Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

"I have a track record of working with government partners on large-scale, data-driven projects. Combine that with visionary funders, an outstanding governor and state policy leadership team, and I think we have the opportunity to create real change and lasting impact for good."

Justine Hastings

The RIIPL Effect of Evidence-Based Policy Solutions

August 25, 2016

As part of its efforts to help governments operate in the most effective and efficient manner, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) recently highlighted the Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab (RIIPL) as an example of a promising strategic partnership between governments and research institutions.  

Policy labs such as RIIPL study social problems like poverty, homelessness, crime and unequal access to education. They then test new, science-based approaches to solving those issues and measure outcomes in order to determine which approaches are working and which need to be redesigned.

RIIPL has received funding from LJAF, Brown donors, and government grants. It is working with policy leaders in the Office of the Governor in Rhode Island and with officials in Washington, D.C. on key initiatives focused on improving equality of opportunity. Areas of impact range from strengthening early childhood health and education, to promoting high-impact job training programs, to improving criminal justice policies.  Professor Justine Hastings, an economist at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, is the director. We asked her about this new model for policymaking.

Why are policy labs an asset to state and federal government?
Researchers bring high-tech and state-of-the-art solutions in economics and data-science to the most pressing social problems of our time. To me, this is science at its best - science serving society. When done right, this research creates opportunity for experiential learning - educating a next generation of policy leaders while simultaneously tackling today's problems. And what better place than at Brown - where our mission is to use science and education to create just, peaceful and prosperous societies.

What is the genesis of RIIPL?
RIIPL grew as a natural offshoot of my research process. I became an economist because I saw economics and rigorous data analysis a framework and a tool for improving public policy and solving critical social problems. I have a track record of working with government partners on large-scale, data-driven projects. Combine that with visionary funders, an outstanding governor and state policy leadership team, and I think we have the opportunity to create real change and lasting impact for good.  

Using RIIPL as a model, how did it successfully develop such a strong relationship with Rhode Island government?

In my experience, the leadership in Rhode Island government is outstanding and committed to figuring out what works - solving real problems and making measurable progress. The relationship is natural. I am appreciative to have the opportunity to work with the amazing team of public servants in Rhode Island, and to devote my time and my science to this data-driven policy effort.

What has RIIPL accomplished so far and what does RIIPL hope to achieve in the coming year?

We've formed a strong foundation of goals and relationships, and built a high-tech data and computing infrastructure with top scientists and students already transforming data into policy insights. We are developing our first set of smart policy initiatives to increase policy effectiveness, and we look forward to sharing results and findings soon. We are investing in education and in government with new tech-up seminars, and we also completed our first year of the data-driven policy specialization in the Watson Institute's MPA program - educating a next generation of data-driven policy leaders. Two-thirds of those students stayed in policy analysis roles here in Rhode Island. We are building a high-tech workforce while we are using science and data to improve policy and better our communities.