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Market design offers a novel scientific approach to policymaking with the potential to transform the social sciences and public policy. It is an interdisciplinary field that combines insights from game theory, experimental economics, computer science, and operations research with domain-specific expertise from the environmental sciences, the financial sector, law, etc. It follows an innovative reverse-engineering methodology that takes the goal rather than the institution as given. In other words, market design starts from a clearly specified objective and asks what institution can best implement it. Market design is transformative in that it breaks with the centuries-long tradition in the social sciences of studying existing institutions and instead proposes to engineer – that is to design, test, and build – new ones.

AGORA means market as well as meeting place in Greek. The AGORA center is the successor of the ESEI (Engineering Social and Economic Institutions) group that was based in Zurich between 2010 and 2015 and was funded by grants from the European Research Council and the Swiss National Science Foundation. As of mid 2016, the ESEI group has "gone down under" and reemerged as a broader, more interdisciplinary, and more geographically dispersed group.  The focus at AGORA is to solve major open design problems and to gain an improved understanding of new mechanisms for auctions, trading, matching, voting, social learning and networking. The aim is to advance our scientific knowledge and to provide practitioners with implementations that have been thoroughly tested in the laboratory. The combination of mechanism design and wind tunnel testing defines our “engineering” approach to the design of better social and economic institutions.