From 19-23 August 2013 the headquarters of UN University in Tokyo held the first ever ICT conference for staff of the various UNU institutes. While the content was technical, the aim was simple: to share skills and knowledge and get to know each other personally. For example, I’ve been in touch with Bruck Tadesse, my opposite number at WIDER, for several years but we’ve never actually met in real life.
‘Nothing is certain but death and taxes’ according to an old British proverb. Everything in between is rather more complex, not least public policy. Before rolling out complicated, expensive policies on large populations, decision-makers not only need reliable data but also to run simulations.
Wherever they skip modelling, governments open themselves up to countless unforeseen factors. These include aspects that may have sparked or worsened the economic and demographic crises now facing Europe.
At a recent conference in Ireland, three of our PhD fellows presented papers of some significance to our troubled times. They focused on tax benefits for mobile workers, earnings dynamics, and retirement choice modelling — summarized in the soundcloud below.
As the European City of Science 2012, Dublin hosted the ‘European Meeting of the International Microsimulation Association‘, an international conference that brought together researchers from over 30 countries presenting 116 scientific papers.
Researchers from the German Labour Economics Institute (IZA), the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis, UNICEF, and the European Dynamic Microsimulation Network, all came to discuss methodological aspects of their work. In other words, how they go about simulating and modelling complex policies.
What is Microsimulation modelling?
Microsimulation modelling is a form of computer based simulation model that simulates policy, economic, social and environmental change at a micro level (household, firm, and farm).The methodology allows one to evaluate and improve the design of public policy on a computer before rolling out often costly programmes on the general population.
To some extent the methodology can be regarded as a computer based laboratory for running policy experiments. They can thus help to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of public programmes.
A commonality across the different fields here is to use computer based techniques which aim to improve the design of public policy. To escape the economic crisis, we need to focus on methodologies that can provide better policy design. This is particularly true in Ireland, where the economic contraction over the past four years resulted from a number of policy failures.
We have much to learn from the experience of the modellers present at the conference to improve the design of our public policy. In policy making, often it is the results that are most important and influential. However in order to effectively analyse policy and other changes, it is important to develop capacity.
Technical push, focal pull
Scientific developments that focus on model design are important building blocks. To avoid re-inventing the wheel, something that unfortunately many policy modellers are frequently accused of, it is important to codify and to disseminate the knowledge that is generated through our modelling research.
The field of microsimulation has to some extent been held back by a lack of focus on this aspect in recent decades and the hope is that this conference can facilitate improved learning and development. Facilitating this there are plans for a number of journal special issues.
PhD fellows and alumni from the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance presented their work at the conference. Irina Burlacu (PhD candidate) discussed the effect of tax-benefit systems on the welfare of mobile earners, using static micro-simulation on synthetic data, based on the cases of Luxembourg and Belgium.
Denisa Sologon (School of Governance alumna) proposed a new approach in simulating earnings profiles, based on a sophisticated error componence structure, which draws upon the literature used to study earnings dynamics. Jinjing Li (School of Governance alumnus) gave a presentation on retirement choice modelling and simulated retirement choices, using panel data, examining the effects of reforms on retirement. Click the soundcloud below to hear more about their presentations.
by Irina Burlacu, PhD fellow, UNU-MERIT / Maastricht Graduate School of Governance
MAASTRICHT: The spotlight was on child rights on 17th November as UNU-MERIT, University College Maastricht and the School of Governance hosted a conference to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Focusing on the children of prisoners, the event was inspired by the child and human rights defender, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is currently in prison in Iran.
Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer was awarded the 2011 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write award. She has been in Evin prison since September 2010 and is sentenced to six years in jail along with a 10 year ban on practising law. Since her arrest, she has had just a handful of few face-to-face meetings with her children.
Incarcerated Connection was held not only in support of Nasrin Sotoudeh’s children, but for all children of inmates. The meeting was opened with a keynote speech by Maria Herczog, a member of the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child.
There followed two panels, one focusing on the challenges and struggles of children of prisoners and the other on support for projects and lessons learnt. Panel members were drawn from academic and research institutions, civil society organizations, and activists from England, Iran, Northern Ireland, Syria and the USA.
Discussions covered various areas concerning children of political and criminal prisoners. The speakers were united in a belief that there is an urgent need for more academic research to explore the needs and struggles of this group of children. A further recommendation was to embark on more innovative research to identify the economic and social implications of imprisonment and to investigate effective alternatives to prison.
Sepideh Yousefzadeh, PhD fellow, UNU-MERIT / Maastricht Graduate School of Governance