Fostering Research, Practical Answers

The GW Institute of Public Policy explores issues of interest to both the scholar and the layman.

By Zak M. Salih

How do a state’s policies affect its cities? Researchers at GW’s Institute of Public Policy (GWIPP) recently undertook an extensive research project to uncover any correlation between the administration of state government policies and the health of a particular city. With funding from the Fannie Mae Foundation, they looked at particular changes in per capita income, crime rates, unemployment rates, and housing affordability of 300 American cities between 1990 and 2000 and examined the states’ role in these changes. When states were sensitive to city needs—Seattle, Portland, and Durham among them—the cities tended to do better.

“We created a model, a method for predicting results that allowed us to see how cities should have fared given what we knew about them, so we knew how they actually did and how they should have done,” explains Hal Wolman, professor of political science, public policy and public administration, and international affairs, and director of the institute.

This project is just one example of the wide range of public policy-related issues GWIPP explores. Established in 2000 and coordinated by GW’s School of Public Policy and Public Administration, the institute devotes its energies to being a local center for graduate students and faculty engaging in extensive research in the field of public policy.

The institute’s conception came about as a way of further taking advantage of GW’s position in the public policy realm, given the University’s prime location in the heart of the nation’s capital. “If we focused, we could actually attract greater attention and encourage faculty to pursue public policy research, particularly externally funded public policy research, more actively,” says Wolman.

GWIPP focuses on research with a direct contribution to knowledge and scholarship as well as practical life. These projects concentrate on the following areas: economic policy studies; homeland security; land use, planning, and growth management; policy research methods; social policy; state and local fiscal policy; urban policy; and Washington area studies.

Hal Wolman

Julie Woodford

For Wolman, what makes the institute crucial to the environment at GW is the way its founding principle of performing good public policy-related research fits in with the University’s broader academic mission. “We’ve created an important niche in the research environment as well as within the University,” he says. “We’re conducting research in a way that coordinates with the educational programs of GW graduate students.”

“We definitely speak to issues of concern to academics and we publish in the appropriate academic journals to speak to that audience,” remarks Research Scientist Garry D. Young. “But at the same time, most of our research has a lot of practical implications for practitioners, politicians, activists, and regular citizens.”

The institute also offers the Policy Research Scholar program to encourage policy research by GW faculty. The selected scholars write proposals for externally funded public policy research in exchange for a summer stipend or course releases, in addition to research support from the institute. Policy Research Scholars from 2006-07 include Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Public Administration Dylan Conger, who is working on a project titled “Immigrant Incorporation,” and Professor of Law Cynthia Lee, who is studying ways to reduce racial bias through jury instructions.

Given the wide range of public policy subjects, the potential for focused research projects seems limitless. Doug Hess, a doctoral student at the School of Public Policy and Public Administration, currently is involved in a project with other researchers analyzing the partnerships between city governments and leaders from the business and non-profit sectors. A focal point of Hess’ research is to understand partnership conflicts and how to improve them.

“Partnerships do not always settle on an agenda that favors the broader interests of the city,” he says. “We hope lessons we learn from our studies can have an impact both on scholarship examining the politics of economic development and urban governance as well as on improving the actual management of these partnerships.”

Garry D. Young

Jessica McConnell

Young is undertaking two additional projects, each with its own specific impact on public policy. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, he is studying bicycling assets in the Washington area. He explains, “The results of the project will provide practical guidance for those interested in encouraging their local communities to develop active living policies such as providing integrated biking networks.

Young’s other project examines the District’s lack of representation in Congress to “provide one of the first-ever sets of findings on the substantive policy effects that the lack of representation has had on the District” and give some input on future debates over D.C. statehood.

With topics ranging from the repeat offenses of ex-cons and welfare programs to property taxes and urban sprawl, the diversity of GWIPP’s research topics and the breadth of its support aids in exposing faculty and graduate students to untapped resources and ideas.

“You can often get more depth,” Hess says of the help the institute has lent to his own research. “[The institute] helps by introducing you to scholarship outside of the classroom. Research covered in courses is often only discussed for 30 or 40 minutes before you must move on to the next author, theme, or problem. Working on policy research, however, allows you to spend a semester or a year on a more narrowly defined topic.”

A Sampling of Current Research Projects at GWIPP

Soft Metrics for Critical Infrastructure Protection

Surveys how Americans rank national landmarks in terms of importance, and determines how to measure the impact of a terrorist attack on public perception.

Funding Source: Homeland Security Institute

Promoting Bicycling in Three Metropolitan Washington Counties

Studies the different levels of bicycling facilities in Arlington County and Fairfax County, Va., and Montgomery County, Md.

Funding Source: Active Learning Research; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

What Happens After Manufacturing Jobs Disappear? Non-manufacturing Alternatives for Industrial Regions

Focuses on U.S. metropolitan areas that had concentrations of manufacturing jobs above the national average in 1990 and that lost manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2005.

Funding Source: Sloan Foundation

The Ingredients for Successful and Vibrant Cities

Studies the ingredients that go into making a city successful, and what public policy processes, investment strategies, and political actions are required to support those ingredients for city success.

Funding Source: CEOs for Cities

The Effect of State Policy on Urban Performance

Charts the effect of state government policy on the well-being of residents within major cities.

Funding Source: The Fannie Mae Foundation

What Difference Does Representation Make?

Considers and evaluates forms of District representation and their impact on policy benefits, fiscal allocation, the symbolic importance of representation, and other areas.

Funding Source: Trellis Foundation

Back Home from Prison: Understanding Why Offenders Recidivate

Examines which factors influence the likelihood of recidivating on both the individual and neighborhood level.

Funding Source: Smith Richardson Foundation

Job-Centered Welfare: Review and Planning for UK/US Exchange

Explores the trans-atlantic connections between the British welfare reform program “Jobcentre Plus” and the American “One Stop” employment services centers.

Funding Source: Rockefeller Foundation

State Corporate Income Tax: Can (and Should) It Be Saved?

Assesses the role of corporate income tax within the state finance system.

Funding Source: American Tax Policy Institute

Incidence of the Property Tax

Focuses on the varying role and significance of property tax in funding state and local government services.

Funding Source: National Center for Real Estate Research

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