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Request for Proposals: Research in Virtual Exchange

The Stevens Initiative invites individual researchers, research teams, and research institutions to submit proposals to develop and implement a research project that will address one of the Initiative’s research priorities.

RFP Issue Date: October 15, 2020

Proposal Timeline

  • Proposal Submission Deadline: December 7, 2020
  • Proposal Review: December 8, 2020 – December 15, 2020
  • Notification of Acceptance – December 16, 2020

To Apply

Proposals are only accepted through our Survey Monkey Apply application platform here: StevensInitiative.smapply.io/prog/request_for_proposals_research_in_virtual_exchange

All required application components must be complete for a proposal to be considered.

Stevens Initiative Background

The Stevens Initiative is an international effort to build global competence and career readiness skills for young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa by growing and enhancing the field of virtual exchange. Created in 2015 as a lasting tribute to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Initiative is committed to helping to expand the virtual exchange field through three pillars of work: investing in promising programs, sharing knowledge and resources, and advocating for virtual exchange adoption. The Stevens Initiative has awarded 60 grants and, by summer 2022, will expand its reach to over 43,000 young people in 16 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 45 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, one tribal community, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.

The Initiative helps lead the virtual exchange field in research and knowledge sharing, serving as a central place for collecting and sharing promising practices and other resources. The Initiative shares evaluation data and other information from its grantee programs through webinars, case studies, conference presentations, and other avenues. The Initiative also maintains an annotated bibliography and program design framework to establish common terms for describing program characteristics and conducts a survey of the field to track growth in the years ahead. With this call for proposals, the Initiative is beginning to support additional research projects to fill other gaps in knowledge.

More information about the Stevens Initiative can be found here: www.stevensinitiative.org

Project Description

Project Goals and Overview

We invite individual researchers, research teams, and research institutions to submit proposals to develop and implement a research project that will address one of the Initiative’s research priorities. These priorities, listed below in no particular order, focus on areas in the field of virtual exchange that are current challenges or have not be sufficiently examined. The Initiative plans to work with a limited number of researchers/research teams to support research projects through the design, data collection, analysis, writing, and publication phases. Researchers can propose to work with existing data sets or propose projects that include new data collections. Projects that can plausibly identify the effects of virtual exchange programs along the priorities listed below will be preferred over descriptive or correlational studies.

Stevens Initiative Research Priorities

The following are descriptions of the Initiative’s research priorities along with some sample questions. Proposals should limit their investigation to these topics, though the sample questions are only intended to give context and are not required to be included as written in the proposed projects.

  • Dosage: This priority tries to understand whether and how differences in the amounts of time spent on exchange activities, or overall program duration, change the effect of a VE program.
    • Sample question: What are the effects of different amounts of contact hours – or total duration (over weeks) – on a program’s intended outcomes for participants?
  • Virtual Exchange at the K-12 level: This priority indicates the importance of learning more about the effects of VE participation for young people at this age/education level.
    • Sample questions: What are barriers to VE program adoption at the K-12 level? What are promising VE models at the K-12 level, specifically in demonstrating outcomes?
  • Synchronous and asynchronous communication differences: This priority will explore the effect of using different virtual communication types in a VE program – asynchronous communication activities and synchronous communication activities – to understand how participant outcomes may differ.
    • Sample questions: What are the various considerations/choices that programmers must confront when designing VE programs? What are the relative strengths of each virtual communication type? What are the relative costs or challenges of each virtual communication type? Are specific outcomes more often identified when one virtual communication type is used more than the other?
  • Effective scaling of programs: This priority will explore the conditions or actions that are necessary for institutions to scale existing virtual exchanges as a part of their international learning offerings, particularly at the K-12 level.
    • Sample questions: What conditions – including policies, funding, information, etc.– are conducive to helping VE programs scale significantly? For VE programs that have scaled, what were specific actions that helped scale adoption within the institution?
  • Accessibility for underrepresented populations:This priority will explore the effect VE participation can have on people from populations that are traditionally underrepresented in international learning, and how programs and policies can be designed and conducted to increase access to VE programs and maximize positive effects for those populations.
    • Sample questions: Are there effects of VE that are unique to or uniquely impactful for underrepresented populations? How does VE increase participants’ interest in further international exchange and learning, particularly those from underrepresented populations? Are there challenges or pitfalls in VE for underrepresented populations, and how can practice or policy mitigate their impact?
  • Effect of virtual exchange on student outcomes and success: This priority will explore the effect of virtual exchange on student outcomes and success.
    • Sample Questions: What is the effect of virtual exchange on student attendance, engagement, and discipline, particularly at the K-12 level? What is the effect of virtual exchange on K-12 student outcomes such as graduation, higher education enrollment, and employment? What are the similarities or differences in students who participate in High Impact Practices and those that participate in VE programs?


