Put your Harris Public Policy education to the test. With Harris Policy Labs, you'll have the opportunity to collaborate with major client institutions in Chicago and beyond to drive real-world policy change. Are you ready to make an impact?

Harris Policy Labs is a unique initiative in which teams of second-year Harris students apply their rigorous core education to real-time public policy challenges facing client organizations. Students who complete the program are better-prepared policy professionals with a competitive advantage in the job market.


Harris Policy Labs strengthens students’ professional experience and skills. Through the program, students gain hands-on experience with analyzing, developing, advocating for, and implementing policy in “real-world” contexts. In addition, Harris Policy Labs students build other professional skills including client and project management, while expanding their professional networks.

Program Structure

Harris Policy Labs is offered in Fall and Winter Quarters. Individual Labs are organized thematically, each with a distinct mix of client projects.

Each Lab engages a mix of external clients, which may include government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Some past and current clients include: City of Gary, Cook County Health and Hospitals System, Metropolitan Planning Council, Navy Pier, Oxfam America, the Illinois Department of Human Services, and the University of Chicago Medicine.

Students work in teams to tackle issues directly related to the client organization’s mission and policy area, and develop and present a set of solution-oriented deliverables designed to effectively address the assigned policy challenge.

Guided by a Harris faculty member and a professional advisor, each Lab includes a weekly class session, client meetings, professional development, and a final presentation to the client.

Current Client Projects

The 2016–17 list of Policy Labs clients and projects is available to current students. Please email Carol Brown, executive director of Policy Labs, for the project descriptions.


Each Lab may focus on a different policy area or set of policy tools, but regardless of policy topic, students benefit significantly from participating in Policy Labs.  Students will have opportunities to:

  • Drive policy change in challenging, real-world environments
  • Analyze and execute all dimensions of a policy challenge
  • Understand policy institutions from the inside
  • Link into network of policymakers and policy “influencers”
  • Enhance communications, project management, and teamwork skills.
  • Engage in cross-Labs professional development workshops

Interested in learning more? Check out this Harris podcast featuring three recent Harris graduates discussing their projects and client relationships, and what they gained from their experiences.

"As part of the Harris Policy Labs, I was presented with a policy problem and worked with my team to develop a practical solution and a plan to to implement it. Going through each phase of that process, from initial meetings with our client to presenting a polished proposal has been invaluable in my career, where I am often expected to to work with clients and my team to develop actionable ideas for policy research."

Mikia Manley, MPP'16, Human Services Research Analyst at Mathematica Policy Research

Eligibility and Requirements

All second-year Harris students are encouraged to participate in one or both quarters. One year master’s students are also welcome to enroll during Winter Quarter. Second- and third-year students from other professional schools are also invited to enroll, subject to faculty consent.

Students will receive one letter grade and 100 units of course credit (one full course) upon completion of each quarter.


Policy Lab Projects

I’d like to find out more about a specific Policy Lab project, how can I do this?

Policy Labs staff and faculty are available to answer questions about individual projects. They can also discuss how a project may align with the various Harris certificate programs and/or with interests in policy tools, such as cost-benefit analysis or program evaluation, or with broader topic areas such as state governance, public finance, or urban policy. Please contact Carol Brown (carolbrown@uchicago.edu) or Wai-Sinn Chan (wlchan@uchicago.edu) with specific questions.

Policy Labs Deadlines

What is the deadline to sign-up for Policy Labs?

Admission to the course is rolling. Students who complete the online registration form sooner will have a greater chance of being assigned to their first choice project.

Policy Labs Timing

When are Policy Labs being offered, and can I take more than one Lab?

For the 2016-17 school year, Policy Labs are being offered in Fall and Winter Quarters. Students may enroll for either quarter OR enroll for both quarters. Policy Labs will NOT be offered in spring Quarter.
Last year, about 25% of Harris Policy Labs students chose to stay in their Lab for two quarters. These students had positive feedback in terms of the education and skills they developed, and the impact they were able to make for their client, over 20 weeks as compared to 10 weeks. 

Policy Labs Quarters

If I enroll in Policy Labs for two quarters, do I have to stay with the same client and same project for both quarters?

No. A student may sign up for a different client and a different project in their second quarter. Because no two clients/projects are the same, students who take this approach will have two very different (but equally valuable) experiences over the two quarters.

Policy Labs Clients

My policy interest isn’t represented by the client projects. Why should I take this class?

Regardless of your policy interests, you will have the opportunity to make a direct impact on important, real-world policy challenges. The policy and professional skills you develop through your Lab experience are directly transferrable to other policy areas and are valued by prospective employers, even in other states and in other countries.

Zion Township-Lauren Daurizio
A team of Harris Policy Labs students were invited to present at a special meeting convened by the Zion Township Supervisor in January, 2017. Following their presentation, Harris students Dan Gold, Hannah Bent, and Corey Husak field a question from a Zion resident regarding their analysis of local government efficiency. (Photo by Lauren Daurizio)
Zion Township-Lauren Daurizio
Students interviewed elected officials to analyze the cost of several local government consolidation scenarios. After the presentation, the Zion Township Supervisor, Cheri Neal, shakes hands with student Hannah Bent. (Photo by Lauren Daurizio)
Harris students Sarah Vogel and Paul Mack discuss their analysis of a particular segment of the state’s population of SNAP (food stamp) recipients with James Dimas, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, and his management team. A subsequent team of Policy Labs students built on their work to analyze barriers to employment, including history of incarceration, for these IDHS clients.  (Photo by Jean Lachat)
Harris students Sarah Vogel and Paul Mack discuss their analysis of a particular segment of the state’s population of SNAP (food stamp) recipients with James Dimas, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, and his management team. (Photo by Jean Lachat)
ArtHouse Project
Student Becca Sherman conducts a survey with an attendee at the ArtHouse launch in November, 2017, in Gary, Indiana. Policy Labs students designed surveys and conducted stakeholder interviews about ArtHouse on behalf of their clients, the City of Gary and Place Lab. (Photo by Andrea Bauer)
Harris students with Gary, IN, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson
The ArtHouse students with Karen Freeman-Wilson, Mayor of Gary, and Theaster Gates, Place Lab Director, their respective staffs, and Policy Labs advisors, after the team presented its findings to their clients. (Photo by Tim Lace)
Gary Project
Harris students conduct a land parcel survey to assess the number of vacant buildings in Gary. (Robert Kozloff/The University of Chicago)
Navy Pier Survey
Policy Labs students Mika Choi, Jenna Romlin, and David Fuentes conduct a survey of a park visitor at McKinley Park Fieldhouse. The team designed and conducted a survey aimed at identifying barriers to visiting Navy Pier by residents in neighborhoods with low visitorship. (Photo by Ben Kolak)
Students present their survey results to Navy Pier.
After conducting more than 200 surveys, the Policy Labs team analyzed the results and developed their recommendations to Navy Pier on how to attract more visitors to the most popular Midwest tourist destination. Here they discuss their findings with Navy Pier CEO, Marilynn Gardner, and her management team. (Photo by Ben Kolak)