Research Grant Applications

The Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership takes as its mission 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 University of Wisconsin System principal investigators research issues in need of attention here in Wisconsin.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

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 Preparing for Public Emergencies, Reforming the Administrative State, and Privacy in a Digital Age.

Preparing for Public Emergencies

COVID-19 has caused substantial disruptions to Wisconsin’s health care systems, to the health of our economy, and to the health of our current institutions. In an effort to prepare the state better for future public emergencies, the Thompson Center is opening another round of faculty research grant proposals on public emergencies. We seek research proposals that investigate questions such as (but not limited to):

  • How can our education system better adapt to online educational environments in the event of public emergencies?
  • What can our health care providers do to offer more immediate services and services from a distance during public emergencies?
  • What sort of legal reforms are needed to anticipate and react to public emergencies?
  • How can our medical community more effectively respond to public emergencies with things like vaccines, treatments, and expedited research?
  • How can the state implement elections during public emergencies?

Reforming the Administrative State

Governing administrative structures contain a large volume of administrative rules and regulations, and many metrics with which to measure if the system is working effectively and not. Significant efforts in recent decades have been made featuring ways to streamline the work done by the legislative and/or executive branches. Along with this, the judicial branch has frequently been called upon to resolve ambiguities and disputes in administrative law. The Thompson Center is interested in research exploring possible paths forward for reform, with a particular emphasis on opportunities available to the State of Wisconsin.

Privacy in a Digital World

It is impossible to be unaware of the rapid growth of information technology in all aspects of American life and industry, and the relative ease with which information can be accessed, shared, or made available to interested parties. This new digital world has altered the ways in which individuals, the private sector, and government operate and interact. The Thompson Center is interested in research exploring what this means for management, regulations, ethics, and standards moving forward.


Tenured or tenure-track faculty across the UW System are eligible to apply as a Principal Investigator (PI) on a proposal 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 above.

The Thompson Center has allocated a sizable amount of funds for research. Individual awards may range from $5,000-$500,000.

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.

Award Responsibilities

Awardees 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 they are awarded. If necessary, the awardee 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. Applicants 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.

Application Materials

Applications must be no longer than four pages and single-spaced. Applicants should use a minimum of 12-point font, a minimum of one-inch margins, and page numbers centered at the bottom of the page. They must include the following:

  1. Cover Letter A cover letter that includes the applicant name(s) and institution(s). The rest of the application materials should only include the title of the project to aid in the blind review process. The cover letter does not count toward the 4 page limit.
  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. Applicant names and institutions should not be included. The summary page does not count towards the 4 page limit.
  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; and
  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.


Award Period

Award recipients must present a plan for, and spend all funds by the end of the fiscal year in which they receive the funding. The UW System runs on a July 1 – June 30 fiscal year. As such, funds must be expended in advance of the June 30 deadline to be accounted for within the fiscal year in which the award was made. Awardees may request a no-cost time extension if necessary (more details below.)


Applications must be submitted electronically to Tia Westhoff, Administrative Assistant, at no later than 5:00pm CST on Thursday, May 20, 2021.


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

Submit an Application

Email completed application to Tia Westhoff, Administrative Assistant at with the subject line (P.I. Last Name) Research Grant Application. Applications must be submitted no later than 5:00pm CST on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

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 awards go through a two-step process involving 1) initial review by the Faculty Advisory Committee based on established principles and criteria, and 2) subsequent review by the Public Leadership Board.

Merit Review Principles and Criteria Used by the Faculty Advisory Committee

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 a project 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.


Review our Frequently Asked Questions.

Direct all other questions to:

Tia Westhoff

Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership
University of Wisconsin – Madison
445 Henry Mall
Room 511
Madison, WI 53706