New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the union. It is also one of the most diverse. As one of my colleagues is fond of noting, New Jersey is often a trailblazer for the rest of the country. Issues involving the environment, housing, transportation, and inequality often get addressed here before they do in many other states.
As a result, the need for innovative public policy solutions and the means to evaluate those policies is constant, and requires cutting edge analytical techniques. Earlier this year, Rutgers University, led by the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and the School for Public Affairs and Administration was provided funding by New Jersey’s Office of the Secretary of Higher Education to create a New Jersey Policy Lab to tackle these and other salient issues.
After a bit of time getting organized, the New Jersey Policy Lab is now up and running. In the months and years ahead, this website will feature research examining a wide array of policy issues, some of it done at the behest of state agencies, some done in cooperation with the state, and some done independently by researchers affiliated with Rutgers and other New Jersey academic institutions. The common theme in this research is: How can we improve the lives of New Jerseyans?
While that is a broad mission, we do have some goals that stand out above the rest. First and foremost, we approach policy questions through a lens of equity and social justice. The past year and a half of living through a global pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated income and racial inequalities. As we think about policy questions, it has become increasingly crucial to begin an examination of all such questions by answering the question: How do we make this a fairer state and a fairer world?
Second, we are dedicated to using advanced and appropriate tools to try and answer policy questions in an age where “hot takes” reign. Our goal is for the policy lab to be a place that fosters thoughtful dialogue and intellectual activity. In an age where technology has given us access to more data and to heretofore unimaginable techniques for analyzing that data, we aim to be a place that takes advantage of those cutting edge techniques while still remembering the crucial individual level impacts of all policies.
Finally, Rutgers University and New Jersey already have a wide array of scholars addressing a wide array of policy related questions. Hence, another primary goal of the policy lab is to both bring greater attention to this work and make it easier for scholars working in a policy area to find others doing similar work. As a result, the Lab will create a mechanism to connect individuals doing similar work together in order that they may assist state and local agencies with their goals to provide their communities the best services that they can.
None of these are easily achievable goals and none will happen overnight. But we are off to a great start. Check out some of the projects we are supporting here. As you can see, these include: using state budgets to advance equity, reducing food waste and increasing food security, and how to marry mental health supports with the state unemployment system. This blog will highlight these and other efforts of the New Jersey Policy Lab. Please follow along here and on social media as we strive to design, implement, and evaluate state policies and programs that address the needs of New Jersey communities.