The Policy Lab

The Policy Lab aims to improve our understanding of how policy design can work, and how we can evaluate policy outcomes, by undertaking policy design experiments in collaboration with government and non-government organisations.

At our June Steering Committee meeting, Professor Jenny Lewis and Dr Erik Baekkeskov spoke about The Policy Lab, a nascent research unit in the Faculty of Arts with an interest in understanding what works in policy design:

  • How are policy decisions made? Why do we get the choices that we have?
  • Once these decisions are implemented, how can we evaluate whether they work?

The general focus is on social policy — areas such as health, higher eduction, welfare to work, family, and unemployment. A core activity will be policy design experiments, which will bring together researchers a diverse range of skills and expertise, such as behavioural sciences, survey research, data linkages, and the interface between surveys and lab experiments. They are actively looking to establish new linkages and partnerships, and to collaborate extensively with government and non-government organisations.

In the subsequent discussion of the skills and capabilities that these activities would require, it became clear that there is great potential for inter-disciplinary collaboration and training. One issue that stimulated lengthy discussion was the observation that while sociologists, political scientists and psychologists use conceptual models and hypotheses, and might be very comfortable analysing data, they generally don't have the capability to construct mathematical/computational models for testing hypotheses against data.

The discussion turned to how starting a new inter-disciplinary collaboration can often require the right student at the right time. The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), operated by Biomedical Research Victoria, was floated as being an ideal way for finding such students. The 2016 UROP Conference Day is being held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on July 22 (this Friday). The second round of student applications for 2016 is open from August 1–16.