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New Assessments and Measures of Virtues


Both scientific research on character development and the design of interventions intended to promote it require measures of, or techniques for assessing, virtues in individuals.  In the research domain, cumulative progress in understanding virtues and their development depends on the existence of measures that are construct-valid and widely-adopted.  Similarly, the creation of evidence-based virtue education efforts requires good evidence in the form of measures or assessments that not only meet scientific standards of validity and reliability, but also are usable by non-specialists and provide results that can be related to the “real world.”

Very few such measures exist today, for several reasons.  First, many of the measures that are currently used by researchers and evaluators to assess virtues were not created specifically for that purpose.  Rather, most of them rely either on well-validated measures of related but different traits (for example, measures of narcissism or self-esteem in research on humility),or on measures created for specific research or evaluation projects (which may be valid and reliable, but are not widely adopted).  Second, most extant measures rely heavily on verbal self-reports, which are not only susceptible to various response biases and other threats to validity, but also cannot provide direct information about behavior and motivation, which are crucial components of virtues.

Our 2013 funding competition “New Assessments and Measures of Virtues” aims to support the development of meaningful, valid, and reliable measures or assessments of virtues, especially virtues that are enumerated in the Foundation’s charter and virtues that are closely related to these.

Applicants should propose a plan for developing innovative, scientifically valid, and practically useful methods for assessing or measuring particular virtues, and should address one or more of the following “big questions”:

  1. How can the target virtue(s) be defined, both conceptually and operationally, so as to permit meaningful assessment or measurement?
  2. How can assessments/measures of the virtue(s) be developed that are usable not only for scientific research but also for evaluation of character development programs and interventions?
  3. What methods of data collection and data analysis are most valid for assessing change, development, or growth of the virtue(s)?

Budget range and term for individual projects

Proposals may request up to $250,000 for projects of up to two years in duration.  The Foundation will award up to $3 million in grants in this competition.

Application Process

The Foundation has a two step application process, the first stage of which is the submission of an Online Funding Inquiry (OFI).  OFIs for this competition are due no later than April 1, 2013.  (Instructions for completing an Online Funding Inquiry can be found on the Foundation’s web site.)  Applicants invited to submit Full Proposals will be notified by May 3, 2013 and invited Full Proposals will be due no later than September 3, 2013.

Please note the following requirements for OFIs and Full Proposals for this competition.

Online Funding Inquiries

In addition to the information requested in the OFI form, the Project Description section should include a brief statement of the specific virtue or virtues on which the project will focus, the applicant’s general theory of the virtue(s), and the assessment techniques or methods that the project will explore.

Full Proposals

Based on a competitive review of all of the OFIs received, the Foundation will invite selected applicants to submit Full Proposals.  The requirements and guidelines below apply to invited Full Proposals and not to Online Funding Inquiries.  Nevertheless, all prospective applicants are encouraged to review them carefully in deciding whether to submit an OFI for this competition.

  • The Full Proposal should make clear on which specific virtue(s) the proposed project will focus.
  • The Full Proposal must include a detailed, substantive statement of the applicant’s theory of the virtue on which the project will focus.  This theoretical statement should include an explicit conceptual definition, a discussion of the psychological processes and person variables involved, the primary indicators of the virtue, and how the virtue is distinguished from related but different traits.
  • The Full Proposal must include a literature review that discusses, inter alia, relevant empirical research and treatments of the virtue in philosophy and other conceptual disciplines.
  • The Full Proposal must include a detailed plan for validation, especially the assessment of predictive validity of the assessment or measure (its ability to predict things it should be able to predict, according to theory) and concurrent validity (its ability to distinguish between groups it should be able to distinguish between).  In both cases, the emphasis should be on real-world indicators and groups, rather than, for example, scores on other psychological measures.
  • Preference will be given to proposals involving interdisciplinary collaborations, especially between “conceptual” disciplines (such as philosophy and theology) and “empirical” disciplines (psychology, psychiatry, sociology, economics, etc.).
  • Projects that use modes of data collection other than (or in addition to) verbal self-reports (e.g., indirect measures, projective tests, repertory grid, Q-sorting, think-aloud protocols) are strongly preferred.
  • In the interest of promoting openness and transparency in scientific research, each applicant invited to submit a Full Proposal will be required to agree to make all data produced by the project, as well as all study materials used, publicly available via an online repository such as Harvard’s Dataverse Network or the Open Science Framework.  Further details regarding this requirement, including (a) a full list of data and materials covered, (b) a list of acceptable repositories, and (c) information about timetables for publication will be made available in January 2013.