Nation, World + Society

Latest grant from Arnold Foundation advances UCLA, UC Berkeley research on pressing social issues

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Los Angeles Skid Row at 6th Street
The Erica Chang/Wikimedia Commons

The California Policy Lab aims to provide elected officials with policy recommendations on issues such as homelessness and poverty.

A $5.5 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation will support the work of California Policy Lab sites at UCLA and UC Berkeley through April 2020. Of the total, $2.85 million is directed to UCLA.

The lab provides evidence-based policy recommendations aimed at helping the state and local governments address issues that affect millions of Californians, including homelessness, poverty, crime, low wages and education inequality.

The lab was established as a pilot program in 2017, thanks to a $2 million grant from the Arnold Foundation, with $1 million each going to each campus. The latest grant calls for both campuses to raise matching funds, with UCLA’s requirement totaling $1.85 million.

“We’re extremely grateful to the Arnold Foundation for their vote of confidence in UCLA,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the social sciences division in the UCLA College. “This renewed support underscores the power of the social sciences to change lives and better our communities.”

Due to its size and the large shifts underway in economic and social policy, California is fertile ground for the policy lab model, and the state’s policymakers are expressing new interest in evidence-based policy.

“It can be difficult to detect whether a government program or policy actually improves outcomes,” said Till von Wachter, a UCLA economics professor and the lab’s faculty director, adding that top research universities like UCLA have a responsibility to apply their expertise to solve pressing societal needs.

“We have the intellectual resources to help think through complicated data questions with our partners and collaborate with them to design research projects that can untangle complex issues, advance our knowledge and potentially transform policy,” von Wachter said.

The California Policy Lab has its own data hub, with full-time analysts and IT and research staff, enabling it to respond nimbly to partners. Working closely with state and local government departments, the lab has launched more than a dozen research projects in five areas: criminal justice, labor and employment, the social safety net, homelessness and high-need populations, and education.

Partners have included the Los Angeles Homelessness Initiative, the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor’s Office, the Los Angeles Police Department and the California Employment Development Department.

Among the projects already underway, the lab and partners at the University of Chicago worked with Los Angeles County to develop an algorithm to predict first-time homelessness among people who receive county services. Researchers hope to implement the algorithm in early 2019 to help the region allocate homeless prevention resources. The policy lab also was selected to evaluate a new family homelessness prevention program.

“The California Policy Lab is taking on projects with real-world impact,” said Michelle Welch, director of results-driven government for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. “If the lab is successful in using data and state-of-the-art research tools to move the needle on important issues like homelessness, fewer people will be sleeping on the streets at night.”

The portion of the grant directed to UCLA is part of the $4.2 billion UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019, during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.

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