Professor Lydia Bourouiba’s work was featured at the TEDMED 2019 meeting. Her invited talk outlined how a deeper understanding of the fluid dynamics and biophysics of transmission can provide the power to predict and control the spread of airborne infectious diseases.

MIT Policy Lab issues fifth call for proposals to faculty and researchers

Dan Pomeroy | Center for International Studies

The MIT Policy Lab at the Center for International Studies, which encourages academically informed solutions to major public policy challenges, has announced its fifth call for proposals. The Policy Lab works with faculty at MIT to develop strategies for creating two-way dialogues between scholars and policymakers, helping to ensure that public policies are informed by the best available research and that scholars understand the potential policy impact of their own work. The deadline for submissions is Dec. 6.

“The Policy Lab at MIT’s Center for International Studies (CIS) has developed a model — proven successful over five years of implementation and iteration — for increasing the policy impact of MIT-generated research,” said Chappell Lawson, faculty director and associate professor of political science. “We're excited to continue building on that success and to help as many MIT faculty and principal research scientists as possible.”

At the end of the 2019 calendar year, the Policy Lab will have sponsored over 91 projects with more than 50 principal investigators at MIT. These projects have helped faculty members from all five MIT schools translate and disseminate their research to policy audiences, solicit feedback from policymakers, and provide financial support for travel to policy-oriented meetings. Some of these projects are detailed below.

Climate

Senior Research Scientist Sergey Paltsev is the deputy director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, which combines scientific research with policy analysis to provide independent, integrative assessments of the impacts of global change and how best to respond. Joint program researcher Emil Dimanchev collaborated with Paltsev to create a model that can calculate the health impacts of clean energy standards at the granular level of U.S. states. This model allows him to determine the costs and benefits of state-level efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

For the past two years, the Policy Lab has helped connect Dimanchev to the policy community concerned with state-level clean energy programs. This summer, the Policy Lab assisted with outreach efforts to legislators in Ohio who were considering a bill to remove Ohio's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Dimanchev was able to quickly calculate the health impacts of Ohio’s RPS and showed that benefits could far exceed the costs. He used this research to deliver testimony to the Ohio state legislature, publish an op-ed, and create a policy brief for lawmakers and other stakeholders involved in the Ohio RPS discussions.

Human health

Associate Professor Lydia Bourouiba examines the fluid dynamics of disease transmission. She has been working with the Policy Lab to connect with policymakers since 2016 and has built relationships with a wide variety of stakeholders in public health, food safety, and agriculture. As a result, she has been invited to give lectures, provide recommendations, and contribute to front-line health care worker trainings at their professional meetings.

In 2019, her work was featured at the TEDMED 2019 meeting. She also founded and chaired the inaugural "Fluids and Health" meeting. In this two-week intensive meeting, she introduced researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to an emerging field at the intersection of fundamental physical sciences, engineering, and public health. This new field is working to guide the decisions of innovators, policymakers, and front-line practitioners who are tackling health challenges in many domains.

Workforce development

Professor Sanjay Sarma, vice president of open learning at MIT, and Bill Bonvillian, senior director of special projects at open learning, are studying and creating new models for workforce education. A major focus of the work is on upskilling the disrupted workforce, including in manufacturing and retail, to meet the upcoming demands of advanced manufacturing and of new technologies and processes.

The Policy Lab assisted with surveying workforce training and education experts within government, academia, and industry. Successful models were identified and used to write case studies and prepare presentations. The Policy Lab then arranged meetings between the research team and high-level staff in the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, Congress, professional associations, and think tanks in Washington.

Environment

Professor Thomas Peacock conducts research on the environmental impact of potential deep-sea mining activities. The Policy Lab has been working closely with him since 2016 to connect with policy experts in this field, including the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which governs deep-sea mining in international waters. In fall 2018, he hosted a workshop at MIT that brought together policymakers from the ISA, academics and experts, non-governmental organizations, and representatives of the mining industry to discuss how to identify and quantify risks associated with deep-sea mining.

The result of this workshop was a report with policy recommendations, which was delivered to the ISA as they finalize regulations for this new industry. Peacock has also facilitated expertise at MIT to develop a financial model of deep-sea mining that is underpinning ISA discussions of an international royalty scheme for deep-sea mining. Most recently, Peacock has been providing scientific advice to the Cook Islands, as they consider deep-sea mining activities in their exclusive economic zone, and is actively engaged in developing environmental monitoring plans for upcoming mining trials in the Pacific Ocean.

International security

Associate Professor R. Scott Kemp directs the MIT Lab for Nuclear Security and Policy, where his research includes nuclear nonproliferation issues and related technical analyses. In spring 2019, Kemp and postdoc Rachel Carr organized a semester-long policy workshop on opportunities to build technical-level relationships between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States. Such relationships could be valuable to negotiating a future denuclearization agreement.

In May 2019, researchers from the workshop traveled to Seoul, South Korea, to investigate the potential for near-term inter-Korean nuclear safety and environmental cooperation. They met with high-ranking government officials, technical specialists, and policy community members. The group found support for the basic idea of cooperation on nuclear safety and environmental issues. These findings were then conveyed to officials in the U.S. State Department with the hope that the United States would convene such an event. The Policy Lab participated in the workshop, helped frame the discussion with Korean officials, and supported their travel.

Urban planning

MIT Create is a team of researchers and practitioners who collaborate with governments, communities, and organizations to generate sustainable social impact in the human environment through design. Over the past four years, MIT Create has collaborated with partners in Durban, South Africa, to research street markets and their role in income generation and the provision of affordable goods for the urban poor.

In July 2018, the Policy Lab sponsored and assisted with a workshop in Durban where Create and Durban-based colleagues presented a report that identified existing examples of how cities around the world are adapting to urban informal economies. The event brought together 30 different individuals representing six different municipal departments, local researchers, and relevant advocacy organizations. The workshop led to a municipal department requesting additional training in urban design for informal economies; one municipal official arranging a deeper debrief and requesting additional information; and a senior municipal official committed to develop and implement a relevant priority project identified in the city-wide plan and discussed at the workshop. 

Proposals are welcome from all researchers at MIT with principal investigator status who wish to engage the policy community in the U.S. and abroad. Proposals are sought from all parts of MIT. Accepted projects will receive guidance to develop outreach strategies and staff support to implement them. Requests for reimbursement of project expenses up to $10,000 are also welcome. Guidelines for submission are available at: policylab.mit.edu/proposals. The submission deadline is Dec. 6. Final selections will be made by Feb. 14, 2020.

The mission of the Policy Lab is to enhance the impact of MIT research on public policy, in order to best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. The Policy Lab accomplishes the mission by helping participating faculty to define realistic policy goals and develop an effective “impact plan” based on these goals and the time the faculty member wishes to devote. The Policy Lab then provides staff support to MIT faculty members to translate their scholarship into workable policy recommendations and to deliver those recommendations to policymakers. Finally, the Policy Lab provides some amount of reimbursement for project expenses.  All of these efforts are designed to maximize the impact of faculty members' policy engagements while minimizing the expenditure of faculty time.

This article was republished with permission from the MIT News Office

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