By Stuart Shapiro, Ph.D.

Two years ago this week, the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education announced that it was awarding a grant to Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) at Rutgers Newark.  So was born the New Jersey State Policy Lab.  The Policy Lab was intended to do research on policy issues affecting the welfare of citizens of New Jersey.  When submitting the application for the grant, Bloustein and SPAA prioritized both rigorous analysis and to focus on issues around equity and fairness in our vision of the Policy Lab.

In order to achieve those goals, we knew we had to leverage numerous resources across Rutgers, and across New Jersey.  We still operate with a relatively small staff but have found and funded partners in ten other research centers at Rutgers University, as well as researchers representing five other universities.  More than 75 students have worked on the specific projects. Employing these students, under researcher supervision, has both produced strong analyses and trained the next generation of policy experts in New Jersey.  In addition, to further advance education in policy analysis, we developed a summer internship program to provide a diverse cohort of students with a (paid) opportunity to study policy issues impacting the state.  The second group of interns will start in June.

The results have been more than even I hoped for when I agreed to serve as principal investigator for the Lab.  We have launched 31 research projects studying policy areas impacting New Jersey; we have published 22 reports and 230 blog posts.  The breadth of policy areas covered by these projects is extensive.  You can see all of our published work here, but to give you an idea of this breadth consider three report titles, “Discipline Inequity and Segregation in New Jersey’s High Schools,” “Does the Decision to Allow Local Cannabis-Related Businesses Impact Home Sale Prices?,” and “COVID-19 and the Gender Wage Gap in New Jersey.”

We feel though that this is just the start of our contributions to New Jersey.  The Policy Lab will continue to also do projects with state agencies in addition to its independent work.  Regarding our independent work, we expect to emphasize numerous projects on digital equity and more fundamental economic analysis of conditions in the state as well as others. Through it all we will emphasize rigorous analysis and using this analysis to improve public welfare, particularly the lives of the least fortunate.

We live in a time when such analysis is too often derided by those “who do their own research.”  While we would never want to demean the efforts of anyone to stay informed, we also believe that good and meaningful research into public policy issues involves careful training and the application of tried-and-true techniques.  We will do our own research here, but we won’t publish anything that doesn’t meet our high standards.  And we hope that the result is better lives for New Jerseyans.

Dr. Stuart Shapiro is Principal Investigator of the New Jersey State Policy Lab and the Dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.