The Policy Lab explores public policy decision making, policy design, and how we know what's working.
The aim of The Policy Lab is to address contemporary challenges of politics and policy-making by building a program of research centred on three main themes: opinion and expertise in politics and policy, policy systems, and projects that deal with specific issues and policy sectors.
Related to these areas, The Policy Lab explores three core questions:
- what shapes policy decisions?
- how do policy systems and processes operate?
- what works in policy design?
If you are interested in The Policy Lab's projects or partnerships, you can contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions the Policy Lab asks
What shapes policy decisions?
The Policy Lab explores how we get the policy we get. It specialises in the study of public policy that addresses complex societal problems and the local effects of large scale shifts and global trends. Its research considers policy framing, the use of expertise, the impact of public opinion, different types of individual and collective actors, and how institutional and contextual factors shape policy decisions.
How do policy systems and processes operate?
The Policy Lab examines policy systems. Public policymaking is widely understood as a structured and logical process of problem solving led by the government. Yet the actual practice of policymaking is often far more complex. Through examining policy systems in a variety of contexts, The Policy Lab provides informed understandings of how policymaking works in practice.
What works in policy design?
The Policy Lab uses sophisticated methods to assess the impact of policy design and decisions. This includes studying policies in motion and adjusting these as they are being implemented, as well as behavioural experiments, computer modelling, and large scale comparative analysis of quantitative data. The Policy Lab team holds expertise and experience in a range of policy sectors, including health, employment, education, environment, and social services.
How the Policy Lab works
The Policy Lab uses surveys to identify and assess attitudes to policy. It also uses survey data to compare the effects of different policies on individuals, organizations and governments, in different contexts.
Design and field experiments
The Policy Lab employs rigorous methods to design, conduct and evaluate experiments to discover what supports innovation in the public sector and how these practices can be tested and sustained.
Laboratory and survey experiments
The Policy Lab applies behavioural science approaches to politics and policy to understand how different individuals and groups of people make choices and negotiate solutions to problems. The team does this using laboratory settings and via survey experiments.
Model building and testing
The Policy Lab combines existing data sets with new purpose-driven survey data, theory-based group discussion, active lab collaborations and primary field experiments to model and test conceptual assumptions. This leads to reconfiguring assumptions based on experimental data and through agile methodology and design thinking.
Professor Jenny Lewis
Jenny M Lewis is Professor of Public Policy in the School of Social and Political Sciences, and Director of The Policy Lab. Jenny is particularly interested in: expertise and the policy process; policy design; public sector innovation; and performance measurement. She has published widely in international journals, is the author of six books, and has been awarded American, European and Australian prizes for her research. Jenny has led numerous research projects and was an Australian Research Council Future Fellow for 2013-16. She is the Immediate Past President of the Australian Political Studies Association. More information...
Dr Aaron Martin
Aaron Martin is the Deputy Director of The Policy Lab. Educated at the ANU, the Institute of Political Studies (Paris), Stanford University and The University of Melbourne, Aaron returned to The University of Melbourne as Lecturer (now Senior Lecturer) in Political Science Research Methods in 2010. Aaron's research focuses on political trust, young people and politics, public opinion and policy agendas. He is the author of Young People and Politics: Political Engagement in the Anglo-American Democracies (Routledge) and, with Keith Dowding (ANU), Policy Agendas in Australia (Palgrave). He is currently working on ARC-funded project 'Understanding the Causes of Political Thrust through Survey Experiments.' Aaron is a member of the Steering Committee for Vote Compass and in 2014 was a Visiting Researcher at McGill and Princeton. More information...
Dr Emma Blomkamp
Emma Blomkamp is the Research Coordinator at The Policy Lab. Her research focuses on creative and participatory approaches to policy design and evaluation. She joined The Policy Lab after leading social innovation projects for public sector and non-governmental organisations in New Zealand. Emma's award-winning PhD from the Universities of Auckland and Melbourne explores evaluating outcomes such as community wellbeing in urban cultural policy in Australia and New Zealand. She co-edited the 2015 book Making Culture Count: The Politics of Cultural Measurement (Palgrave Macmillan). Her research on cultural policy, local governance and evidence-based policy has been published in international journals. More information...
