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.

Are you an organization who could benefit from participation in Policy Labs? Engage current Harris students.


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, 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, Winter and Spring 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:

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.

Example Client Projects

  • Impact Investing Policy Lab
  • Safety Net, Health and Education Policy Lab
  • Energy and Environmental Policy Lab
  • Infrastructure Finance Policy Lab
  • Global Conflict and International Development Policy Lab
  • Philanthropic Sector Policy Lab

Students address some of today’s most challenging policy issues for nonprofits, government agencies, multilateral NGOs, and divisions within UChicago by:

  • analyzing government data to better understand economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on individuals and families;
  • estimating costs to replace lead service lines that may be contributing to increased lead levels in drinking water;
  • evaluating policies to reduce global conflict in fragile states and communities;
  • developing surveys and indicators to measure and improve health, economic and social justice outcomes in challenged communities; and,
  • estimating the cost of carbon in setting energy prices.

Current students can get details on this year's Policy Labs clients and projects in the Current Student portal (login required).


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 enroll. One year master’s students are also welcome to enroll during Winter and Spring Quarters. 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 Labs Projects

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

In addition to the information on the pages here, Policy Labs staff and faculty are available to answer questions about Policy Labs generally, or about individual projects. Students often have questions about how projects may align with their interests in a particular policy area, policy tool or career interests, and we can help answer them. Please contact Carol Brown (carolbrown@uchicago.edu) or Wai-Sinn Chan (wlchan@uchicago.edu).

Policy Labs Timing

When are Policy Labs offered?

Policy Labs are offered Autumn, Winter and Spring Quarters. To assist with course planning, students receive information in August summarizing the Policy Labs that will be offered during the school year.

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 Advantages

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 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. (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)
Policy Labs students discuss their analysis of Illinois' SNAP recipients with the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services. (Photo by Jean Lachat)
ArtHouse Project
Policy Labs students 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
Policy Labs students and advisors with the Mayor of Gary, Place Lab Director Theaster Gates, and their respective staff after the team’s final client presentation. (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
A Policy Labs team designed and conducted a survey aimed at identifying barriers to visiting Navy Pier. (Photo by Ben Kolak)
Students present their survey results to Navy Pier.
They then developed and presented recommendations for Navy Pier on how to attract more visitors to the most popular Midwest tourist destination. (Photo by Ben Kolak)
Paula Worthington

Senior Lecturer

Paula Worthington

Paula Worthington has taught hundreds of public policy graduate students the basics of state and local government fiscal policy analysis and cost-benefit analysis.