. The review panel has recommended that the maximum salary allowed for each P.I. not to exceed the equivalent of two summer months salary.

Recipients may not use funds to buy out courses. Students working on Thompson Center funded projects must be eligible to perform work consistent with UW System policies.

Thompson Center Research Grants are funded through a GPR appropriation under fund 116.


Application Deadline: Applications must be submitted electronically to no later than 5:00 pm CDT on Friday, May 17, 2024.

Notification: The Center will notify applicants in writing after the Faculty Advisory Committee and Public Leadership Board finalize award decisions.

Award Period: Recipients must present a plan for and spend all funds by the end of the fiscal year for which they receive the funding. Thompson Center 116 funds run on a July 1 – June 30 fiscal year and any unexpended funds are returned to the state after June 30. As such, all funds must be expended in advance of the June 30 deadline.

Research Priorities

Research priorities are determined each year based on a consultative process undertaken by the Public Leadership Board in conjunction with the Faculty Advisory Committee. While the Thompson Center is interested in all public leadership projects, this year we are particularly interested in projects that address:

State and Local Government Interaction

The structure of each level of government and their interaction are essential to good governance. We seek proposals that address issues which include, but are not limited to: 
•  Intergovernmental cooperation, the balance of power, fiscal relationships, and the consolidation of services
•  Governmental responsiveness, engagement, and accountability
•  The effect of institutional design on political, technological, labor market, and environmental challenges

Overcoming Learning Loss and Current Challenges in Education

Educational issues including absenteeism, summer learning loss, school closures, and the voucher system have long impacted schools in Wisconsin, but the current pandemic has resulted in stagnation and learning loss at unprecedented levels. We seek proposals addressing these and all related issues, including but not limited to:
 •  The impact of recent initiatives and other federal, state, and local programs
 •  Targeted support programs engaging the community in public/private partnership programs
 •  The effect of institutional and instructional design on student success
 •  Addressing a student’s physical and emotional needs, to motivate and engage students and families in learning
 •  The role of school boards and community leadership in recovering from learning loss

Challenges Facing Rural Communities in Wisconsin

Compared to other states, Wisconsin has a fairly high proportion of rural to urban communities. This gives rise to an interdependent series of issues, based on the connection and dependence of these communities on each other for their continued support and development. We seek proposals that address issues which include, but are not limited to:
 •  Ensuring all Wisconsinites have access to high-quality medical care, education, financial services, and legal services
 •  Meeting the infrastructure and service needs of rural communities, such as roads and high-speed internet
 •  Employment, entrepreneurship, financial security, and economic growth
 •  Staffing and other difficulties imperiling community-based volunteer emergency services

Health Systems in Public Emergencies

The COVID pandemic exposed the fragility of healthcare providers on many levels. We seek proposals that address issues which include, but are not limited to:
 •  Ensuring the efficient functioning of healthcare systems in the face of financial and medical uncertainties
 •  Robustness of healthcare services to changes in demand and labor market in times of public emergency

Application Materials

Applicants should use a single-spaced 12-point font, a minimum of one-inch margins, and page numbers centered at the bottom of the page. The application narrative (includes Problem, Budget, and Data Management sections) should not exceed four pages. Applications must include the following:

  1. Cover Letter A cover letter that includes the applicant name(s), institution(s), a signed statement from the applicant that the application is accurate to the best of their knowledge, and a signature from a campus financial, budget or research office representative that the budget is acceptable (as applicable on your campus*). The rest of the application materials should only include the title of the project to aid in the blind review process.
  2. Summary A one paragraph summary that describes the project and its importance. The one paragraph summary should serve as the cover page of the application narrative, with only the title and summary paragraph included on this page.
  3. Problem A discussion of the policy or leadership problem and the project the applicant seeks to undertake to resolve it;
  4. Budget* A proposed budget which includes a detailed narrative describing the need for each category of funds and how the funds will be used to meet the project goals. The budget should include well-defined salary and fringe numbers;
  5. Data Management A data management plan that describes:
    1. The types of data, samples, physical collections, software, and other materials to be produced in the course of the project;
    2. Policies for access and sharing any data obtained including provisions for appropriate protection of privacy, confidentiality, security, intellectual property, or other rights or requirements;
    3. Policies and provisions for re-use, re-distribution, and the production of derivatives; and
    4. Plans for archiving data, samples, and other research products, and for preservation of access to them.