Dr Tamas Wells
Tamas Wells is a Research Fellow in the The Policy Lab. His research focuses on democracy, governance and accountability in Southeast Asia and the role of international aid agencies and "civil society". His doctoral dissertation examined the Burmese opposition movement in the lead up to the historic 2015 elections in Myanmar and diverging narratives of democracy within the movement, and amongst its international supporters. Before beginning his doctoral studies, he worked as an aid adviser and consultant with various NGOs including Save the Children and Oxfam, including seven years working in Myanmar. He has also been active in developing stronger connections between academics and practitioners in the field of development and is the editor of the PK Forum, an online discussion forum on aid and development in Myanmar. More information...
Dr Erik Baekkeskov
Erik Baekkeskov is Lecturer in Public Policy and Political Science. His research seeks to answer why we get the policies we get through comparative studies of national policies and politics. In the past several years, Erik has studied infectious disease policies, and responses to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in particular. He has also studied government reform processes leading to public-private partnerships. Erik's work has been published in journals such as Governance, Disaster Prevention and Management, Journal of European Public Policy, Policy Sciences, and Public Administration. More information...
Dr Andrea Carson
Andrea Carson is Lecturer in Media and Politics and serves as an Honorary Fellow with the University's Centre for Advancing Journalism. Her work examines changes in the news media - with a focus on investigative journalism - on political communication, and the role of digital technologies in both. She has done extensive research on journalism, Australian politics, party representation and voter behaviour, election campaigns and beyond. Andrea holds a PhD in Political Science and an MA in International Politics from The University of Melbourne. She has taught courses on political communication, news media and politics and campaigns and elections at The University of Melbourne. She has worked previously as a print journalist, radio and TV producer and broadcaster. More information...
Professor Mark Considine
Mark Considine is the Provost of The University of Melbourne. His research areas include governance studies, comparative social policy, employment services, public sector reform, local development, and organisational sociology. Mark is a Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia (Victoria) and the Australian Academy of Social Sciences. He has published award-winning journal articles and numerous books, most recently Welfare to Work: Street-Level Governance in Australia, the UK, and the Netherlands. Mark has also been associated with governments and the community sector in the implementation of a number of recent projects and organisational reviews. More information...
Professor Lyn Craig
Lyn Craig is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy and ARC Future Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences. She researches the contemporary family, work and social change, with emphasis on gender equity and time demands of employment, family care and social reproduction; youth, population ageing and generational equity; and comparative family and social policy. Before joining the University of Melbourne in March 2017, Lyn was Scientia Professor and Director of the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney. She is an Affiliate of the Centre for Time Use Research at Oxford University and an elected Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. More information...
Dr Roberto Stefan Foa
Roberto Stefan Foa is Lecturer in Political Science and International Public Policy in the School of Social and Political Sciences. Roberto's research examines quality of government, democratic transition, comparative survey research, and political methodology. He completed his PhD in 2016 at the Department of Government at Harvard University, and is a member of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, the Oxford Altius Society, and a Principal Investigator of the World Values Surveys. His academic work has been published in a wide range of international journals, and his non-academic essays have appeared in publications including the New York Times, Vox, and the Financial Times. More information...
Dr Tim Gravelle
Timothy B. Gravelle is a Lecturer in Political Science. His research examines the structure and determinants of foreign policy attitudes, and the spatial and geographic dimensions of policy attitudes. Before arriving at the University of Melbourne in 2017, he was a Visiting Fellow at the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Strathclyde, and has also taught at Wilfrid Laurier University. His previous professional experience involved conducting predictive modelling, segmentation, and forecasting for firms in hospitality, financial services, retail, and aerospace, in addition to government and intergovernmental organizations. His work has appeared in journals such as Public Opinion Quarterly, the European Journal of Political Research, the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, and Energy Policy. More information...
