About Us

Meet the Team
J. Michael Collins, PhD

J. Michael Collins J. “Michael” Collins founded PolicyLab in 2004. Collins studies consumer decision-making in the financial marketplace, including the role of public policy in influencing credit, savings, and investment choices. He is recognized nationally as an expert on policies and programs related to consumer finance and financial literacy. Collins has extensive experience leading evaluations and conducting applied research, and has contributed to the development of programs aimed at improving households’ financial security.

In addition to his work at PolicyLab, Collins serves as the faculty director of the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is an Associate Professor at the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the School of Human Ecology. He is a faculty affiliate of the UW-Extension, Cooperative Extension and the Institute for Research on Poverty. He is currently involved in studies of mortgage foreclosure and family well-being supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation, financial coaching supported by the Annie E. Casey foundation, and emergency savings policies for the C.S. Mott Foundation. His academic research and presentations are available here.

Collins directed the Social Security Administration’s Financial Literacy Research Consortium site at Wisconsin (2009-2012). He brings a decade of applied experience to his research. In addition to founding PolicyLab, he co-founded MortgageKeeper Referral Services, an online database for mortgage servicers and counselors. He has also worked for NeighborWorks America (Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation) and the Millennial Housing Commission. He holds a PhD from Cornell University, a master’s degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a BS from Miami University (OH).

Collin O’Rourke

Collin O’Rourke has worked with PolicyLab since 2009. O’Rourke has a range of experience managing applied studies and has collaborated with the PolicyLab team over several projects. He specializes in applied research and program evaluation.

Outside of PolicyLab, O’Rourke is a research specialist at the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In that capacity, he manages the development and testing of programs in the fields of financial education, coaching, and counseling. He currently manages a randomized trial of financial education involving more than 2,000 students in 25 schools. At the Center, O’Rourke has played a central role in project development, survey design and implementation, data collection, administration, and reporting.

In 2009 and 2010, O’Rourke served as the youngest member of the Lake County, IL and Lake County Forest Preserve District Boards. He served on the County Board’s Planning, Building and Zoning Committee as well as the Public Building Commission. He was a member of the Forest Preserve District’s Education, Cultural Resources, and Public Affairs Committee. O’Rourke has also worked as the case study manager for 80,000 Hours, an applied research center at the University of Oxford, where he conducted research and led one-on-one coaching sessions with career advice applicants.

O’Rourke holds a master’s degree in public affairs with an emphasis in policy analysis and program evaluation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also completed his BA. His research has appeared in the Journal of Consumer Affairs, Journal of Financial Therapy, and Journal of Extension, and he has presented at national conferences including the Assets Learning Conference, Mentoring Conference, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “New Research on Sustainable Mortgages and Access to Credit.” He won the U.S. Treasury’s MyMoneyAppUp IdeaBank Contest in 2012. A copy of his CV is available here.


PolicyLab forms partnerships with independent consultants or firms in order to provide the highest level of expertise to projects. Please contact us if you are interested in working with PolicyLab.