The Harvard Learning Lab is the brainchild of two organizations: Saving Promise, a national advocacy organization inspired by a family’s story that experienced five generations of domestic violence. L.Y. Marlow named the organization for her granddaughter, Promise, who became the fifth generation. Her story is at the heart of Saving Promise’s work, driving research efforts to advance prevention efforts and create change. The other is the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, which brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives. The organization draws on a pool of talent across all nine schools at Harvard to conceptualize old problems in new ways.

The shared missions of both of these organizations brought them together at a 2015 Summit, where a congregation of leaders from different sectors explored domestic violence. Out of this summit, the Harvard Learning Lab was born.

The Learning Lab is an overarching research and development lab that studies multiple facets of domestic violence, and is the first of its kind. The lab will use data to develop evidence-based innovations and deliver prevention strategies, policies and programs. The lab will serve as a clearing-house to advance and disseminate their research: the latest and best prevention models they can share across other partners and stakeholders. Primarily, they want to focus on preventing domestic violence before the occurrence of victimization, but also secondary and tertiary prevention, to minimize the risks associated with exposure to violence. Ultimately, their goal is to restore the long-term health and wellness of individuals, families and communities.

In the United States alone, nearly 50 million men, women, and children are exposed to domestic violence. The economic costs of domestic violence, too, are staggering; its annual financial cost is estimated to be $460 billion. Globally, more than 300 million women experience domestic violence each year, and the annual global cost is estimated to be trillions of dollars—costlier and more pervasive than civil war.


Happening Now at the Harvard Learning Lab

Impact Assessment: The Learning Lab will commence a “think tank” to undertake a comprehensive assessment and issue a report on the state of domestic violence as a public health issue. This effort includes:

  • Gap Analysis to critically assess existing gaps and emerging challenges

  • Landscape Analysis to evaluate existing programs, policies, and best practices with an eye towards what is (and is not) working

  • Public Health Assessment to assess the true scope of domestic violence, its root causes, and its impact on individuals, families, and communities

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis to explore the economic impact of domestic violence and identify cost-effective, evidence-based prevention innovations.


What’s Next?

Experimental Designs: The lab will develop and execute randomized control trials (when appropriate) to measure the effectiveness of domestic violence prevention programs in selected settings, such as workplaces, healthcare settings and schools. As an initial priority, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), they will undertake a research project to incubate, evaluate, and scale the Dating Matters® program targeting youth, the demographic that experiences the highest rates of domestic violence.

Pilot Programs and Assessments: They will translate knowledge and findings to incubate, test, evaluate, and scale evidence-based strategies, programs, and policies—including public education initiatives to address the underlying beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions deeply rooted in our society. The work will pilot innovations for those programs that align with the recommendations described in the CDC’s technical package as well as high-risk and vulnerable communities.

Scaling and Sustaining: The success and sustainability of the Learning Lab programs are intrinsically tied to their research findings and how well they pilot, implement, and scale their programs and initiatives. To estimate the effect of the pilot interventions in domestic violence-related health outcomes over time, they will use a series of regression models and experimental designs. They will also use multiple designs and analytical approaches to determine the extent to which their findings are robust and applicable to different types of approaches and sub-populations.

The Harvard Learning Lab Clearinghouse

    The clearinghouse will advance, publish, and disseminate research findings, evidence-based strategies, and proven prevention models to reach the broadest audiences, with an eye toward sharing discovery, innovation, and successful prevention models across disciplines. These efforts will enable them to move toward a unified and deeply-collaborative approach. Ultimately, they aim to establish a comprehensive, web-based resource center including a list of state and federal agencies, relevant legislation, local and regional social services, support groups, and state and federal resources, in collaboration with stakeholders like the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.


In the United States, nearly 50 million men, women and children are exposed to domestic violence. Domestic violence is a crime that has a substantial impact on public health, with adverse physical, mental and social consequences encompassing physical, sexual, or psychological harm. Alongside heart disease, breast cancer, mental health and HIV/AIDS, domestic violence is one of the largest public health issues affecting individuals today. Most efforts and funding are directed toward intervention, direct services and legislation, but the Harvard Learning Lab wants to prevent domestic violence before it happens.



The Harvard Learning Lab’s mission is to research and explore how evidence-based domestic violence prevention strategies fit within real-world public health and clinical systems; develop and implement innovative public education and prevention programs and policies; and measure and scale prevention efforts across disciplines and sectors including workplaces, healthcare, and more.


Dr. Bizu Gelaye, PhD, MPH, is an assistant professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, The Chester M. Pierce, MD Division of Global Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Gelaye’s research include a focus on understanding the effects of trauma on neuropsychiatric disorders in epidemiologic studies and integration of genetic, biological and molecular markers to identify factors that contribute to resilience and risk of neuropsychiatric disorders. Gelaye is the program director of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT/MIRT) Program.

L.Y. Marlow is a former Project Management Executive with 20+ years overseeing and executing strategic technology, marketing, and process re-engineering projects for the government and private sector. L.Y. has been able to combine her corporate expertise and her passion for community service into a flourishing and gratifying career as a social entrepreneur. She is the visionary behind Saving Promise, a national domestic violence prevention brand that leverages her family’s story combined with thought leadership, strategic planning, brand development, and savvy marketing.