Assoc. Professor Belinda Hewitt
Belinda Hewitt is an Associate Professor in Sociology in the School of Social and Political Sciences. Belinda's broad research interests are gender differences in the experiences of family, work and health. Her research program has investigated: mothers' workforce participation, paid and unpaid labour in households, the factors that influence change over the family life course and the consequences of those changes for family members. Her research program has a strong focus on developing policy-relevant evidence. She is currently on a Future Fellowship examining the links between the family life course, health and wellbeing. More information...
Professor Yoshi Kashima
Yoshi Kashima is Professor of Psychology in the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences. He studies micro-macro dynamics about how culture is formed, maintained, and transformed, using a variety of research tools including experimentation, surveys, archival research, and mathematical modelling. He has co-edited six books, and written more than 180 journal articles and book chapters, on the topics including self and identity, stereotypes, culture of sustainability, and behaviour and culture change processes. He is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Society for Experimental Social Psychology. He served as the President of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology from 2014 to 2016. More information...
Dr Michael McGann
Michael McGann is a Research Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences. His work focuses on the intersection between employment and disadvantage, specialising in particular on issues related to ageing and employment, welfare reform and public employment services. Michael also has an interest in political philosophy (egalitarianism, multiculturalism) and he has published widely in international journals including Social Policy and Society, Work, Employment and Society, and Ageing and Society. Michael also has experience of working in the community and public sectors, having previously worked as a researcher with the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Parliament of Victoria. More information...
Assoc. Professor Irma Mooi-Reci
Irma Mooi-Reci studies employment instability and its implications for labour market outcomes. Her research agenda encompasses three main areas: (1) the socioeconomic consequences of unemployment, joblessness and casual employment; (2) the intergenerational consequences of joblessness; (3) application and innovation of quantitative methods for panel data. She is adjunct senior research fellow of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research; associate of the Centre for Vocational and Educational Pathways at The University of Melbourne; and a fellow of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course where she is involved in the data reference group that aims to improve the Big Data potential in Australia. More information...
Dr Barbara Barbosa Neves
Barbara Barbosa Neves is a sociologist of technology studying digital technologies, ageing, social capital, and social inclusion in a life course perspective. Currently, she is a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Melbourne. Previously, she was Associate Director and Research Fellow of the Technologies for Aging Gracefully Lab at the Department of Computer Science of the University of Toronto. Her research has been published in a range of top tier Sociology journals and Computer Science (HCI) outlets, including Social Science Research, Young, Journal of Community Informatics, CHI, and ASSETS. She serves as an elected board member of the 'Committee on Family Research' of the International Sociological Association. More information...
Dr Leah Ruppanner
Leah Ruppanner is a Senior Lecturer of Sociology. Leah is a quantitative methodologist with expertise in: gender, family and family policies. Her research focuses on the impact of gender equality and family policy on individuals' lives through analysis of large cross-national data. Her research is published in a range of top tier sociology journals, and has also been featured in Slate, the Guardian and the Age. Leah has received grants including the Australian Research Council Discover Early Career Researcher Award and is a Research Fellow at the ARC Centre for Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course. More information...
Scott's career has spanned the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, developing public policy experience from each of these perspectives. While Scott has spent the majority of his career in the public sector in both Queensland and Victoria, he is currently the Director of People, Marketing & Communication at LifeFlight Australia - a large aero-medical retrieval service provider to the community on behalf of the Queensland Government. Prior to that he held roles as Assistant Director of the Transformation Office in the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, focused on human centered policy and service design, and at corporate advisory firm Galibier Partners. Scott was Executive Director of the Office of the Director-General in the Departments of Premier and Cabinet, Infrastructure and Education in Queensland. Scott has an Executive Masters of Public Administration through the Australian and New Zealand School of Government.
