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In Harris Policy Labs, teams of graduate students apply policy analysis tools and methodologies learned in their coursework to develop solutions for your organization’s real-world policy challenges.
Explore the benefits of working with Harris students, see recent Harris Policy Labs clients, and read recent profiles of Harris Policy Labs at work.
Guided by a Harris faculty member and a professional advisor, students receive course credit and a grade for their Policy Labs work. The teams meet regularly with clients over the course of the project, leading up to a final presentation to your organization’s senior leadership.
Harris students are passionate, driven, and committed to positive change. At Harris, students learn to follow the data, put evidence first, and elevate information over instinct. Rigorous coursework in microeconomics, statistics, analytical politics, and organizational theory equips students with the quantitative and analytical skills to evaluate and recommend sound policies in a variety of contexts.
Working with Harris students allows your organization to:
Policy Labs teams have served clients operating in a variety of policy areas across the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, from startups to established organizations.
Current and past Policy Labs clients include:
Harris Policy Labs works with clients across a range of policy fields. Clients rely on Policy Labs deliverables to advance their organization’s work—from implementing recommendations, to leveraging analyses to support policy changes or funding requests, to using research to inform and guide next steps. Several clients have hired Harris students for internships or jobs after a Policy Labs project was completed.
Through a long-standing collaboration, Harris Policy Labs has helped Gary, Indiana Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson tackle a range of challenges facing this deindustrialized city. Teams have focused especially on developing policies and strategies to retain and grow small businesses, a core economic development strategy for many local governments, and a particularly complex challenge for Gary due to population loss and resource constraints.
The Policy Labs team investigated Gary’s business environment, identifying gaps in the city’s business support programs, and recommending solutions. The team analyzed existing data on the local economy and businesses in Gary, interviewed city staff, conducted focus groups, and used research to develop and pilot a survey of Gary business owners. A subsequent team administered the survey more broadly—online, door-to-door, and at business events.
From research and survey data, the team captured a detailed landscape of Gary’s business community, identified needs and concerns of small business owners, and translated its findings into practical recommendations for impactful policy changes. Examples include modernizing the city’s annual business licensing process, notifying minority-owned businesses of new opportunities, and addressing infrastructure needs in commercial zones.
Oxfam America challenged a Policy Labs team to develop an index analyzing labor laws and policies across the fifty states. As an advocate for solutions to poverty and social justice, the global nonprofit sought a tool to assess how labor protections vary across the country.
The Policy Labs team first researched and identified indicators capturing labor policies and practices on three major dimensions: right to organize, wages, and worker protections such as equal pay provisions and paid sick leave. Working with the client, the team tackled methodological questions such as how to weight individual variables and consider the interactions between some variables, in order to index the states.
Oxfam publicly released its research report, “The Best States to Work Index,” in August of 2018, with the Policy Labs team’s work as its foundation. Using the index, Oxfam identified state targets for its advocacy efforts, weighing both where states ranked on the index and their relative political climate for change. The index is now being used as a powerful advocacy tool by Oxfam, state and federal lawmakers, and labor advocates to campaign for labor policy changes.
Adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities are increasingly living in community residential settings. In Illinois, Direct Support Persons (DSPs) are workers who care for these individuals. The Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) contracts community providers who directly employ DSPs.
In a changing labor market, Illinois community providers report a worker shortage for this demanding yet low-paying job. The state pays a set hourly rate to community providers for DSP work, with the current average wage at about $12. DHS challenged a team of Policy Labs students to provide data-driven recommendations to improve DSP retention and recruitment throughout Illinois.
The team analyzed earnings data and found that the value of the DSP base wage has decreased in real value over the past ten years. In addition, high turnover plagues this demanding profession, with 40% of DSPs leaving the job within one year. While the team found no positive correlation between DSP supply and earnings, it did find evidence that that a one dollar per hour raise could significantly increase tenure as a DSP by up to nine weeks. Among those who left the profession, half earned more in their next job as something other than a DSP, as much as $1500 more per quarter.
Based on these findings, the student team recommended that DHS and community providers develop recruitment partnerships and comprehensive retention plans as well as conduct qualitative surveys of current and former DSPs to identify factors influencing their employment choices.
If you think your organization could benefit from participation in Policy Labs, contact:
Carol Brown, Executive Directorcarolbrown@uchicago.edu | 773.834.0410
Harris alumni have first-hand knowledge of Harris students' skills and capabilities. We welcome opportunities to partner with alumni on Policy Labs projects.