What do a diverse group of data-driven idealists have to say about our biggest societal challenges?

By Professor Amy Lerman, Executive Director & Principal Investigator

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two years since we formally launched the Possibility Lab! When we opened our doors, we wanted to do things differently. After all, there is no shortage of amazing university labs, centers, and initiatives that are tackling important policy questions. But we knew we wanted to focus our attention beyond just the campus community – to create a space that directly facilitated on-going collaborations between researchers, communities and government. Our goal was to forge long-term partnerships where we could work together to have a meaningful impact on people’s lives. 

Executive Director Professor Amy E. Lerman and the Lab’s Director of Community Engaged Research embrace before the Lab’s  Firsthand Framework event in January in Oakland.

So, naturally, we recruited the very best applied researchers we knew, as well as the most amazing public-sector employees we could trick into making the leap to work with us. And, of course, we also recruited a wide array of phenomenal students from the UC system to come learn alongside our team. What we’ve built is innovative and exciting, while also remaining rigorous and data- driven. We start from the idea that we don’t know until we know. We follow where the data lead us. We question our own assumptions, so that reforms don’t do more harm than good. Because if we are going to find a path to a sustainable and equitable future — as a team, as a research lab, as a state and as a nation — it’s data that will lead us there. But while data drives us, I think there’s something else that guides our work: idealism. Oftentimes, we think of idealism and evidence as unrelated, or even contradictory. But hear me out.

Data in a vacuum can’t solve problems. To create data-driven policy solutions that fundamentally help improve people’s lives, idealism is essential—across diverse communities, through opposing perspectives, and in the face of deep-rooted conflicts. Idealism gives us the hope that there’s a better path, and the space to push the boundaries of what we think is possible.

At the Lab, our idealism is real and practical in its approach. Together with our partners, we are trying new things, testing innovative ideas, and learning as we go. We welcome skepticism, whether it’s from communities who have been given too many empty promises, policymakers facing competing pressures from passionate stakeholders, and even other researchers who are frustrated that their research seemingly can’t have an impact. We know how hard this work can be. But our team of data-driven idealists is here to prove that real progress is within reach.

I offer this background about who we are and what we’re about as a way to set the stage for where we’re headed – and to introduce this platform, our new blog. As you will see in the coming months, our people are the real story of our Lab; they are what makes us different. Through this platform, you will learn from their passions and expertise. You’ll learn about their creative, collaborative, and game-changing work. Unconventional. Data-driven. Idealists. We are all of that and so much more, and we’re just getting started.

We welcome you to follow our insights and get a peek behind the curtain of Possibility at work.

Our Work