Vishaal Kishore is a strategist, political economist, academic and commentator. He is Professor of Innovation and Public Policy at RMIT University; Principal Fellow at The University of Melbourne's Melbourne School of Government; Chief Strategy Officer at the Australian National MedTech Accelerator; and a partner within Dialectica Group - an innovation and strategy advisory firm. He has previously been Deputy Secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services; director for government strategy in EY's management consulting practice; a mergers and acquisitions lawyer; and an Associate at the Federal Court of Australia. Vishaal has held academic/research fellowships at Harvard and Brown Universities in the United States, and Monash University in Australia. He holds a doctorate from Harvard University, where his work focused on the intersection of law, political economy and socio-political theory.
Alison McClelland is an independent consultant. Current involvements include Chair of the Good Shepherd Australia and New Zealand Board, Vice President of the Australian Social Policy Association, and the Program Committee of IPAA Victoria. She is also a Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia (Victorian division) and was awarded the Centenary Medal for her contribution to social policy and research. Alison has previously been a Commissioner with the Productivity Commission, held senior positions in the Victorian Government, in academia and in the community sector. She has also participated in a number of government advisory committees. Her co-edited book on social policy in Australia is in its third edition.
Jeanette Pope has worked in strategy, policy and research across government, not-for-profits and universities. She developed the strategy and research agenda for the Department for Victorian Communities across community and regional development, local government, social inclusion, disadvantage, and 'changing the way government works' agendas. She has recently published on the future of work as Director of Strategy and Policy at the Foundation for Young Australians. She has won the Nancy Mellis public health medal, a Victorian Government lifetime achievement award for building the evidence base for community development as a public policy solution, and a Planning Institute of Australia commendation.
The Policy Lab aims to address contemporary challenges of politics and policy-making through research in three areas: opinion and expertise in politics and policy; policy systems and processes; and specific issues and policy sectors. In each of these areas, the Policy Lab has a range of projects, a selection of which are featured below.
Opinion and expertise in politics and policy
Understanding political debate and policy decisions using big data (ARC Discovery)
Professor Jenny Lewis, Professor Andrew Turpin, Dr Erik Baekkeskov, Dr Andrea Carson and Dr Roberto Foa
This project aims to empirically test a novel framework for analysing the relationship between political debates and policy decisions. Using digital sources and computational modelling approaches, the project team plans to investigate three specific issues to test this framework. These issues, all drawn from different policy sectors, will be examined as a series of debates (involving actors, framing and forums) linked to specific decisions, over the last two decades. It aims to produce conclusions about how debates shape policy decisions for different issues, thus leading to recommendations for how the link between political debates and policy decisions can be improved in Australia and elsewhere, providing potential benefits for politics and policy-making.
This project will improve our understanding of how political debates become policy decisions, using digital sources and computational approaches. Its main benefit will be recommendations on how to improve the link from debate to policy decisions. It will also provide guidance on how political debates can be improved for specific policy issues. Finally, it will generate large datasets that will be made available for other researchers to use in studying how to improve the policy-making process.
Race to the top: using experiments to understand gender bias against female politicians (MSOG and The Policy Lab)
Dr Andrea Carson, Professor Jenny Lewis and Dr Leah Ruppanner
Although women account for half of the Australian population, women’s political representation is low. Gender balance in political representation is an important goal of governments yet today in Australia only 32% of all parliamentary and 29% of the House of Representative seats are held by women (Parliament of Australia, 2017). While political scientists have investigated political attitudes of female politicians, less is known how internalized gender biases structure voters’ attitudes towards female politicians. This form of discrimination is damaging yet difficult to measure as individuals may be unaware of their internalised bias.
To redress this methodological challenge, this study will apply experimental methods of randomly assigning respondents to a vignette that manipulates the politician’s gender, we will address the research question: do Australians perceive female politicians as less competent and capable in their jobs and, if so, what are the mechanisms through which this discriminatory bias is exhibited? Ultimately, this experimental survey design will allow us to measure gendered bias in citizens' attitudes towards female politicians. This project is co-funded by the Melbourne School of Government (MSOG).
