Latsis Prize 2019: Dominik Hangartner’s research brings cool-headed analysis to the heated debate on migration

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Political scientist Dominik Hangartner, winner of the National Latsis Prize 2019

Political scientist Dominik Hangartner, winner of the National Latsis Prize 2019. ęsnf, photographer: Mischa Scherrer

Political scientist Dominik Hangartner (ETH Zurich) analyses the effects of migration policies and proposes improvements. In recognition of his work, the Swiss National Science Foundation has awarded him the National Latsis Prize 2019.

"We bring cool-headed analysis to a heated debate. Using data and statistical analysis, we show which migration policies work-and what could be improved." Based on new data and recent advances in statistics, Professor Dominik Hangartner and his research team study the effects of immigration and integration policies. For example, they have shown that people whose application for naturalisation was narrowly accepted are more integrated into Swiss society than people whose application was narrowly rejected. Dominik Hangartner’s excellent empirical research demonstrates what the social sciences can achieve in the 21st century. For this reason, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has awarded him the National Latsis Prize 2019 on behalf of the Latsis Foundation.

Algorithm improves refugees’ chances of finding a job

The work of Dominik Hangartner and his team at the Immigration Policy Lab at ETH Zurich is highly topical in terms of its subject matter, but also in terms of how it is structured. The team includes several project managers and data scientists. "We see research as a team sport," says Hangartner. The team aims to give something back to society by finding actionable solutions to pressing challenges. In cooperation with the State Secretariat for Migration, they have been testing since last year a data-driven algorithm that optimises the geographic allocation of refugees to increase their chances of finding a job.

The experimental set-up of the project mirrors the structure of clinical trials. There is a test group and a control group, each comprising 1000 families. For the test group, the algorithm makes recommendations for optimal placement. The families of the control group are allocated to the cantons as before, and regardless of their chances of finding a job. To avoid a placebo effect, the participants do not know which group they are in. The aim of the experiment is to evaluate and refine the algorithm in view of using it more widely, both in Switzerland or abroad.

Hangartner’s team translates the insights from basic research into innovative and workable solutions that benefit both migrant and host communities. The results of their work feature regularly in prestigious scientific publications. In collaboration with governments, international organisations, and immigrant service providers, they also contribute to improving the evidence base on migration issues by making their research, data, and computer code freely available. "In this way, the data and code can be reused and adapted to answer other research questions and scientists are able reproduce our results," Dominik Hangartner explains. His research projects thus exemplify two important trends in contemporary science: open access to scientific information and reproducibility of empirical studies.

Prize money for project in Greece

Hangartner plans to continue doing research that benefits society by solving pressing issues. "Empirical social sciences and economics shouldn’t stop at evaluating current policies, but use their insights and data to design new solutions." To illustrate this point, he refers to another project his team is running: evaluating an employment platform to monitor if recruiters discriminate against certain jobseekers. He emphasises the importance of taking the evaluation a step further by using the findings to make concrete proposals for redesigning the employment platform to minimise discrimination in the future.

Currently, Hangartner’s team is involved in research in Greece. They were able to document the short-term consequences of mass refugee migration to Greek islands in the Aegean Sea: the extraordinary high numbers of refugees passing through in 2015 and 2016 have led to an increase in anti-immigrant sentiments among the local population and wide-spread support for restrictive immigration policies. In a next step, the researchers now want to shed light on the longer-term consequences. The Latsis prize money will be dedicated to this project. For Hangartner, this is perfectly fitting as the founders of the Latsis foundation hail from Greece.

Short biography

Dominik Hangartner was born in Zug in 1981 and grew up in Lucerne. He studied economics at the University of Bern. After research stays at Harvard University, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of California in Berkeley, he concluded his doctorate in social sciences at the University of Bern in 2011. In the same year, he obtained an assistant professorship at the London School of Economics, where he was promoted to associate professor in 2013. In 2017 he moved to ETH Zurich.

His current position is associate professor for public policy at ETH Zurich and the London School of Economics as well as faculty co-director of the Immigration Policy Lab, which has branches at ETH Zurich and at Stanford University. Several of his projects have received SNSF funding. Between 2018 and 2022 he is project leader in the National Center of Competence in Research "On the move" of the SNSF. He has also been awarded a grant of the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant) and received the Philip Leverhulme Prize. Dominik Hangartner is married and lives in Zurich.

National Latsis Prize

The National Latsis Prize has been awarded annually since 1983 by the SNSF on behalf of the International Latsis Foundation, a Geneva-based non-profit organisation founded in 1975. The Prize is awarded to researchers in Switzerland who are under 40 years of age. Endowed with prize money of CHF 100,000, it is one of the highest scientific honours in Switzerland.

The 36th prize ceremony will be held on 16 January 2020 at the Rathaus in Bern. Media representatives can register by sending an email to: com [at] snf (p) ch