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Massive Data Subject of First McCourt School of Public Policy Panel

October 9, 2013 – Georgetown continued its celebration of the new McCourt School of Public Policy (MSPP) today with a panel discussion on the role massive data plays in global, interdisciplinary, evidence-based public policy.

Yesterday, the university formally launched new school, which will house a Massive Data Institute. The new institute will use large data sets to increase understanding of society and human behavior with the aim of improving public policy decision-making.

MSPP Dean Edward Montgomery said during today’s event that the Internet revolution has transformed the way researches evaluate data.

Using Big Data

 

“We used to have all of [our data] in books, now every book in the Library of Congress is digitized,” he said. “That allows you to look at those records in ways that never could have been thought of before. Now, you can actually use computers to analyze text  … to find out what … ideologies and values and decisions are really being made [with regard to public policy].

The panel, moderated by E.J. Dionne, professor of public policy and columnist for The Washington Post, also included Adriana Kugler, professor of public policy and vice provost for faculty, and James Habyarimana, associate professor of public policy.

Evolving Scholarship

The panelists said massive data is an indicator of how scholarship in the public sphere keeps evolving.

The first public administration schools focused mostly on implementation – human resources management, leadership curriculum and training people to be managers of government programs, Montgomery said.

“Public policy schools as opposed to public administration schools … have a research focus, a design focus and analysis of how we think about policies,” he said, “what works and what doesn’t work, not just how to carry it out, but are the critical elements to making a policy work for certain populations.” 

Interdisciplinary Approach

Montgomery and Kugler both said bringing in faculty from diverse fields, such as economists, scientists, lawyers and psychologists, statisticians and others is crucial for successful research in public policy.

It can be easy to “focus so much on the trees, that we miss the forest,” in public policy, Kugler said, and that’s where an interdisciplinary approach becomes beneficial.

Kugler, who served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor in 2011 and 2012, now researches labor markets and policy evaluation in developed and developing countries.  

“We had a good group of economists [there], but in our day-to-day conversations and in making progress we actually dealt with a big group of people – most of whom were not economists,” she said. “That’s the real world, and that’s why we have to train our students to be able to enter into that policy world.”

Global Implications

Habyarimana talked about the global importance of policies made in the United States and abroad, and how it’s important to understand that what happens in America affects people all over the world.

“Poor countries would like to be like advanced countries and so they’re trying to understand the strategies of the countries that got them there,” he said. “[There’s] a unique opportunity to … understand what works and why.”

Habyarimana’s research focuses on understanding the impact of policy responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and evaluating a number of health interventions in road safety and water supply.

“There are policy choices that are sort of global in nature,” he said. “So while politics is local, the decisions that the U.S. makes about immigration or climate change … those [policies] can have global implications.”

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