New Initiative Builds on Harris’ Commitment to Data-Driven Policy

The Harris School of Public Policy has launched the Policy Analytics Initiative, dedicated to transforming policy and governance through data analytics.

The Policy Analytics Initiative at Harris formalizes the School’s ongoing efforts to apply the best data and analytical tools of the day to address society’s most complex challenges. The Initiative was announced at a March 30 event that brought together leading thinkers at Chicago Harris and partners from Argonne National Laboratory, NORC and the City of Chicago to discuss how data analytics can transform the way we think about and design policy today.

“Harris has long believed that rigorous, quantitative research is the best guide for public policy.  At a time when dramatic improvements in the cost, collection and analysis of data have the potential to revolutionize government and private decision-making at all levels, the Policy Analytics Initiative at Harris will serve as an important resource, catalyst and common platform for leaders in this burgeoning field,” said Daniel Diermeier, dean of Chicago Harris.

Unlike traditional models of policy evaluation where data sources were limited and analysis could take weeks or even years, advances in data science now allow for near real-time gathering and processing of information to improve the quality, responsiveness and transparency of public decision-making and governance today.

“The pace of change that we are seeing in the area of data analytics has transformative implications for policymaking,” said Dan Black, deputy dean and professor at Harris, and senior fellow at NORC. “We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible. Continued focus on research and training is needed to bridge the current gaps between data scientists, policy researchers and policymakers.”

These developments have already begun to fuel the demand by a new generation of leaders and citizens for evidence-based decision-making. However, efforts in policy analytics are still in their infancy. Many government agencies, nonprofit organizations and for-profit corporations remain ill-equipped to tap the enormous potential of policy-related data to inform better decisions that work for society.           

The Policy Analytics Initiative is poised to accelerate the use of data analytics in public policy, concentrating its work in research, education and impact. It will expand existing efforts and create new ones, support scholarship, develop tools and educate policy leaders.

The Initiative continues Chicago Harris’ leadership in policy analysis research using the latest tools of social science. Its affiliated faculty has a rich history of curating large policy data sets and leveraging nontraditional sources to study social problems from education and crime to health care and taxes, and has served as an important source of economic, social and political data analysis for federal and local governments and the private sector. Recent work includes collaborating with members of Congress on federal data accessibility, designing a new platform to better interface with urban data, creating a data-driven early warning system to predict police misconduct and finding ways to stop lead poisoning.

The Initiative will also serve as an umbrella for a variety of efforts aimed at training the current and next generation of policy leaders, decisions-makers and data scientists, ranging from undergraduate and master’s students to Ph.D. students and executive development programs. It will build off of Harris’ groundbreaking programs including the Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy, offered in partnership with the University of Chicago’s Department of Computer Science, the Urban Technology Forum and the Data Science for Social Good Fellowship.

Critical to the Policy Analytics Initiative’s success is deep partnerships with other leading institutions, including Argonne National Laboratory, Chapin Hall, the Computation Institute, the Department of Computer Science, NORC and the City of Chicago. Building on these existing partnerships, the Initiative will help connect and encourage collaboration among a community of scholars and practitioners at the forefront of data science and public policy.

“Harris and the University of Chicago have pioneered many advances in the rapidly evolving field of policy analytics, and we see great potential to do more,” said Diermeier. “The Policy Analytics Initiative aims to build on our strong foundation to create a new base of knowledge and applied tools to more effectively promote and implement data-informed policy decision-making.”

—Sarah Galer