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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI’s Policy Simulation Lab helps decision makers
understand the consequences of policy choices

KINGSTON, R.I. -- September 7, 2001 -- When state or local public officials make decisions, it’s often difficult to grasp the far-reaching implications of those decisions on residents, businesses and the environment. Using interactive computer technologies, the new Policy Simulation Laboratory at the University of Rhode Island can help decision makers understand the consequences of policy choices and get immediate feedback from interested parties.

"The lab is a set of networked rooms designed to study decision making and help communities make wise choices," said James Opaluch, professor of environmental and natural resource economics at URI and director of the Policy Simulation Lab. "I don’t know of anything else like it anywhere."

It consists of the Simulation Lab with 26 high-tech workstations, two group decision rooms, a large conference room, and a 125-seat presentation hall with advanced audio-visual aids and in-seat voting capabilities.

If, for example, local town council members want to design a plan for managing growth or are considering approving a large sub-division, the computer systems in the lab can simulate the environmental, economic and social consequences of the resulting policies and decisions. Electronic maps from the state Geographic Information System can illustrate the resulting landscape, and virtual reality tools can then provide a virtual drive through the development or a virtual fly-over of the area to better visualize how the community will be affected. Stakeholders in the presentation hall can then provide immediate feedback by voting on the plan.

Opaluch said the lab would likely be used primarily by local groups and communities, "but it could also be linked to a room full of people in California via the Internet or to individuals spread out all over the world."

Using methods used in experimental economics, the lab can also be used to study the behavior of individuals and groups to better understand how choices are made and how the decision making process varies in response to changes in the decision making environment. "It allows us to test out a variety of rules for operating an organization to see, for example, who benefits most by a particular rule or which rules are most fair," Opaluch said.

Guidelines and a fee structure for use of the facility by groups unaffiliated with URI are being developed.

For Information: James Opaluch 874-4590, Todd McLeish 874-7892

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