Publications and News


Blending and Braiding Funds: Opportunities to Strengthen State and Local Data and Evaluation Capacity in Human Services

Pre-print available on SSRN

March 28, 2023
To better serve citizens and communities, state and local governments need a new approach to data and evaluation. By blending and braiding different programmatic funding streams and evaluating different operational structures, state and local leaders – from governors, cabinet secretaries and CIOs to county executives, program directors and grant recipients – can make tremendous strides toward better data-based decision-making. Federal dollars – including stimulus funds, program-specific grant funds, and project-specific funds – as well as direct state or local appropriations can be combined to create cross-program data-sharing and integration strategies.

Evidence from a statewide vaccination RCT shows the limits of nudges


April 6, 2022
Earlier work suggested that short messages could push people to get vaccinated for COVID-19. In this randomized control trial with the Rhode Island Department of Health, we find that text messages sent approximately one month after universal eligibility had no significant effect on actual vaccination outcomes.

COVID-19 state surveys (1-6)

Pre-print available on OSF

Ongoing, 2020-2022
Since August 2020, The Policy Lab in collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Health has conducted surveys to measure beliefs about Covid testing (all surveys), preventive behaviors like mask-wearing and social distancing (surveys 2-5), Covid vaccine beliefs and intent to get vaccinated (surveys 3-6), and other topics of immediate concern to the state.

Walking the party line: The growing role of political ideology in shaping health behavior in the United States

Social Science & Medicine: Population Health

December 2021
Two surveys, one using a convenience sample and another using a nationally representative sample, were conducted in September and November 2020 with the objective of assessing the extent to which political ideology affects COVID-19 preventive behaviors and related beliefs and attitudes in the U.S.

The influence of social norms varies with “others” groups: Evidence from COVID-19 vaccination intentions

Pre-print available on OSF

October 1, 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, much has been written about the correlation of various identities (most notably, partisan identity) and mitigating behaviors. This implicates a broader question: how much, exactly do people’s perceptions of what “others” are doing influence their own behavior. And which “others”—friends, residents of the same city, co-partisans—influence their decisions most.

Longitudinal Evaluation of Providence Public Schools’ Multilingual Learners Program

Pre-print available on OSF

June 30, 2021
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) identified 12 violations of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 by the Providence Public School District (PPSD) specifically impacting Multilingual Learner (MLL) students. To avoid litigation, PPSD and DOJ came to a settlement agreement, which outlined specific requirements for the district to meet by August 2021. This report details an evaluation of the effectiveness of PPSD’s MLL programs over a three-year timespan for students who remained enrolled in the district and were either kindergarteners, third graders, sixth graders, or ninth graders during the 2016-17 school year.

Early Alert Systems During a Pandemic: A Simulation Study on the Impact of Concept Drift


April 21, 2021
As part of our ongoing collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Education, we built an early warning system to identify students most at risk of dropping out of high school. However, this system was built using historical data and relies on the notion that future data will look approximately like past data. The COVID-19 pandemic has radically altered that assumption. This paper explores potential effects of this shift on our system’s accuracy

No evidence that collective-good appeals best promote COVID-related health behaviors

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

April 6, 2021
Invoking the good of the community is common guidance for promoting public health behaviors, so we tested this during our ongoing COVID-19 surveying of public beliefs and attitudes. Our randomized survey experiment showed that family-based appeals were more effective than common good, community-based appeals, and could not be concluded whether common-good messages are better than no messaging at all.

Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Rhode island from a Statewide random sample

American Journal of Public Health

February 18, 2021
In this study, we attempt to estimate the prevalence of COVID-19 in Rhode Island via a randomized sampling strategy.

Predictors of enrollment in opioid agonist therapy after opioid overdose or diagnosis with opioid use disorder: A cohort study

Drug and Alcohol Dependence

November 23, 2020
Medicaid recipients have a high burden of opioid overdose and opioid use disorder (OUD). Opioid agonist therapies are an effective treatment for OUD, but there is a wide and persisting gap between those who are indicated and those who receive treatment. The objective of this study was to identify the predictors of enrollment in opioid agonist therapy within 6 months of an opioid overdose or OUD diagnosis in a cohort of Medicaid recipients.

