UMass Amherst Researchers Awarded $460,000 NSF Grant to Advance Analytical Approaches for Policy Design

Douglas Rice
Douglas Rice
Charles Schwiek
Charles Schwiek
Brenda Bushouse
Brenda Bushouse

A team of UMass Amherst researchers has received a three-year, $460,000 National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network grant for a project aimed to help better understand the interplay between policy design and human behavior.

The project intends to address a common challenge facing policy scholars: how to analyze rich text policy documents—sets of rules—to understand how rule configurations may affect human behavior. Prior work in this area has been limited by an inability to compare policy statements, such as environmental regulations, across states or nations or over time.

The grant, awarded to Douglas Rice, assistant professor of political science and legal studies, Charles Schweik, professor of environmental conservation and public policy, and Brenda Bushouse, associate professor of political science and public policy, aims to build an interdisciplinary international network of policy scholars, behavioral researchers and computational scientists to develop mechanisms to allow these kinds of comparisons to move toward a more robust, quantitative science

Foundational to the project, on which Rice and Schweik will serve as co-principal investigators, is the use of a so-called “Institutional Grammar (IG),” a syntax for the way rules are structured. The UMass Amherst researchers, in collaboration with colleagues from Syracuse University, the University of Arizona and the University of California, Davis will work on developing three parallel activities:

  • IG-Extract: Theoretical and methodological development of a software tool for extracting rules based on the IG syntax from rich text into a structured database
  • IG-Analytics: Development of theoretically informed metrics for evaluating policy designs based on this IG
  • IG-Behave: Assessments of actual and simulated behavior in policy-governed settings using agent-based modeling

An overarching goal of the project is to develop a collaborative infrastructure and social network that would allow other computational social science researchers and policy practitioners across the globe to contribute to the ongoing development of these three project areas, following collaborative principles born out of the open source software community.

The goal of the NSF Research Coordination Network (RCN) program is to advance a field or create new directions in research or education by supporting groups of investigators to communicate and coordinate their research, training and educational activities across disciplinary, organizational, geographic and international boundaries. RCN awards are not meant to support existing networks, primary research or the activities of established collaborations. Rather, the RCN program supports the means by which investigators can share information and ideas, coordinate ongoing or planned research activities, foster synthesis and new collaborations, develop community standards, and in other ways advance science and education through communication and sharing of ideas.

Early pilot work leading to this grant was supported by the UMass Amherst Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) and the School of Earth and Sustainability, and by the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.