How a team of social scientists is bringing data to DC government - DC


Jun. 27, 2017 12:55 pm

How a team of social scientists is bringing data to DC government

The Lab @ DC is part of an effort to use more evidence-based policymaking. The team is working on police body cameras and 911 calls, among other programs.
Inside a meeting of The Lab @ DC.

Inside a meeting of The Lab @ DC.

(Courtesy photo)

The Lab @ DC takes a scientific approach to policymaking. Social scientists with backgrounds in statistics, economics and data science collaborate to create evidence-based policy recommendations under the District of Columbia’s Office of the City Administrator.

An upcoming pilot study will research use of a “nurse triage line” beginning around October 2017. The study focuses on diverting non-emergency calls coming into the 911 system for the Office of United Communications.

“If the caller is not experiencing an immediate emergency but may need to get to a healthcare clinic or get a prescription filled, oftentimes they see 911 as the only way to receive service. But really, in many ways they could be effectively served with another healthcare option,” said Sam Quinney, an applied researcher with The Lab.

The proof of concept here is that calls can be assessed, and citizens can be routed to a local clinic or less expensive health care system before going straight to the ER — sometimes even making them appointments with a primary care physician, if needed.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation granted $95,298 to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to fund a separate randomized controlled trial to assess the efficacy of police body-worn cameras, which are now worn by all officers in the District.

The Lab @ DC emphasizes its use of the Open Science Government Framework. In its pre-analysis plan for body-worn cameras, The Lab set out to create a randomized control trial to evaluate the effectiveness on how the cameras would improve policing. The data is currently being analyzed and the study results are expected to be published and ready by the end of summer.


The Lab is currently working on a total of 15 studies which include recertification of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families project, which is geared toward homelessness prevention and helping returning citizens reenter the workforce. The outfit is also seeking ways to recruit police officers more efficiently and retain members of the force who are doing well.

“The Lab really comes from the Mayor’s vision around using data and analysis to inform our policy decisions, help improve overall government services, and be able to hold our agencies accountable for the performance — and particularly the outcomes that we’re looking for,” said Rashad Young, City Administrator.

The Lab was created from a $3.2 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

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