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JPAM Featured Article: Big Data and Public Policy

May 16, 2016 12:05 PM

Point/Counterpoint: "Big Data for Public Policy: The Quadruple Helix"

As part of our ongoing effort to promote JPAM authors to the APPAM membership and the public policy world at large, we are asking JPAM authors to answer a few questions to promote their research article on the APPAM website.

Point By: Julia Lane

Counterpoint By: Ron S. Jarmin and Amy B. O'Hara

What was the genesis/history of the idea for your research?

Lane: The idea for my research sprung from the concepts of the massive amounts of new data, the emergence of the open data movements in cities and states, and the dominance of computer scientists, rather than social scientists in making use of the new data.

Jarmin/O'Hara: Recent years have seen increased bi-partisan calls for improved data to support evidence-based policymaking. One-off studies and project-specific arrangements for data access cannot meet the needs of analysts seeking linkages. The issues surrounding improving data for evidence building are the same as for improving economic and social measurement for official statistics. Thus, we describe an integrated approach grounded in Census Bureau privacy principles to improve data access. The recent passage of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016 (P.L. 114-140) and its role for Census Bureau highlights the need for a stable, sustainable infrastructure to make data accessible for researchers and evaluators.  

What is the main conclusion that becomes evident from your research? (Or, what is our main takeaway?)

Lane: The main takeaway of my research is that social scientists should step up to the plate and contribute to the intelligent use of the new types of data in policy analysis. They can do that through both research and education.

Jarmin/O'Hara: Leveraging the Census Bureau’s legal authority, experience, and enhancing and extending its existing infrastructure is an efficient means to address evaluators’ needs to study federal and federally sponsored programs. The Census Bureau is a steward of data for other agencies and entities with substantial experience in securely provisioning data for researchers across the country.

What are some of the more interesting or surprising findings/conclusions, you discovered during this process?

Lane: The positive reaction of colleagues in public policy schools to the argument. Everyone seems to agree that the approach is an important one!  The time is right and I hope this JPAM piece provokes some action in the public policy community.

Jarmin/O'Hara: Many institutions around the world are creating clearinghouses or hubs to link data for program evaluation, policy analysis, and broader research – also supporting compliance and performance metrics. There are many best practices to identify and opportunities to integrate approaches and data.

Authors' Bio

Julia_Lane_photoJulia Lane is a Professor at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, at the NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress, and a NYU Provostial Fellow for Innovation Analytics. Julia has published over 70 articles in leading economics journals, and authored or edited ten books. She is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a fellow of the American Statistical Association. Julia is the recipient of the 2014 Julius Shiskin award and the 2014 Roger Herriot award. Julia received her PhD in Economics and Master's in Statistics from the University of Missouri.




Ron_Jarmin_photoRon Jarmin is the Assistant Director for Research and Methodology at the U.S. Census Bureau.  He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Oregon and has published papers in the areas of industrial organization, business dynamics, entrepreneurship, technology and firm performance, urban economics, data access and statistical disclosure avoidance. He oversees a broad research program in statistics, survey methodology and economics to improve economic and social measurement within the federal statistical system.




Amy_OHara_photoAmy O'Hara is Chief of the Center for Administrative Records Research and Applications (CARRA) at the U.S. Census Bureau. She coordinates the acquisition and integration of federal, state, and private data sources to improve data quality and reduce respondent burden and costs. She directs efforts to improve infrastructure and data access at the Census Bureau to support evidence building and program evaluation. On the Census Bureau staff since 2004, she has worked on housing, tax, and income support research and data integration approaches. She received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Notre Dame.



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