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Using Census Data to Simulate Society and Test Public Policy: Discussing an Innovative New Tool

17 Jan 2019


Using Census Data to Simulate Society and Test Public Policy: Discussing an Innovative New Tool
UNRISD Senior Research Coordinator Ilcheong Yi will be the discussant at a lunch-time seminar at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies at which Peter Davis, Emeritus Professor from the University of Auckland, will present SociaLab, a new open-source tool for policy development.

The event, titled “SociaLab: - A Census-Based Simulation Tool for Public Policy Inquiry”, will take place on Thursday 31 January 2019 at 12:30 - 13:30 in Auditorium 2 at The Graduate Institute, Geneva, and is organized jointly by the Graduate Institute’s Global Health Centre and UNRISD.

Using simulation to test policy options


SociaLab is a simulation-based working model of society that can be interrogated for policy and substantive purposes, and will be of interest to practitioners, decision-makers and researchers carrying out interdisciplinary work, particularly on matters of demography and public policy.

In most settings it is neither practical nor ethical to conduct large-scale experiments in public policy with standard methodologies. One alternative for the ex ante testing of policy options is to use simulation—as seen, for example, in climate change projections. Peter Davis and his associates developed a tool—SociaLab—for the counterfactual modelling of public policy decision making.

They then used five-yearly longitudinal census data from New Zealand for the period 1981-2006 to estimate an equation-based socio-demographic model organized around the life course and a social determinants framework. By way of illustration, they tested a series of public policy counterfactuals as a proof of concept.

The model is based on the example of New Zealand, but will be applicable to other countries that will be able to emulate this example with their data systems for their own policy purposes. There is growing interest in nationally relevant modelling tools and quantitative analysis, which will be critical for providing evidence to guide policy and decision making for sustainable development.

Simulating Societal Change: Counterfactual Modelling for Social and Policy Inquiry by Peter Davis and Roy Lay-Yee will be published by Springer in early 2019 in their series on Computational Social Sciences.

Photo credit: Marcos Gasparutti via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)