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).