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Request for Proposals: Study of the Effect of Virtual Exchange on Alumni

Issue Date: February 14, 2023

Proposal Deadline: March 13, 2023, no later than 5:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time

Contact: Kyle Kastler, stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org


The Aspen Institute requests proposals for an independent research study of the lasting effect of participating in a J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI) virtual exchange on program alumni. The proposal should describe a plan to investigate the effect of virtual exchange participation on a diverse set of young people in the United States and across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who participated in a JCSVEI program between 2016 and 2020.

The Stevens Initiative is an international leader in virtual exchange, which brings young people from diverse places together to collaborate and connect through everyday technology. Created in 2015 as a lasting tribute to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Initiative invests in virtual exchange programs; shares research, resources, and promising practices to improve impact; and advocates for broader adoption. By summer 2023, the Stevens Initiative will reach nearly 75,000 young people around the world. Learn more: https://www.stevensinitiative.org/ The Initiative is a U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.

Virtual exchange provides opportunities to connect young people from diverse places using everyday technology for collaborative learning and interaction through sustained and facilitated engagement. While virtual exchange can cover any topic or subject matter and can vary substantially in the length of programming, technology or platform(s) used, learning outcomes and activity types, all virtual exchange includes a core component of cross-cultural connection and collaboration. Learn more about virtual exchange here.

Scope and Basis for This Research Project

This research project investigates the lasting effect of virtual exchange in the years following participation using alumni of JCSVEI programs as subjects. This project will build on the results and findings of a 2019 pilot study conducted by RTI International, the results of which were published in NAFSA’s Research Symposium, Volume 5. The selected researcher/team will design a research project framework, implementation plan, and protocols to identify specific outcomes that result from participation in virtual exchange that last over time. The project should particularly focus on outcomes related to:

  • Global competencies, as developed by the Stevens Initiative and RTI International in the evaluation of JCSVEI programs. These evaluation protocols are published here.
  • 21st century skills, professional skills, or soft skills. Applicants should share definitions for these skills, which should be linked to established frameworks.
  • Impact of virtual exchanges on participants from historically marginalized populations or identities that are often underrepresented in international exchange opportunities.

The Initiative anticipates the approach to this research project should be mostly qualitative but applicants are encouraged to propose either quantitative or mixed method approaches to studying virtual exchange participation outcomes, with a rationale for the proposed research method. In addition to the planning and data gathering, the selected applicant will analyze the collected data, share findings with the Initiative through a final report, and create additional outputs specified below.

The Initiative has a robust alumni engagement program which includes the ability to directly contact close to 20,000 alumni across the U.S. and MENA, ranging from alumni from early programs in 2016 to more recent alumni across many programs described on our website here. Initiative staff will support the selected applicant on outreach to the JCSVEI alumni community and appropriate selection of research participants to create as diverse a sample as possible. Other than outreach and selection, most project tasks should be completed by the selected researcher/team and not the Initiative staff.

The final report and the data it draws from should provide empirical results, conclusions, implications for practice, and critical insights about the longitudinal impact of virtual exchange programs. The results of this project are expected to be shared with the broader international education, exchange, and related fields through submissions to professional publications.


The total proposed budget – including all costs – is not expected to be higher than $40,000. A proposal with a total budget higher than this amount would need to be explicitly explained and justified in the proposal. The selected proposal will enter into a fixed award contract with the Aspen Institute and will receive 50% of the award upon a signed agreement and the remainder upon approval of the deliverables, listed below, unless otherwise agreed to during negotiations.

Suggested Project Timeline

In the proposal, applicants should provide a detailed timeline that describes all major project activities and milestones. The Initiative proposes the milestones and dates listed below and may consider deviations from this suggested timeline if the application clearly explains and justifies them in the proposal. All activities for this project must be completed by August 1, 2023, and final invoices must be delivered to the Aspen Institute by August 15, 2023.

  • March 22 (all dates 2023): Applicants notified of proposal results; negotiations begin
  • April 1: Contract begins
  • April 10: Research plan submitted to the Initiative for approval
  • May and June: Data gathering and analysis
  • July: Complete data analysis, draft report
  • August 1: Report submitted to Initiative; contract ends

Note: The Initiative welcomes but does not require the researcher/team to submit a draft of the report for feedback. If included in the plan, this draft would need to be shared with the Initiative no later than July 14.