Regulating innovation: Lessons from an autonomous vehicle pilot project

Pre-print available on OSF

November 3, 2019
Autonomous vehicles were piloted in Providence, Rhode Island in 2019-2020. Dubbed the “Little Roady” project, the pilot offered free rides on an autonomous shuttle along a 12-stop, 5.3 mile fixed route between Olneyville Square and the Providence Train Station. The Policy Lab helped policymakers understand why some individuals are more open to autonomous vehicles than others.



A package to improve table formatting in Python


A package for interacting with the IPUMS API and improving reproducibility

A Model of Student Dropout in Rhode Island Schools

Model deployed and maintained by the Rhode Island Department of Education. See Kevin Wilson and Paul Xu for details.


A package for interacting with decennial Census data in Python.


2020, internally maintained
In use by Rhode Island state agencies to aggregate COVID-19 data, including COVID-19 prediction models.

Rhode Island COVID-19 Prediction Models

2020, internally maintained
Providing real time updates to Rhode Island policymakers on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.


Software used by budget offices to train analysts on evaluating evidence-based policy.

Reports and Press Releases

Pre-Analysis Plan: The Impact of Rhode Island’s Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessments (RESEA) on Career Outcomes for Participants

November 30, 2021
Rhode Island’s Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessments (RESEA) program places Unemployment Insurance claimants into a one-on-one meeting with a career counselor who helps them navigate the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) resources in an effort to achieve gainful employment. This project aims to measure the impact of DLT’s RESEA program on those who apply for and claim unemployment benefits.

The Policy Lab completes longitudinal study on the effectiveness of Providence Public School District’s Multilingual Learners programs

October 1, 2021
The Policy Lab at Brown University released the results of an evaluation of the Providence Public School District (PPSD) Multilingual Learners (MLL) programs’ effectiveness over a three-year timespan, prior to the state takeover of the district. The evaluation analyzed administrative and outcome data of students who remained enrolled in the district and were either kindergarteners, third graders, sixth graders, or ninth graders during the 2016-17 school year.

How States Can Utilize American Rescue Plan Funds: Evidence-Based Policymaking

The Council of State Governments,National Conference of State Legislatures, and The Policy Lab

July 24, 2021
As the U.S. emerges from the pandemic and states receive significant one-time federal funds designed to facilitate recovery, investment in evidence-based policies will help ensure these dollars are leveraged efficiently and to greatest effect.

Understanding service delivery for the low income home energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in Rhode Island

United States Digital Service and The Policy Lab

October 2020
In September 2020, a team from the United States Digital Service (USDS) in the US Office of Management and Budget and The Policy Lab at Brown University completed a month-long discovery sprint on LIHEAP in the State of Rhode Island with the following goals:

  • Develop an understanding of how LIHEAP operates in one geography
  • Build relationships with the people and organizations that make LIHEAP work
  • Create a report that can serve as a roadmap for future LIHEAP research and improvements

North Carolina nonprofit organizations and the impacts of COVID-19: Insights from a statewide survey and creation of a publicly available dataset

North Carolina Office of Strategic Partnerships and The Policy Lab

September 2020
A statewide survey was launched in response to an urgent need for information about how the North Carolina nonprofit community was experiencing the pandemic, which could in turn inform short- and long-term decisions related to COVID-19 by government, philanthropy, and nonprofit organizations themselves.

Improving show ups to seroprevalence testing by improving invitations

Rhode Island Department of Health and The Policy Lab

June 12, 2020
To estimate the prevalence of COVID-19 in Rhode Island, the R.I. Department of Health and The Policy Lab partnered to recruit a random sample of residents for PCR and serological testing. Between May 7th and 13th, 2020, letters were mailed to 5,000 randomly selected households, asking them to be tested at one of any four Stop & Shop locations. The 5,000 households were randomly assigned to receive one of two letters, Letter A being the default version, and Letter B including all of the same content of Letter A, but it was redesigned using principles from behavioral science and user-centered design.

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