The Initiative will draw on the final product provided by the researcher or team to release a publication for the Initiative’s stakeholders, including funders, awardees, partners in the public and private sectors, teachers, students and their communities, as well as practitioners in the fields of education, technology, and international relations. Specifically, the final product (the report and the data it draws from) should provide an empirical basis, implications for practice, and critical insights about the researched questions concerning virtual exchange programs and/or the virtual exchange field. The results of these efforts will serve scholars, practitioners, and those seeking to bring virtual exchange programs to their communities. The results will also give insight to the Initiative, our funders, and other stakeholders as they seek to make strategic investments through grants or other means of support.


Selected proposals will receive up to $20,000 in funding for a project led by a research professional or faculty member and up to $10,000 for a graduate student-led project. Applications may be submitted by teams of researchers, but the maximum funding for a project will be $20,000. If a graduate student project includes multiple student researchers, it may be considered for up to $15,000. See Eligibility for more details. Selected proposals will enter into a fixed award contract with the Stevens Initiative, Aspen Institute, and will receive 50% of the award upon a signed agreement and the remainder upon approval of the final deliverables, listed below.

Suggested Project Timeline

The Initiative has proposed the timeline below for proposed research projects:

  • Winter/spring 2021: project development, data gathering
  • Spring/early summer 2021: data analysis and report drafting
  • Late summer 2021: Final report submission to the Initiative
  • Final Deliverables completed by September 15, 2021

In the proposal, applicants should provide a detailed timeline that describes all major project activities and milestones. We acknowledge that some research projects cannot be accomplished in this timeline for a variety of reasons so applicants can propose new timelines for their specific projects and justify the suggested change in their proposals.


The selected researcher/team will commit to providing the following deliverables:

  • Regular Check-ins with Stevens Initiative Staff: the researcher or team will be involved in monthly planning and monitoring calls with Initiative staff to discuss the project, development, data and report development, and to provide regular updates and receive feedback.
  • Final report, including:
    • A paper of no more than 10 pages describing the research process, methodology, data, analysis, and implications for future virtual exchange research and practice. The paper should also include an abstract and/or introductory and concluding remarks that contextualize the research effort, limited to one additional page.
  • An executive summary that highlights notable findings from the data, limited to one additional page.
  • All data formatted into tables designed for readability and inclusion into future reports or Initiative communication deliverables.
  • The researcher/team will submit at least two drafts and will receive feedback from the Initiative according to a schedule determined jointly.
  • Financial Report detailing expenses and the activities or efforts associated with those costs.
  • Other Output Deliverables: The researcher/team should propose to deliver other outputs, publications, or next steps for the research data and final report that will reach beyond the Initiative’s efforts and networks. This could include other publications in academic journals, conference presentations, or publications or presentations in other mediums.


  • Organizations, institutions, individuals
  • Applicants (or the lead member of a research team) should be:
    • For a graduate student project: current doctoral students at an accredited institution.
    • For research professional/faculty member projects: post-doctoral fellows, faculty members, or independent researchers with a Ph.D.
  • Applicants must have demonstrated experience with virtual exchange or a very closely related field (in person exchange/study abroad, education, international education, teacher preparation, etc.).
  • Geographic location: Research projects based in any location are welcome. No restriction is placed on the geographic location of researchers/teams or their projects for a proposal to be eligible for review.
  • We are particularly interested in promoting racial, ethnic, gender, disability, sexuality, and other diverse identities and strongly encourage applications from scholars who are traditionally underrepresented in the social sciences and from young or emerging scholars.

Research topic, subjects, and data

  • Types of virtual exchange programs: The Stevens Initiative defines virtual exchange as:

A method that uses technology to connect people for education and exchange. Virtual exchange programs typically serve young people. Many virtual exchange programs are international, connecting participants in different countries in order to help them gain global competencies, among other knowledge, skills, and abilities. Many practitioners feel facilitation by prepared, responsible adults – often but not always educators – is an important component of successful virtual exchange.

Virtual exchanges that can be included as objects of these research projects should align with this definition. For any clarification about eligible programs to be included in research please reach out to the Initiative with questions.

For more clarity or context to our approach to virtual exchange, please see our Resources Page, particularly our Typology of Virtual Exchange or our Projects Page.

  • Geographic location of subject groups: Research projects based in any location are welcome. No restriction is placed on the geographic location of projects, subjects, or data collection for a proposal to be eligible for review.
  • Eligible data: It is the researcher/research team’s responsibility to make sure all data collection methods and research procedures conform to ethical standards for research, including obtaining IRB approval from their affiliated institutions if applicable. In addition, it is the responsibility of the researcher or team to obtain any permissions or releases from research participants that will enable the research team to share data and findings with the Initiative and in any eventual publication.

