The Policy Lab explores public policy decision making, policy design, and how we know what's working.
Launched in 2016 The Policy Lab, a Faculty of Arts research unit, brings together experts in policy design, innovation, experimentation, and measurement.
A range of tools are employed, including surveys, field and laboratory experiments, evidence reviews, data analysis, and modelling.
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, different types of individual and collective actors, and how institutional and contextual factors shape policy decisions.
What works in policy design?
The Policy Lab examines design practices, instruments, responses and outcomes. It considers how policy instruments interact with individual behaviours and other contextual factors when they are implemented. The Policy Lab team holds expertise and experience in a range of policy sectors, including health, employment, education, environment and social services.
How do we know that policy is working?
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.
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 current President of the Australian Political Studies Association. More information...
Dr Emma Blomkamp
Emma Blomkamp is the Research Coordinator at the Policy Lab. Emma is interested in 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 meanings and measures of 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 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 Dean of the Faculty of Arts. 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...
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...
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 Aaron Martin
Aaron Martin was educated at the ANU, the Institute of Political Studies (Paris), Stanford University and The University of Melbourne. He 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 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...
Dr 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 Phuc Nguyen
Phuc Nguyen is a Research Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at The University of Melbourne. Phuc specialises in the welfare state, especially the delivery of employment services. She also has an interest in logistics and supply chain management. She has published three book chapters and several journal articles. 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...
Professor Yehudi Blacher
Yehudi Blacher is a Professorial Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences with over thirty years' experience in a variety of senior roles in the Victorian Public Service. From 2002 until his retirement in 2011 Yehudi was the Secretary of the Departments of Planning and Community Development and Victorian Communities. He is currently the Chair of the Victorian Taxi Services Commission, Deputy Chair, Victrak and a Deputy Chancellor at Monash University. Yehudi delivers graduate courses on differing perspectives of policy-making drawing on the professional experiences of various participants involved in the policy-making process.
Scott Kessell is the Assistant Director of the Transformation Office at the Department of Health and Human Services Victoria. Scott's primary responsibility is to develop innovative approaches to the design and implementation of policy and services that bring the lived experience of citizens to the design process. Prior to that he held roles at corporate advisory firm Galibier Partners, and as 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 projects
- From Entitlement to Experiment: The New Governance of Welfare to Work
- Family Well-Being: The Role of Public Policy
- Understanding the causes of political trust through survey experiments
- Co-evolution of Cooperation, Mindreading, and Morality
- Collective Self-Regulation in Complex Social-Ecological Systems
- Enhancing wellbeing over the life-course
- Improving Indigenous health and wellbeing over the family life course
- Networked Individualism: A Comparative Study of Social Networks, Digital Media, International Ties, and Privacy
- The Civic Impact of Journalism
- The Intergenerational Transmission of Joblessness
- Transformation to Low Carbon Living: Social Psychology of Low Carbon Behavioural Practice
- Unlocking the food value chain: Australian food industry transformation for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) markets
- Vote Compass
From Entitlement to Experiment: The New Governance of Welfare to Work
Investigators: Jenny M Lewis, Mark Considine, Siobhan O'Sullivan (UNSW), Phuc Nguyen and Michael McGann (ARC Linkage Grant 2015-2018)
This project aims to model and explain the governance dynamics of welfare to work in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Australia regularly undertakes major governance reforms in providing welfare to the unemployed and other groups in need. In this dynamic environment, welfare agencies are struggling to deliver benefits to the most disadvantaged people. Services must balance the need to meet central performance requirements against the desire to help clients. The project aims to create a new framework for understanding how policy instruments and design experiments can improve services for those who are in need.
Family Well-Being: The Role of Public Policy
Investigator: Leah Ruppanner (DECRA 2015-2017)
For many parents, balancing work and family demands is extremely stressful, affecting work, relationships and parent and infant health. In response, governments around the world have instituted family policies, which have not yet been systematically evaluated for their effectiveness. This project aims to address this limitation by systematically evaluating family policies to maximise the health and well-being of Australian families. Applying cutting-edge methods and recently released data, this project also aims to provide specific policy suggestions to guide Australian family policy and to improve the future well-being of Australian families.
Understanding the Causes of Political Trust through Survey Experiments
Investigator: Aaron Martin (DECRA 2016-2018)
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.
Co-evolution of Cooperation, Mindreading, and Morality
Investigator: Yoshihisa Kashima (ARC Discovery 2016-2019)
The project investigates the evolutionary and cultural–historical underpinnings of human cooperation. Human cooperation is critical to meet contemporary challenges to humanity such as climate change and humanitarian emergencies. Yet, when cooperation incurs some cost to benefit others, how can cooperation emerge? The project’s main contention is that human cooperation co-evolved with the human capacities to read each other’s minds and to monitor and sanction each other's deeds in the social context of pursuing a collective goal for a greater good. The project tests the theoretical integrity of this contention through computer simulations and its empirical validity through laboratory experiments and cross-cultural studies.
