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Welcome to OSPC

By Matt Jensen

Welcome to

The Open Source Policy Center offers a collaborative and technology-driven fix for a policy evaluation process that inhibits democratic participation in government and constrains the creativity of economic policymakers. The OSPC community is working to make policy analysis more transparent, accessible, and innovative by harnessing open-source methods and a growing community of expert contributors to build cutting edge economic models.

Policymakers and the public depend on economic models to understand how a policy may affect the government's budget, whom a policy will help or hurt, and how a policy might change people's behavior and affect the economy as a whole. As a result, economic models -- ranging from microsimulation models of individual behavior, to time-series forecasting models, to fully articulated simulations of the macroeconomy -- powerfully influence which policy ideas become law.

Most government institutions tasked with quantifying the impact of policy changes lack the ability to harness all of the technology that would allow for greater transparency and widespread collaboration on models. Therefore, despite their influence, most policy-relevant economic models exist as proprietary software that is unavailable to the public. Even most policymakers and politicians (including members of congress and leading presidential candidates) don’t have access to this software, making it very difficult for them to generate creative policy solutions or even to participate in policy debates. What’s more, limited availability and transparency undermines external review and stifles innovation.

This status quo inhibits democratic participation in government and constrains effective economic policymaking.

The motivating principle behind the Open Source Policy Center is that policymakers and the public should have the best tools for understanding public policy choices, and that those tools should be completely transparent and collaborative in order to promote innovation and quality.

With that in mind, OSPC brings together an open-source community of economists, software engineers, and policy analysts who collaboratively produce open-source computational economic models and web applications that allow non-programmers to easily interact with those models.

The community's first priority is building simulation models of the federal individual income tax system. Later projects will move beyond taxes to model other economic policies, including spending programs such as Social Security, welfare programs, and health care programs. Our goals are to be able to both replicate the analysis performed by government agencies and expand and improve upon that analysis with more elaborate tools.

OSPC projects that have reached the alpha or beta stage include Taxcalc, the first-ever open-source microsimulation model of the US individual income tax code, and OG-USA, the first-ever open-source large-scale dynamic overlapping generations model of the US economy. To enable policymakers, journalists, students, and citizens to interact with the models and gauge first-hand the effects of policies, the OSPC community has also developed an easy-to-use web application called TaxBrain.

In addition, OSPC hopes to pave the way for others to adopt a more collaborative, transparent, and accessibility-driven approach to the development of policy-relevant economic models. Our intent is not just to build models, but to develop a technological approach and workflow that enables geographically-dispersed experts to develop models in an open environment.

OSPC is designed to serve as a laboratory for transparent, accessible, and collaborative public policy analysis. The target audience for our work is everyone who cares deeply about policy, and ideal contributors are those with the skills, energy, and passion to make better tools for policy analysis. OSPC projects should enable individuals from all backgrounds to come together to improve our democracy and economy.

Welcome to OSPC. We hope you will join our community and become a user, a contributor, or at least an observer.