Proposal Process and Selection Criteria


  • Due date: Proposals will be accepted until December 7, 2020. Questions can be directed to Kyle Kastler at stevensintiative@aspeninstitute.org.
  • Proposal Review: Proposals will be reviewed by the Initiative from December 8, 2020 – December 15, 2020
  • Notification of Acceptance: All applicants will be notified by December 16, 2020about the status of their proposal.

Proposal Submission Requirements

Interested applicants can only submit a proposal through the Initiative’s Survey Monkey Apply platform. The proposal is comprised of the requirements enumerated in the application form. Individual researchers or teams are limited to one submission. Most of the requested information in the application is required with some inputs indicated as optional. Major components of the application include:

  • A brief narrative, no longer than 750 words, describing the proposed research project (written for non-specialists) including:
    • Potential research questions
    • A summary of the proposed methodology
    • A description of the project’s alignment with one or more research priorities indicated above.
  • A detailed timeline, listing the amount of time to be spent on each project component, including:
    • Project development
    • Planning and check in calls with Stevens Initiative team (at least monthly)
    • Securing IRB or other necessary research approvals
    • Data gathering and analysis
    • Report writing, editing, and any other components.
    • Potential outputs or next steps beyond final deliverable submissions.
  • A description or examples of potential outputs or other next steps with data and final report beyond the Initiative’s efforts and networks (i.e. submission to academic journals or other publications, conference presentations, etc.). This should also be included in the timeline as appropriate.
  • A budget detailing all costs including the hourly rate of the researcher or research team that correspond to project deliverables/activities and any additional anticipated costs. The total amount requested should be a sum up to $10,000, $15,000, or $20,000 depending on the researcher or team as outlined above. Notes:
    • Do not request support for work that will be conducted prior to January 1, 2021.
    • Awards will be disbursed as fixed-amount contracts with the individual researcher or research team that apply for the awards and follow a schedule that will be determined during the contracting phase.
    • If, due to an institutional affiliation, a contract would need to be made between the Initiative and another institution (for example a university) rather than with an individual or team, you should detail this in your application.
    • As stated above, some researchers might propose timelines that fall outside of what is suggested in this call for proposals. Similarly, some proposals can include budget requests above the amounts listed above, but these requests should be reasonable, associated with additional effort or costs, and justified in the proposal.
  • Key research personnel and their qualifications, including CVs or resumes as attachments.
  • Diversity and Inclusion Statement: Applicants may include a statement that describes their individual/team background and how their inclusion in this effort would further the inclusion and representation of traditionally marginalized communities in academic research or publications.
  • Examples/samples of prior work on similar projects.
  • At least two references familiar with this individual or team’s work on similar projects. Doctoral students should include their advisor as one reference.

Criteria for selection

  • Alignment with the Initiative’s research agenda: The Initiative is committed to expanding our understanding of the impact of virtual exchange beyond the research that currently exists in the field. The priorities listed in this call for proposals represent areas that are currently under-researched that are of high interest to the Initiative. Research projects that demonstrate a clear alignment with one (or more) of these priorities will be preferred over other proposals. As is evident above, the Initiative is particularly interested in research on virtual exchanges at the K-12 level.
  • Cost effectiveness: the Initiative seeks to support research projects that demonstrate an appropriate cost and use of funds and are likely to deliver insight to the research priorities listed above.
  • Feasibility: Proposals should be well planned, logical, and should attempt to accomplish realistic goals. Applicants should indicate how their proposal is feasible and realistic within the parameters of this call for proposals.
  • Plan for outputs and next steps: The Initiative in interested in funding research with outputs that can have significant reach and impact on other scholars, practitioners, and other stakeholders. The other outputs, publications, or next steps listed in the proposal should be well planned, reasonable, and feasible.
  • Applicant’s experience: Through this effort, the Initiative will balance our priority of supporting new and traditionally underrepresented researchers or teams with our need to support applicants with a proven track record in accomplishing research. Recognizing that experience can be varied or diverse, the Initiative will take into consideration an applicant’s experience with research, particularly with virtual exchange or in related fields.
  • Applicant Diversity and Inclusion: Following our commitment to principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we invite proposals from individuals, research teams, and firms that are led or include significant contributions from individuals who represent communities traditionally underrepresented in academic research or publications, including women, racial minorities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and individuals with disabilities, among other traditionally marginalized communities.

Applying and More Information

For more information about the Stevens Initiative or this call for proposals, please see stevensinitiative.org or email stevensinitative@aspeninstitute.org. The Stevens Initiative will not be able to provide feedback on proposals that are not selected.

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