Political Science Professor Amy Lerman receives the Chancellor’s Award for Research in Public Interest

April 29, 2024

UC Berkeley Political Science Professor Amy Lerman was recently awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Research in the Public Interest, which honors “individuals and groups for their exceptional commitment to advancing social change through public service.” An educator and researcher, Professor Lerman is passionate about her research in equity, public opinion and civic engagement. She consults on issues of criminal justice reform, civic engagement and public-sector innovation. 

She is also the  Director of Berkeley’s Possibility Lab, a team of multi-disciplinary researchers from academia and the private and public sectors, who seek data-driven innovations to advance the public good. Lerman has also published numerous research papers in her field’s top academic journals.

Professor Lerman spoke to Berkeley Social Sciences about the award and her research. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Tell us more about the Chancellor's Award for Research in Public Interest. 

Amy E. Lerman:The Chancellor’s Award for Research in the Public Interest recognizes the work being conducted by faculty that strengthens the connections between UC Berkeley and the community by addressing critical social issues through applied and collaborative research.  

Tell us about your work in general 

Amy E. Lerman: My research is focused on issues of equity, public opinion and civic engagement, especially concerning public safety and social inequality in America. I’m also the executive director and principal investigator at Berkeley’s Possibility Lab, which is a diverse team of policy researchers and practitioners who partner with the government and the community to design, pilot and scale data-driven innovation for the public good. Through ongoing collaborations, the Lab is testing innovative ways to center community voices and perspectives in public policy by working directly with diverse stakeholders to foster engagement, empowerment and equity. 

When we started the Possibility Lab, we knew we wanted to focus our attention beyond just the campus community—to create a space that directly facilitated ongoing 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.

Why do you think you were selected for this award? 

Amy E. Lerman: I would like to think I was selected because, throughout my career, I’ve tried to advocate for and support research that thinks about big problems, and that takes a practical approach to testing new approaches to public-sector problem-solving. In recent years, my work at the Possibility Lab has allowed me to bring together a stellar team of researchers, practitioners and students to do just that. Together, we’re partnering on a wide range of really exciting projects with state and local governments that aim to increase civic engagement, promote equity and improve public service delivery.  

At the Lab, we often say that we believe the people closest to the problem are also closest to the solutions, and policymaking works best when practitioners and those with lived experience work hand-in-hand. With that in mind, we’ve been working with community organizations and government agencies to co-design new models and methods that integrate residents’ voices into policy design, implementation and evaluation. Our work addresses the interrelated policy domains that directly affect people's lives: public safety, public health, education, social welfare, immigration, and more. 

What is your reaction to winning this award? 

Amy E. Lerman: I was surprised and really honored when I found out about this award. I think about how fortunate I am to do the work that I love and to do it with some pretty incredible people. I am truly inspired when I go to work every day. Whether it’s getting to work alongside my colleagues at the Possibility Lab, with my colleagues at the Goldman School or in the Political Science Department, or with our unbelievably smart and dedicated partners, I am just so lucky to work somewhere that encourages us to think critically both within and beyond the academy and to find ways for data to inform our understanding of problems and solutions in the public sphere.  

I am so grateful to the people who nominated me and hope that everyone I work with—at the Lab, at Berkeley and across California—feels like they share in this award. Because it really belongs to all of us who are coming together in this work.