Rhode Island State House (Image By Bestbudbrian (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab (RIIPL)

RIIPL, in partnership with the State of Rhode Island, is working with state, local and federal government agencies to unlock the power of data, economics, and behavioral science to improve policies, alleviate poverty, and increase economic opportunity in Rhode Island and beyond. Like the California Policy Lab and Chapin Hall, RIIPL is a university-government collaboration.

The GovLab
Data Labs
Published in
5 min readDec 12, 2017


Location: Rhode Island


RIIPL’s mission is to use data and science to impact policy and improve lives. The lab currently works with Rhode Island Government to help them identify, design, and deliver efficient, effective, fact-based policy which alleviates poverty and increases economic opportunity. Particular focus is also given to closing the education achievement gap, criminal justice, and creating efficient and effective government regulation.

RIIPL has created a unique relational database, RI 360, which houses anonymized longitudinal administrative data across Rhode Island government agencies, alongside added industry data in key sectors, to provide a 360-degree view of family and economic well-being. Personally identifiable information has been removed from the data and replaced with anonymous identifiers that make it possible for researchers with approved access to join and analyze records associated with the same individual while preserving anonymity. This anonymized database allows government agencies to use facts and science to evaluate programs and identify areas for improvement.

Website: http://riipl.org/

Sector: Criminal justice, poverty and economic mobility, education, and effective regulation.

Target Audience: RIIPL partners with policy makers in both Rhode Island and the federal government.

Services Offered: Rigorous policy research and analysis, including evaluations of programs, policies, and design improvements; an integrated relational data system.

Data Sources: Secure and anonymized administrative data from Rhode Island government, as well as data from key industry sectors. RIIPL was founded in 2015 with foundation funding. It is housed at Brown University.

Who Houses the Data: The RI 360 database is housed in a secure facility at RIIPL. Administrative records are joined across government agencies, anonymized, secured and updated regularly.

Addressing Data Governance and Oversight Mechanisms: The data are stored in a secure facility at RIIPL in Brown University and are accessible only by approved researchers. Personally identifiable information is removed from the data and replaced with secure identifiers that make it possible to join different records associated with the same person without revealing their identity. Justine Hastings, the Director of RIIPL, said¹: “RIIPL has a secure data infrastructure and security process that goes above and beyond university and federal requirements. As well as meeting all applicable federal privacy and security-related compliance laws like FISMA, HIPAA and FERPA, our system ensures that individuals’ privacy is protected both internally and externally.”

Analytical talent: RIIPL has roughly 30 team members employees. comprising economic and policy analysts, data scientists, and Brown University researchers and faculty. The lab has several programs to educate future leaders in science and policy, including PhD and Pre-Doctorate programs, which provide interdisciplinary and hands-on research opportunities to talented young analysts and data scientists.

1. RIIPL PhD program. RIIPL provides a unique opportunity for Brown PhD students to conduct research in economics and data science which directly impacts society through improved public policy. PhD candidates work closely with faculty in Economics and Public Policy, along with policy analysts and data scientists, to conduct interdisciplinary research in real-world situations.

2. RIIPL Pre-Doctorate Program. The RIIPL Pre-Doctoral program is another opportunity to conduct research in economics and data science which directly impacts society through improved public policy. It is aimed at those who are seeking intensive training through hands-on research experience before advancing to PhD programs in economics, public policy, or related quantitative social science fields. Fellows work closely with faculty in Economics and Public Policy, along with PhD students, policy analysts and data scientists to gain interdisciplinary research training and experience.

3. Brown University Undergraduate Internship Program. RIIPL also brings on undergraduate interns to train them early in cutting-edge tools in data science and economic analysis. It also offers opportunities to involve them in research and policy design to give them real-world experience in creating impactful change in their communities.

4. Brown University Master of Public Affairs Data Driven Policy Track. RIIPL has partnered with the Brown University Master of Public Affair’s program to train the next generation of policy leaders in data-driven policy. Each member of the data-driven policy track is advised by Director Hastings and takes courses in statistics, data science, and econometrics during the year. Each student also participates in RIIPL’s Tech-Up seminar to get training coding languages, like SQL and Python, that make them competitive in today’s policy landscape.

Methodology: RIIPL connects experienced researchers with governments to provide meaningful and relevant data that government officials can use to make fact-based decisions. Researchers work with policymakers at the state and federal level to identify important challenges, and apply behavioral science, economics and data analysis to design high-impact, low-cost solutions. After identifying priorities with government partners, RIIPL works with state officials to evaluate the impact of public policies and programs on desired outcomes using comprehensive administrative data and fieldwork with all relevant stakeholders. RIIPL then uses these facts to design and tests policy improvements using gold-standard research methodology. Rhode Island is using this model to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public programs.

Disseminating Findings: RIIPL makes summaries of its findings available on its website, and also publishes its completed academic research online.

Impact: RIIPL is currently working on over 30 projects with 9 state agencies. The lab has created an integrated relational data system which joins administrative data across state agencies. RIIPL has evaluated in-prison training programs for inmates to identify which are most effective at lowering recidivism, is employing machine learning to lower Medicaid costs for the state and improve care for clients, used big data to create a low-cost method of employing Rhode Islanders, and is currently working on a number of initiatives to use the power of data to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of government services. The lab has also produced research on how enrollment in SNAP impacts household spending and wage income.

Sample Project: RIIPL has partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC) to reduce recidivism in Rhode Island. Currently, 52% of inmates in Rhode Island return to prison within three years of release. The Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, aims to lower this figure to 44% by 2020. RIIPL was tasked with finding low-cost ways to meet this goal. First, RIIPL analyzed DOC data, and found that individuals who enroll in SNAP post-release are less likely to recidivate than their non-SNAP counterparts within the first six months. However, only 65% enroll in SNAP post-release, even though nearly all qualify. This may be due to hassle costs and challenges that inmates face on release, including lack of accessible transportation. RIIPL worked with DOC to design a simple and effective program change to auto-enroll releasees into the benefits they are eligible for upon release. DOC will run a RIIPL-designed Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) to prove impact, measure success, and allow other officials to learn and scale a proven-successful recidivism reduction program in their own states.

Funding source: Private Foundations, Federal government grants. See www.riipl.org/people.

Contact details: riipl.director@riipl.org

We’d like to thank Justine Hastings, Director, RIIPL and Mintaka Angell, Assistant Director of Policy and Communication, RIIPL for their assistance.


¹ Response to email questionnaire to Justine Hastings, Director, RIIPL on July 17, 2017



The GovLab
Data Labs

The Governance Lab improving people’s lives by changing how we govern. http://www.thegovlab.org @thegovlab #opendata #peopleledinnovation #datacollab