Collective Self-Regulation in Complex Social-Ecological Systems
Investigator: Yoshihisa Kashima (ARC Discovery 2016-2019)
This project investigates the necessary supports and drivers for self-regulation for environmental purposes. Sustainable human uses of natural resources are central to meeting contemporary challenges to humanity such as deforestation and climate change. However, the complexity of the social and ecological interdependences tests the human capacity for collective self-regulation - ordinary citizens' regulation of their own behaviours for a greater good. The project investigates the importance of establishing a common ground for collective self-regulation, the process of common ground formation in complex social-ecological systems, and how best to achieve this critical condition for sustainable ecological practices.
Enhancing Wellbeing over the Life Course
Investigator: Belinda Hewitt (ARC Future fellowship)
This project investigates the impact of family life transitions, such as relationship formation and dissolution or births, on wellbeing over the life course. It does this by analysing data following people over time and will provide information about the negative and positive effects of family transitions for wellbeing, track changes in wellbeing before, during and after transitions, and highlight the intersections of the family life course with gender, age and socioeconomic status. This will considerably enhance understandings of wellbeing over the family life course, providing insights for targeted policies and interventions to improve health and wellbeing.
Improving Indigenous Health and Wellbeing over the Family Life Course
Investigator: Belinda Hewitt (ARC Linkage 2016-2018)
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. It uses survey data that follows them over time to: 1) identify family structures that enhance or harm health and wellbeing, and; 2) track changes in health and wellbeing before, during and after family transitions (i.e. births, relationship changes).
Networked Individualism: A Comparative Study of Social Networks, Digital Media, International Ties, and Privacy
Investigators: Barbara Barbosa Neves, Brent Berry and Barry Wellman (University of Toronto). Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2015-2018)
Is community and family life withering as some scholars and popular media contend? Or is it transforming - and even flourishing - now? We use 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 (ICTs) (internet + mobile) with community and social capital. 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).
The Civic Impact of Journalism
Investigators: Andrea Carson, Margaret Simons, Denis Muller and Rodney Tiffen (University of Sydney). Funded by the Ian Potter Foundation and Australian Communities Foundation
What is the impact of journalism on civic life in a liberal democracy? What is the impact on civic life of a reduction in journalistic capacity, including from the collapse of the business model of traditional media? What models are likely to sustain journalism in the future, and what deficits will exist? This is a cross disciplinary research project, innovative in that it brings to bear expertise in journalism, IT, social policy, business and economics to bear on the question of the present, past and future of journalism at a time of tumultuous change.
The Intergenerational Transmission of Joblessness
Investigators: Irma Mooi-Reci, Tim Liao and Mark Wooden (ARC Discovery 2016-19)
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.
Transformation to Low Carbon Living: Social Psychology of Low Carbon Behavioural Practice
Investigator: Yoshihisa Kashima (CRC Low Carbon Living 2015-2018)
To achieve low carbon living, individual citizens must engage in behavioural practices that have lesser carbon footprint than their current practices, which we call low carbon behavioural practices. As a first step towards engaging the public to move towards low carbon living, this project aims to provide a social psychological foundation for answering the following questions: 1. what undesirable behavioural practices with significant carbon implications do our target population commonly engage in (ie current behavioural practices), 2. what alternative behavioural practices are available which would have lower carbon footprint (ie low carbon behavioural practices), and 3. what psychological, societal, and cultural processes need to be activated to encourage people to change from the current to alternative behavioural practices, and to lower carbon emissions.
Unlocking the Food Value Chain: Australian food industry transformation for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) markets
Investigator: Yoshihisa Kashima (ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hubs 2013-18)
The University of Melbourne and Kraft Foods are leading an integrated research program to enhance Asian export opportunities for manufactured confectionery. The Research Hub will develop new product insights and innovative production technologies that will enable Australia's largest manufacturing sector to exploit new markets such as India and China.
Investigators: Andrea Carson and Aaron Martin (in partnership with ABC and VoxPopLabs)
Vote Compass is a tool developed by political scientists for exploring how citizens' views align with those of political parties. It has now been run in two Australian federal and state elections and has had, cumulatively, more than 2 million responses, making it the largest-ever survey of political opinion in Australia. In 2013 Crikey named Vote Compass the "media innovation of the year," describing it as, "a major initiative that allowed voters to explore how their policy preferences lined up with those of the major parties. It could have been a disaster for the ABC but 1.2 million Aussies used the tool, which delivered a fascinating and useful pool of data."
Australian Communities Foundation
Australian Communities Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation established to help philanthropic individuals and organisations support grass-root causes and initiatives. The Australian Communities Foundation is a key funder of the Policy Lab's Civic impact of journalism 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.
Ian Potter Foundation
The Ian Potter Foundation is a major Australian philanthropic foundation that supports and promotes excellence and innovation. The Ian Potter Foundation is a key funder of the Policy Lab's Civic impact of journalism 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.
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.
Vote Compass is a tool developed by The Policy Lab researchers (in partnership with ABC and VoxPopLabs) for exploring how citizens' views align with those of political parties.
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.