The proposal must include clear plans for the following deliverables:

  • Regular check-ins: the researcher/team will participate in planning and monitoring calls with Initiative staff to discuss the project, development, and data and report development and to provide regular updates and receive feedback. These calls will occur on an approximately monthly basis unless otherwise agreed.
  • A research plan, delivered to the Initiative for review and approval before implementation, describing the research approach and data collection methods.
  • Final report, including:
    • A paper of no more than 15 pages describing the research process, methodology, data, analysis, and implications for future virtual exchange research and practice
    • An abstract and/or introductory and concluding remarks that contextualize the research effort for a public or non-academic audience, limited to one additional page
    • An executive summary that highlights notable findings from the data, limited to one additional page
    • An appendix with data formatted into tables designed for readability and inclusion into future Initiative reports or communications

Eligibility and Data Collection

Organizations, institutions, teams, or individuals with research or evaluation expertise are encouraged to submit proposals using the process and parameters outlined below. Applicants must have demonstrated experience with virtual exchange or a closely related field (in person exchange/study abroad, education, international education, teacher preparation, etc.). No restriction is placed on the geographic location of researchers/teams to be eligible for review. The Initiative is particularly interested in researchers or teams consisting of racial, ethnic, gender, disability, sexuality, and other diverse identities. Applications from individuals or teams who are traditionally underrepresented in the social sciences and from young or emerging scholars are strongly encouraged.

It is the researcher/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/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

All proposals must be submitted to the Initiative at stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org.


  • Due date: Proposals must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time on March 13, 2023. Questions can be directed to Kyle Kastler at stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org
  • Results: All applicants will be notified about the status of their application by March 22, 2023.

Proposal Submission Requirements

Proposals must be submitted by email to stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org. Applicants can choose the format for each of these components; no templates have been shared by the Initiative. The proposal should be comprised of the following components:

  • A brief narrative, no longer than 750 words, describing the proposed approach to the project (written for non-specialists) including:
    • Research questions and proposed virtual exchange outcomes to be identified, including references to established frameworks
    • A summary of the proposed methodology and research plan
    • A description of the project’s ability to build on the pilot research referenced above
  • A detailed timeline, listing the amount of time to be spent on each project component, including:
    • Finalizing the research plan
    • Holding check-in calls with Stevens Initiative (monthly unless otherwise agreed)
    • Securing IRB or other approvals, if applicable
    • Data gathering and analysis
    • Writing and editing the final report, including the paper, the two additional one-page documents, and the appendix for data tables
  • A budget detailing all project costs including the hourly rate of the researcher/team, delineated by project deliverables/activities, and any additional anticipated costs. As noted above, the total proposed budget is not expected to be higher than $40,000, inclusive of administrative or indirect costs. A proposal with a total budget higher than this amount would need to be explicitly explained and justified in the proposal. Notes:
    • As stated above, some researchers might propose timelines that fall outside of what is suggested in this call for proposals. Please note the start date cannot be earlier than April 1, 2023, and the end date cannot be later than August 1, 2023.
    • Awards will be disbursed as fixed-amount contracts with the individual researcher or research team that apply for the awards. The recipient will receive 50% of the award upon a signed agreement and the remainder upon approval of the deliverables, listed below, unless otherwise agreed to during negotiations.
    • 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. Faculty are often required by their institution to apply through a sponsored research office, so please check with your institution before submitting an application about the appropriate process.
  • Key research personnel and their qualifications, including CVs or resumes as attachments.
  • A diversity and inclusion 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.

Selection Criteria

Proposals will be evaluated using the following criteria:

  • Alignment with the Initiative’s prior research on the effect of virtual exchange: The Initiative is committed to expanding our understanding of the effect of virtual exchange beyond the research that currently exists in the field, particularly of the durability of impacts over time. Applicants should indicate how their proposal will clearly measure the lasting effect of virtual exchange participation and be able to demonstrate the results.
  • Cost effectiveness: the Initiative seeks to support a project that demonstrates an appropriate cost and use of funds and is 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.
  • Applicant’s experience: Through this effort, the Initiative will balance our priority of supporting individuals or teams who are traditionally underrepresented in the social sciences and/or from young or emerging scholars 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 the Initiative’s commitment to principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we invite proposals from individuals, research teams, and firms that are led by 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 stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org. The Initiative will not be able to provide feedback on proposals that are not selected.

This research is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

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