Enlisting the support of trusted sources to tackle policy problems: the case of anti-microbial resistance
Dr Aaron Martin, Dr Erik Baekkeskov, Dr Tim Gravelle and Professor Jenny Lewis
What effect do trusted sources have on support for policy reforms? At a time when trust in government is declining and social problems are becoming more complex it is likely that government will have to enlist the support of representatives of more trusted institutions to secure support for policy reforms. This research tests to what extent trusted sources can alter attitudes towards regulating the use of antibiotics through the use of survey experiment.
Policy systems and processes
Public sector innovation labs in Australia and New Zealand (ANZSOG and The Policy Lab)
Professor Jenny Lewis, Dr Emma Blomkamp and Dr Michael McGann
Innovation labs, units and teams are becoming increasingly important within the public sector. They are being established to drive innovation and experimentation in public policy and service design – through, for example, adopting more collaborative approaches and employing methods and skills that may not be available in other public sector organisations. In order to better understand the key characteristics of these units and the different policy areas and approaches they are working on, The Policy Lab at the University of Melbourne is conducting the first large-scale survey of public sector innovation units in Australia and New Zealand, followed by several in-depth case studies. This work is supported by an Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) research grant. More information....
States of Change evaluation (Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria)
Professor Jenny Lewis and Dr Emma Blomkamp
The Victorian State Government is working with Nesta, the UK-based innovation foundation, and seven other jurisdictions from around the world, in a world-first initiative called States of Change. This learning collective is creating a project-based curriculum to support innovation in government. The Policy Lab is partnering with Victoria's Department of Premier and Cabinet to evaluate the initiative and act as a 'critical friend'.
The evaluation aims to provide insights into the level of change achieved and to understand which aspects of the initiative are having the biggest impact on innovation learning and capacity development.
Exploring human-centred design capability in government
Dr Emma Blomkamp
As new and creative ways for developing solutions to complex problems, human-centred design and co-design hold great promise for government. Policy workers are experimenting with design-based methods to engage citizens, stakeholders and officials in policy innovation. Yet they face many challenges and there is little existing research to support evidence-informed practice.
This research focuses on efforts to build human-centred or co-design capability among professionals working in different levels of government in Australia and New Zealand. Through several case studies, it will build useful knowledge for practitioners and researchers interested in the techniques, limitations and potential of creative and participatory methods from the field of design to improve public policy processes and outcomes.
Specific issues and policy sectors
Enhancing sleep and well-being in working families (ARC Discovery)
Dr Leah Ruppanner, Associate Professor Belinda Hewitt and David Maume (University of Cincinnati)
Sleep is essential for economic productivity, physical health and emotional well-being. This project aims to investigate the role of sleep on individuals' health by measuring Australians’ sleep patterns relative to work and family demands. This project expects to generate new knowledge in the sociology of sleep and clear policy recommendations, using innovative data collection that brings together cross-national, nationally representative, longitudinal and physiological data on Australians' sleep patterns. The results of this detailed inquiry will provide knowledge for integration into policy on health, quality of life and public policy.
From entitlement to experiment: the new governance of welfare to work (ARC Linkage)
Professor Jenny Lewis, Dr Siobhan O'Sullivan and Professor Mark Considine
This major research project investigates the important organisational dynamics that are generating major changes to contemporary welfare states. The first of these changes is the shift towards governance driven by performance; a world of metadata matched by a new economy of incentives. The second is experimentation, new markets and the problematic way changes 'from above' seek to stimulate real service delivery change at street level. This increasingly involves international agencies and global knowledge transfer.
The research project aims to model and explain these dynamics using a multidimensional framework and a mix of surveys and field visits, to assist agencies wishing to innovate in order to help those most in need. More information....
The intergenerational transmission of joblessness (ARC Discovery)
Dr Irma Mooi-Reci, Tim Liao and Professor Mark Wooden
The project aims to unpack the mechanisms, channels and factors that drive joblessness from one generation to the next in Australia and across Europe, Asia and the United States. By creating a rich longitudinal dataset on families across the selected countries, it plans to challenge existing theories by asking whether aspects of family's work-welfare trajectories, values and dynamics play out differently across multiple nations, over time and in different labour market, institutional and family contexts.
Project results may provide evidence-based knowledge for the development of effective interventions to avert the persistence of joblessness across generations.
