Can you tell us something about your work at the National Public Policy Lab?
What we do is that we try to be a bridge between the economic research, which is made by researchers of our university, and the public policy makers. These two worlds don’t have very good contact and we think that we can be the connection between those two. That’s because we can make recommendations on policy by using the results of our own research.
So the idea of the public policy lab is to fill the gap between different groups, for example the gap between academic and practical research, but also to bring new and innovative methods to the public service. We are currently in a situation where we can’t just simply be a political scientist or an economist, where you focus on only one discipline. We are trying to create a multidisciplinary group who works together and brings innovative and new methods, which weren’t used before, to resolve public problems. We believe that collaborative work is currently working better than working as separate groups or disciplines. A different aim for us is to show NGO’s that are lacking confidence that they are doing really good work but that we could help them in the improvement of their work and show them what impact they can have.
What is the origin of the lab and how did you manage to set it up?
The lab started 1,5 years ago. It started because the university realized that we were lacking of places where we could share ideas, but it’s also an international trend. These kind of labs are popping up everywhere around the globe. So the idea came from the head of the university because he wanted to create a space where we can work together. The main reason was that there was a need for more research about the people itself, not only about technical or theoretical topics. Human behaviour is a really important topic to get a better view on the problems which are relevant in today’s cities and can also explain them. The lab itself was already there when we started this initiative but we had the idea to create a unit inside of the lab which would focus on behavioural science and the implementation of experimentation, because we have to proof things instead of changing everything and come to the conclusion several years later that I didn’t work. This idea was pretty well received, so we got our own unit inside of the lab. Very important for the start-up was creating a network with people who believed in these methods and thought, in that way you’ll create a community where you can draw trust and confidence from.
What is the main goal of the National Public Policy Lab?
Basically having an impact and make people’s lives better. We don’t think that we could do our work here without seeing that we have a real impact in cities and in people’s lives. The idea of the policy lab is to really change things, the most important thing to this is to understand. We try to understand things by combining academic and ‘typical’ methods with input from inhabitants itself. Academics have the habit to focus on really specific topics, while they are doing that they often forget what is really happening in the outside world. We think that this has to be changed if you really want to make a difference or create impact, you have to know what is really happening.
What are the expectations from the municipality and other actors?
We are just starting but the government is already starting to know who we are and what we are doing. Actually there are really open to what we are doing. We think that they were also looking for an opportunity to work with academia but not with the traditional ways of research, where for example a research can take ten years and that its already outdated when it’s finished. They are really willing to work with us and they give us space for experiments, which is really new in Mexico.
What are the main issues you work with in Mexico and what are possible solutions for these problems?
One of the topics we are currently working on is corruption, which is a big problem in our country. We try to analyse corruption form a different perspective. We don’t want to solve the problem with extra punishment or stuff like that but we want to know the reasons behind it, why it is happening. From this point you can understand the problem and think of ways of solving it from that perspective. One of the most important things to prevent corruption is to stop the ‘small corruption’ like bottles of wine, because if you start with small things the step to bigger things is easily made. We are also researching discrimination in public services. Normally when we think about discrimination we think about a person who discriminates consciously, but discrimination in a unconscious way happens very often as well. We try to understand how this process works and we do a lot of different experiments in this topic. Currently we are doing an experiment with pictures of people from minority groups in certain spaces because unconscious discrimination often comes from unfamiliarness.
In what way would you like to cooperate in projects and knowledge sharing with initiatives in Budapest?
We think that it’s very interesting to know about each other’s initiatives and projects, we can by inspired by each other and learn a lot from all the different things that are going on. Many problems are not only problems in Mexico or in Hungary but they are problems on a global scale, when we work together there will be a better understanding. We think that knowledge sharing is one of the most important things to do in this process and that it is a very effective way to tackle public problems.
Text: Frank Meijer, Daan Sanders