Although not required, the Center favors applications that identify key public and private sector actors relevant to the research topic and a plan, if funded, for reaching out to these individuals to collaborate on the project design and/or dissemination of research results.

The Center reserves the right to seek additional information, to hold in-person or telephone interviews with applicants, and to modify proposed budgets.

*Please review this spreadsheet for your campus financial, budget or research office representative.

Award Responsibilities

Recipient must agree to work with Thompson Center staff and their home campuses to perform the following tasks:

  1. Promote the findings and implications of the funded work broadly across the State of Wisconsin consistent with the Wisconsin Idea and in a manner that is easily accessible to the public;
  2. Where possible, strive to engage with policymakers in the relevant branches of government regarding the project;
  3. Provide summaries of their research findings for posting on the Center’s website
  4. Provide a public presentation of their results, either at their home campus or at an alternative location, which must be in close proximity to their home campus; and
  5. Provide a report to the Center which should include:
    1. Goal(s) of the Research
    2. Methodology & Analysis
    3. Brief Overview of Results
    4. Implications of Research for Public Policy
  6. Expend all awarded funds within the fiscal year in which the appropriation is made. If necessary, the recipient may request a no-cost time extension. The granting of no-cost time extensions are not guaranteed and are rare due to fiscal year constraints under which the Center operates. Researchers who absolutely need to apply for a no-cost time extension to the award must do so in writing to the Director of the Thompson Center by May 1 of the awarding year;
  7. The Thompson Center will reach out after the award year for a separate short presentation on your research and findings.

Submit an Application

Email completed application to with the subject line (P.I. Last Name) Research Grant Application. Applications must be submitted no later than Friday, May 17, 2024, at 5:00 pm CDT.

While no automated response will be generated, an acknowledgment of application submission will be forthcoming within 24 hours or by the end of the next business day. If you do not receive an acknowledgment via email, please resubmit your application materials or feel free to call us at 608-265-4087 between 8:00am and 4:30pm.


Thompson Center research grant applications go through a two-step process involving initial review by the Faculty Advisory Committee based on established principles and criteria, and subsequent review by the Public Leadership Board.

Merit Review Principles and Criteria: To be considered for funding, projects must be of high quality and have the potential to advance, if not transform, the frontiers of policy and public leadership in Wisconsin. The Faculty Advisory Committee will recommend awarding a proposal only if it meets the following criteria:

  1. The application must satisfy all the deadlines and requirements;
  2. The project will collect and/or analyze original data, pursue an original inquiry, or secondary research;
  3. The proposed topic must be researchable;
  4. The project must objectively study public leadership in American political and legal institutions, policymaking, and policy implementation;
  5. The project must address an issue of direct and urgent relevance for the state of Wisconsin, aiming for long-term solutions;
  6. The application must contain a plan for carrying out the proposed project activities, and must do so in a way that is well-reasoned, well-organized, and based on a sound rationale; and
  7. The application must clearly describe the deliverables and output of the project. For example, will the project generate policy papers, policy proposals, academic studies, or other products?

Subsequent Review by the Public Leadership Board: The Public Leadership Board respects and relies upon the Faculty Advisory Committee’s academic expertise and will work with the Committee in a collaborative manner that recognizes everyone’s comparative advantages. Accordingly, the Public Leadership Board may overrule the Committee’s recommendation if a majority of Board members determine that a recommended grant: (1) is inconsistent with the mission of the Center or (2) is not relevant to the call for proposals.


Please review our Frequently Asked Questions

Direct all other questions to or 608-265-4087.