New Zealand as a social laboratory




Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi, Te Pūnaha Matatini, the University of Auckland Faculty of Arts


Peter Davis, Roy Lay-Yee, Martin von Randow, Kevin Chang


The principal objective was to use existing data to create a dynamic representation of New Zealand society in which virtual experiments on matters of policy and substantive interest could be conducted. The period was 1981 to 2006, and a series of virtual experiments were conducted. The project built on an existing programme of research conducted over the last decade at COMPASS, as can be seen from the main microsimulation page.

This project extended the microsimulation methodology to the unique New Zealand Longitudinal Census product, enabling simulation of the entire life span starting from the cross-sectional New Zealand population from 1981. With our inquiry system operational spanning the life course, we were able to incorporate and interrogate significant issues of policy, scientific, and public interest.

The principal outcome from the project is the 2019 publication Simulating societal change: Counterfactual modelling for social and policy inquiry.


Davis P, Lay-Yee R. SociaLab: A census-based simulation tool for public policy inquiry. COMPASS seminar, 5 April 2019, see the presentation slides.

Davis P, Lay-Yee R. Simulating Societal Change: Counterfactual Modelling for Social and Policy Inquiry. Springer Nature, 2019. (Book)

The source code for the simulation package can be found at

The visualisation tool can be found at with the source code at

"SociaLab -  A Census-Based Simulation Tool for Public Policy Inquiry", presented by Professor Peter Davis. UNRISD and Global Health Centre, Graduate Institute. Geneva, January 31st 2019. Watch the presentation.