The Policy Lab, an interdisciplinary social and political science research lab, formally unveiled its renovated space at 77 Prospect St last Monday.
According to Policy Lab Director Andrew Papachristos, the idea for the Policy Lab had been around for almost a year, but renovations did not begin until the summertime and finished only recently.
“In some ways it’s not so much a new program as a way to bring together all of these activities in one physical space,” Director of Institution for Social and Policy Studies Jacob Hacker GRD ’00 said at the launch event.
The space will be used as both an interdisciplinary research lab and gathering space. Last Friday, The Policy Lab hosted a discussion with Dan Scherwin, the director of speechwriting for Hillary Clinton’s LAW ’73 2016 presidential campaign.
Papachristos established six student working groups comprised of undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members before the building was completed.
“It was really hard to not start because you were waiting for lights and carpets and things like that, so we tried to figure out a few things that we could do with very limited research infrastructure,” Papachristos said.
Topics of interest for the working groups range from police misconduct to student employment on campus.
At the launch event, one of the groups shared a working paper that looked at the age of victims of gun violence in New Haven. The group examined trends within the demographics of people treated for gunshot wounds at Yale New Haven Hospital between 2003 and 2015, comparing them to national trends and averages.
Notably, the team found the average age of victims to exhibit an upward trend over time, Papachristos said at the event. According to the working paper, the average age of gunshot wound victims rose from 23.9 years old in 2003 to 27.6 years old in 2015.
Simone Seiver ’17, a coauthor of the working paper, said the next step will be to submit the paper for publication. She added that coauthoring a paper was a valuable experience.
The need for a research center like The Policy Lab arose because “with the lack of a policy school at Yale, students get some of these skills that are policy-relevant ad hoc,” Papachristos said.
Another working group focuses on education in Connecticut prisons. The group is in collaboration with Dwight Hall, and Papachristos said it, like many of the student working groups, was formed from conversations he had with undergraduates who expressed interest in the topic.
Stella Shannon ’18, a member of the prison education working group, said she thinks the new space will improve collaboration among her group.
“I think there’s something special about associating a space with a certain type of thought,” she said, adding that The Policy Lab will produce a kind of cognitive association between the space and creative policy thinking.
Other working groups originated from the requests of outside organizations, Papachristos said, citing a group researching food insecurity on behalf of the city of New Haven. They plan to develop a metric that can be used to guide policy, he added.
Much of the research is still in its initial stages, but Papachristos said the lab will produce all kinds of media, such as policy briefs and op-eds, in addition to working papers, since “most policymakers aren’t going to read a 20-page paper.”
The lab has received support from both University and government officials.
Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor Elizabeth Donohue said Connecticut has not yet had a forum like The Policy Lab.
“We often govern by anecdote which can be useful in introducing a subject matter but isn’t necessarily what should be driving actual lawmaking,” she said. “This would be a great way to get us past the anecdote and into what the scholarship tells us, what the research tells us.”
In his toast at the launch event, University President Peter Salovey drew a comparison between the lab and the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design, calling it a “makerspace for the social sciences.” He added that the lab provided a vehicle for creating a more unified Yale.
77 Prospect St. was first constructed in 1884 as the Old Hall of Yale’s Wolf’s Head Society.