Improving Indigenous health and wellbeing (ARC Linkage)
Associate Professor Belinda Hewitt, Professor Maggie Walter (University of Tasmania) and Fiona Skelton (Department of Social Services)
This project aims to reduce Indigenous health inequalities, a major social and economic problem, by improving the policy relevant evidence base on the determinants of Indigenous health and wellbeing. This project compares the impact of the family life course on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous and non-Indigenous mothers and children.
The project uses survey data that follows them over time to:
- Identify family structures that enhance or harm health and wellbeing; and
- Track changes in health and wellbeing before, during and after family transitions (ie births, relationship changes)
Understanding causes of trust through political experiments (ARC DECRA)
Dr Aaron Martin
This project intends to improve our understanding of the drivers of political trust and point to ways that political trust could be improved. Despite the importance of political trust to the functioning of democratic systems, we have no experimental data on what the causes of political trust are, and political trust has been said to have reached crisis levels in many democracies.
By integrating existing survey data with experiments in five established democracies, this project aims to identify the causes of political trust and how these differ by country, which may inform policies addressing challenges such as ageing populations and environmental change.
Networked individualism: a comparative study of social networks, digital media, international ties and privacy (SSHRC Canada)
Dr Barbara Barbosa Neves, Professor Brent Berry and Professor Barry Wellman (University of Toronto).
Is community and family life withering as some scholars and popular media contend? Or is it transforming - and even flourishing - now? This project uses contemporary and long term evidence collected in English Canada and from a variety of developed countries to evaluate this debate, giving special attention to the interplay of Information and Communication Technologies (internet + mobile) with community and social capital.
Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) 2015-2018, this project brings together an international team of social scientists and media scholars, and is coordinated by Principal Investigators Professor Brent Berry and Professor Barry Wellman (University of Toronto).
Auckland Co-Design Lab
The Auckland Co-Design Lab has been established to provide a neutral space to explore the case for change using collective impact, co-design and other innovative approaches to complex social issues. Auckland Co-Design Lab is a case study partner on the public sector innovation labs research project.
Australia and New Zealand School of Government
The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) is a global leader in education and government-focused research relevant to the public sector. ANZSOG is funding the public sector innovation labs research project.
Australia Research Council
The Australia Research Council is an independent Commonwealth entity that plays an important role in the provision of Government support for research in Australia. Many of the Policy Lab research projects have received funding from the National Competitive Grants Program.
Department of Premier and Cabinet - Victoria
The Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) works for the people of Victoria by helping the government achieve its strategic objectives. The Public Sector Innovation Branch at DPC has engaged The Policy Lab to evaluate States of Change, and is a case study partner on the public sector innovation labs research project.
Jobs Australia (JA) is the national peak body for nonprofit organisations that assist unemployed people into work. Jobs Australia is a key partner on the Policy Lab's Employment services research project.
Melbourne School of Government
The mission of Melbourne School of Government (MSOG) is to inspire and equip governments, businesses, social partners and individuals to meet the challenges of contemporary governance. MSOG is co-funding the Policy Lab's 'Race to the Top' experiment.
National Employment Services Association
The National Employment Services Association (NESA) is Australia's peak employment services body. NESA is a key partner on the Policy Lab's Employment services research project.
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) is Canada's federal research funding agency that promotes and supports research in the humanities and social sciences. The SSHRC is funding Policy Lab researcher Barbara Barbosa Neves' project on social networks, digital media, international ties and privacy.
The Australian Centre for Social Innovation
The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) partners with government, not-for-profits, philanthropy and business to make practical progress that leads to better lives. TACSI is a case study partner on the public sector innovation labs research project.
Westgate Community Initiatives Group
Westgate Community Initiatives Group (WCIG) delivers innovative and high quality employment services for people in Melbourne's western regions who experience the greatest levels of disadvantage. WCIG is a key partner on the Policy Lab's Employment services research project.
Phone: +61 3 8344 6997
The Policy Lab
School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of Melbourne
Parkville, VIC 3010, Australia.
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