50 Years of Bold Thinking: Innovative Research and Thought Leadership
"I dreamt of building things, and then of building people, and then of building teams of people building better people and things. I hope and dream that those who came with me on this adventure will carry on in the same spirit long after I'm gone."
— Clark Abt
Founder, Abt Associates
Abt Associates’ history is full of groundbreaking evaluations, research, interventions, and efforts to create a more employee-friendly workplace.
Abt Associates has been an innovator since Clark Abt founded the company in a small office above a machine shop in Cambridge, Mass. in 1965. In 2014 Abt Associates kicks off a year-long commemoration of the company’s founding in January 1965. That year Clark Abt brought together 30 scientists, engineers, and educators tocreate a new kind of company that used interdisciplinary social science research to solve social and economic problems. Since then Abt Associates has focused its innovative efforts on a wide range of projects, including:
- Developing a randomized control trial study for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — the Housing Allowance Demand Experiment — that laid the foundation for the Section 8 voucher program, the nation’s predominant safety-net housing program for the next 30 years;
- Leading the first Agricultural Policy Analysis Project for USAID, working in more than 50 developing countries over 15 years to help improve agricultural policies;
- Conducting a major study to evaluate the potential human health benefits of proposed air and drinking water regulations for the Environmental Protection Agency. This study helped create a relationship in which Abt is a premier provider of support to the agency;
- Implementing the USAID global flagship Health Financing and Sustainability project in 1989, which began Abt’s internationally recognized work in health system strengthening;
- Conducting a study for the Department of Justice in the early 1990s that found racial disparities in federal drug offender sentencing disproportionately affect African-Americans. The research led to the passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced these disparities; and
- More recently creating its own environmental sustainability program to measure and reduce company emissions from travel and commuting and reducing company waste.
Abt also has been a leader in creating an employee-friendly corporate culture. Abt Associates in 1971 opened an employee-designed and -operated onsite day care center, the Mary Helen Gardner Children’s Village. It is one of the first corporate day care centers in New England. At the same time, Clark Abt directed an experimental women’s job corps center at Abt headquarters that trained single mothers working at Abt in computer programming, social work and other disciplines. In 1975 Abt Associates created an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) when few others existed. Within 25 years Abt Associates became a wholly-owned ESOP S-Corporation. Abt is commemorating its 50 years of history in a number of ways, including a March 11 panel discussion in Cambridge titled “New Directions in Social Experiments: What can U.S. and international evaluators learn from each other?”. The event featured thought leaders in evaluation from Abt Associates, Harvard University, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania. “Clark’s vision of people helping people is alive and well here at Abt Associates,” said President and CEO Kathleen Flanagan. “Through our broad portfolio of work, we are improving the quality of life and economic well-being of people worldwide each and every day.”
Explore our Interactive Timeline.