The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy today announced the formation of the Center for Impact Sciences, an initiative to make evidence-based analysis more accessible and actionable for policymakers across all levels of government and the nonprofit sector. The new center aims to bring greater scientific rigor to the “evidence-based” policymaking process by researching new frontiers in data standardization, evidence synthesis, and predictive analytics. 

“The Center for Impact Sciences will help to inform policy at a time when the volume of evidence available is growing dramatically, but is often inaccessible and unwieldy,” said Katherine Baicker, dean and Emmett Dedmon Professor at Harris Public Policy. “This new center reinforces Harris’ commitment to advancing policy based on evidence, not ideology. It will help harness the latest tools and analytical techniques for real-time policy-making, and will create a range of opportunities for researchers and students to drive real policy impact.”

Today, social science researchers and evaluators are producing more knowledge than ever before—an estimated 400,000 new studies are published every year. Yet this evidence is difficult to aggregate, synthesize, interpret, and apply to everyday practice and, ultimately, policymaking. To address this important problem, the Center for Impact Sciences will convene leading experts across the fields of program evaluation, meta-analysis, prediction sciences, statistics, and econometrics, as well as policymakers and other practitioners to identify new strategies for improvement. 

Jason Saul, one of the world’s leading experts on measuring social impact and CEO of Mission Measurement, will serve as CIS’s executive director. John A. List, the Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago, and who is now affiliated faculty at Harris, will serve as the new center’s academic director.  

“The Center for Impact Sciences will break new ground, offering fresh, data-driven insights that better arm policymakers and practitioners with the ability to tackle important and pressing challenges,” List explained.  

“For too long, the field of social science has been built one PDF at a time – we are excited to focus on problems of external validity, generalizability and making research more actionable for policymakers,” said Saul. “I’m thrilled to be partnering with the Harris School to lead this work that will benefit so many.”

The CIS will focus initially on the following major efforts: 

  • Organizing an international consortium of leading policy schools to coordinate research opportunities and share evidence, providing fellowships and research opportunities to students at the University of Chicago.
  • Publish insights and findings, sharing them with policymakers, grant makers, and the nonprofit community in order to drive more evidence-based policies and program design. 
  • Seeking to make evidence more accessible to policymakers, solve problems of reproducibility and scalability, develop predictive models for social impact, and use evidence as a platform for policy innovation at every level. 

John A. List is the Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago. He received his B.S. in economics at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and Ph.D. in economics at the University of Wyoming. A Fellow of the Econometric Society in 2015, List received the Arrow Prize for Senior Economists in 2008, the Kenneth Galbraith Award in 2010, the Yrjo Jahnsson Lecture Prize in 2012, and the Klein Lecture Prize in 2016. John was also named a Top 50 Innovator in the Non-Profit Times for 2015 and 2016 for his work on charitable giving. He also served in the White House on the Council of Economic Advisers from 2002-2003 and is a Research Associate at the NBER.

Jason Saul is one of the world’s leading experts on measuring social impact. As the Chief Executive Officer of Mission Measurement, he advises corporations, federal agencies and philanthropies on how to maximize their impact. Saul has been a pioneer in the field, developing new methods to standardize, benchmark and predict social outcomes. Saul developed The Impact Genome Project®, the world’s first data standard for social impact. Saul is an award-winning author of books including Benchmarking for NonprofitsSocial Innovation, Inc., and The End of Fundraising. Saul holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, an M.P.P. from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and a B.A. in Government and French Literature from Cornell University.