We are an innovation lab for social change.

Driven by curiosity, unfettered by orthodoxy, and grounded in the sciences of human behavior, we’re investigating bold new ways to tackle the world’s biggest problems.

Criminal justice reform

The US criminal justice system suffers from over-incarceration, hurting individuals and communities. While a growing number of jurisdictions are turning to electronic monitoring to reduce overcrowding in prisons, this new system often burdens participants financially and restricts their movement, preventing their full participation in the economy and community.

We believe the smart use of monitoring technology can be the most transformative innovation in criminal justice within our lifetimes. We are working with large municipalities to revolutionize their electronic monitoring programs, using state-of-the-art data science techniques to enhance public safety while minimizing the program’s impact on participants. Our long-term goal is for electronic monitoring programs to allow participants to remain integrated and productive members of society.

See more of our work here!

Other work in this area includes:

  • Developing a co-responder model for municipalities, which would pair law enforcement and social service responses to emergency calls
  • Contributing to a Freakonomics episode highlighting how sleep deprivation may affect police officers’ responses to high-pressure situations
K-12 education

Today, we force our students through a factory education model that has not kept pace with technological change. RISC has piloted several interventions to modernize K-12 classrooms.

Starting in 2019, RISC has helped incubate the Data Science 4 Everyone initiative, now a national effort to incorporate data science and data literacy into K-12 math and other subjects. After catalyzing early efforts in 15 states, unlocking both state and federal funding, and generating market demand for additional classroom resources, DS4E may soon be bringing data science opportunities to a school near you.

We're also rethinking pedagogical approaches. In partnership with the Khan World School, we're designing a discussion-based curriculum that teaches students to think critically about the world's biggest challenges. Check out our Seminars and listen to this People I (Mostly) Admire episode on how we're helping bring Sal Khan's vision of education to life.

Human health

A 21st-century pursuit of health necessitates an integrated approach in research and a commitment to radical thinking.

We’re working at the intersection of health and behavioral change to address a pressing healthcare issue—live organ donation.

We partner with some of the largest transplant centers in the country to provide resources and support to those who are disqualified from donating an organ for reversible reasons, such as high BMI or smoking. With the waitlist to receive a kidney at 100,000, we see expanding the pool of available living donors as a critical way to save lives.

Other work in this area includes:

  • Partnering with a nonprofit to re-orient diabetes care away from insulin reliance and toward symptom management through low-carb diets
  • Exploring the use of harm reduction to support those affected by the opioid crisis
Child Welfare

The US child welfare system faces a shortage of foster families, resulting in deeply inadequate placement outcomes for some of our society’s most vulnerable youth. Foster youth often end up in care far from home, in group home settings, or separated from their siblings. At the same time, effective foster family recruitment is hindered by a lack of data.

We are working with multiple state child welfare agencies to pilot and scale data-driven foster family recruitment tools. Developed alongside state agency leadership, social workers, and other experts in child welfare, our tools will collect and utilize data to create recruitment plans based on the kinds of foster families that would meet the needs of children in care. Partnering with organizations that specialize in foster family recruitment tactics, we hope to meaningfully reduce the foster family shortage, improving outcomes for children in care.

Other work in this area includes:

  • Exploring upstream interventions to prevent children from ending up in foster care unnecessarily
  • Evaluating and streamlining foster family licensing requirements
Mental health & well-being

We are in the midst of a mental health crisis, with steadily climbing rates of suicide, anxiety, and depression, particularly among young people.

We investigate the most salient issues facing the world today: How do we leverage the wide reach of social media to establish peer-to-peer connection and mentorship? How do we alleviate loneliness among the elderly? How do we integrate mental health services into municipal crisis response services?

We know that a multi-disciplinary approach is needed to unlock truly new insights to these questions. We have established relationships with cutting-edge technology companies, governments, academics, nonprofits, and even celebrities as our advisors. Together, we ideate on radical solutions, develop experiments and prototypes, and scale up existing efforts.

Local Community Development

Local issues are central to our work. In partnership with the City of Chicago, we assessed the impact of work-from-home during COVID-19 on Chicago's downtown area. Our team provided recommendations for restoring economic activity to pre-pandemic levels, including ways of encouraging workers to return to the office.

We have also partnered with the City’s Economic and Neighborhood Development Team to map retail vacancies across the city, and we work with local nonprofits on efforts to clean and green vacant lots, with the goal of making neighborhoods safer and more livable.

Social media & Emerging Technology

Social media has made headlines for a slew of societal ills — exacerbating depression and loneliness among young people, polarizing nations through its echo chambers, allowing dangerous misinformation to reach new audiences… and yet, it has also facilitated connections among strangers, allowed new communities to have a powerful digital voice, and fueled social movements across the globe. Social media in one form or another is here to stay — how can we mitigate its harms while helping it bring out the best in humanity?

We have worked with leading social media platforms and academic experts to examine these challenges. We have leveraged existing platform features and designed new ones to nudge users to engage productively and healthily online.

Beyond social media, we are also interested in the potential of emerging innovations, from virtual reality to brain-computer interfaces to drones, to further disrupt society’s relationship with technology, for good or for ill.

& more...

Our work is not limited to areas listed here—our analysts have built an online platform that provides peer-donated utility assistance to Chicagoans, analyzed methane mitigation strategies for a global agriculture company, authored a brief on economic mobility for a large philanthropist, and more. Our portfolio is constantly changing, and we welcome any and all big ideas and seek opportunities to collaborate. Feel free to reach out to us through our contact form.

What we do

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About Us

At the Center for RISC, our mission is to generate breakthrough solutions to the world’s most difficult social problems.

The Center for RISC is the brainchild of Steven Levitt, professor of economics at the University of Chicago and co-author of Freakonomics. We are not an academic group or research lab. Instead, we investigate today’s social issues by combining unconventional perspectives with empirical data, generating radical solutions with real-world relevance. We then test and scale those solutions through a mix of partnerships with academics, nonprofits, government agencies, international organizations, and private corporations.

Our team holds degrees from the world’s leading universities, and our Analysts have trained in the fields of data science, economics, political science, applied mathematics, and more.

After their time at RISC, our alumni have continued their distinguished paths, pursuing further education, embarking on projects abroad, and taking on roles in tech, academia, philanthropy, and beyond.