Research Awards

2020-2021 Faculty Research Grants

“Planning Wisconsin Elections in a Pandemic Crisis”

Barry Burden
Despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the November 2020 general election in Wisconsin was a remarkable success. Surveys of municipal clerks and the Wisconsin public show that both local election officials and voters adapted to the challenges of staffing polling places and unusually high demand for absentee ballots. Clerks found new financial and human resources to manage an historical large volume of absentee ballots while voters adopted new methods of requesting and casting ballots. At the same time, experiences in 2020 and opinions about elections vary tremendously between the least populous and most populous municipalities, suggesting that policy makers should set minimum statewide standards while also allowing larger communities to tailor operations to their needs of their communities. Read the full report: The Experiences of Municipal Clerks and the Electorate in the November 2020 General Election in Wisconsin.

“Preparing for Public Emergencies: Innovative Institutional Responses from the Schools: Experience, Assessment, and Recommendations for the Continuing Pandemic”

Molly Gerrish, Geoffrey Scheurman, Wanda Schlesser, David Trechter, Stephen Parliament, Angus McKechnie

The Survey Research Center at UW-River Falls surveyed administrators, teachers, and parents with children in K-12 schools to discover how they responded to the rapid switch to online teaching in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most respondents in all three groups agreed with the decision to move to a distance learning model, but substantial proportions were not satisfied with the academic progress of students during this time. The goal of the research was to identify what worked well for students and to look for differences by grade level. At all levels, teachers tended to feel most methods used to instruct their students were more effective than the parents of their students did. Students at the elementary school level, in particular, seemed to need as much one-on-one time with the teacher as possible. Parents felt more synchronous instruction and a more consistent schedule would be beneficial. Read the Assessing Online Learning Methods Used in Wisconsin During the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic report and summaries of parent and teacher feedback.

“Opening the Door to Backroom Politics: Local Government Digital Transparency and Privacy in Wisconsin”

Michael Hansen
The project sought to understand variance in government transparency and public policy information access on local level government websites in Wisconsin. In particular, the goal was to better understand why some local governments have a lack of democratic transparency, as well as to better understand the factors that are most closely associated with greater digital policy information promotion on policies that impact citizens daily lives. The project includes a deep-dive into local level government websites in the state of Wisconsin: 72 county, 190 city, 407 village, 440 school district, and 182 police department websites. The analysis finds that counties and school districts provide useful information for citizens. Cities, villages, and police departments provide significantly less information that is useful for citizens. Overall, information related to policing is severely lacking on relevant local government websites. Importantly, I find that a larger portion of elected women and Democratic partisanship is associated with greater public policy information. Learn about the report on COVID-19 information here.

“The Social Life of Covid-19 in Wisconsin and Minnesota: Fears, Uncertainties, Anxieties”

Paige Miller, Wesley Shrum
This study is the US wing of a larger NSF funded project taking place in 8 countries that examines the role of social, political, and economic context in shaping community responses to Covid-19. We will conduct interviews and surveys on healthcare professionals, educators and college students, and respondents working in the private sector.  The project will be useful in addressing the following questions: (1) What were respondents told to do/not do? (2) How do respondents assess the risk surrounding Covid19, as well as the effectiveness of different recommendations in terms of preventing spread? (3)  What precautions were taken and how frequently did respondents engage in them? (4) How burdensome were certain recommendations? (5) What might be the short and long-term consequences of responses to the disease? The answers to the above questions will provide policy makers important insights into the factors shaping public perceptions and reactions to pandemics, information necessary for crafting appropriate and effective responses.

“Small Cities’ Response to Public Emergencies”

Ismaila Odogba, Anna Haines, Doug Miskowiak
In an increasing interconnected world, how prepared are local governments to address public emergencies? Most of the existing systems/infrastructure in Wisconsin prioritize responding to natural phenomena or manmade actions (i.e., terrorism). The ongoing pandemic has made it evident that cities need to rethink their approach to local public health and emergency management policies. This project aims to assess the preparedness of small cities in the upper Midwest (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) as it relates to future public health challenges in addition to other public emergencies. The findings will make it possible for small cities to evaluate their reactive measures to the current pandemic, identify the adequacy of existing emergency policies, and detect good examples of proactive measures which public leadership can adapt to their localities. Read their phase 1 report, Small Cities’ Response to Public Emergencies.

“Reforming the Administrative State”

Susan Yackee, Jason Yackee
The policy making of government agencies is undeniably important to modern governance. Public agencies routinely make critical and legally binding decisions that affect the lives of Wisconsin’s residents and those in her sister states. Yet, we know surprisingly little about the quality and political responsiveness of state-level agency policy decision-making. The goal of our project is to generate an objective and extensive body of empirical evidence regarding state administrative policy making that can serve as a basis for designing informed and effective state-focused reform proposals. To do so, we will analyze a survey of 1,460 state-level agency leaders. These data will provide a new measure of state agency policy discretion, as well as new insights into the role of political oversight of the state rule making process. We will also collect a series of 40 interviews with state leaders that are designed to elicit reform ideas for the administrative state, especially with regard to state agency rule making.

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2019-2020: Improving Independence for People with Disabilities, Energy Future & Biomedical Technology

Improving Independence for People with Disabilities

“Transportation Accessibility for the Disabled in an Aging Population: Moving Wisconsin Forward by Creating a More Inclusive Community”

Cynthia Jasper, Michael Schlicting

The project team conducted a cost benefit analysis, numerous interviews, and literature review to identify transportation policy solutions for persons with ambulatory and visual disabilities. Case studies showed a heavy reliance on family and friends, along with limited access to public transit for elderly and disabled populations. In particular, many participants noted psychological reasons impacting accessibility, such as “fear of isolation” or being uncomfortable with groups of able-bodied people. The study noted that while accessibility of transportation is improving, difficulty in navigating the systems remains a constant theme, in addition to other concerns (i.e. accommodation of wheelchairs on buses, snow removal issues, and sitting arrangements at public transit stops).

“Empowering People with Cognitive Disabilities to Live Independently by Supporting Their Self-Management of Food and Related Expenses”

Susan McRoy, Apporv Prasad

This project team created new software for both phone and desktop computers to allow those with cognitive and independent living difficulties to 1) create shopping budgets, 2) plan meals and purchases of healthy foods, 3) create reminders for locating, obtaining, and preparing appealing meals, and 4) review past purchases and meal choices and share ideas with others, securely and privately. The goal of tools of this kind is to help users become more informed and encouraging them take control of their eating habits. Moreover, by improving independence and food security, food dollars can be utilized more wisely and health outcomes can be improved without requiring measures that are punitive in nature. Dr. McRoy and two students gave a poster presentation on this research at the 2020 American Medical Informatics Association Virtual Annual Symposium.


Jung-Hye Shin, Kevin Ponto

The goal of this project was to identify, document, and visualize everyday activities of older adults at home, common barriers that hinder their activities, and home modifications that can influence healthy behaviors. Biomarker and movement data was collected through a wristband called an E4, which shared data like heart rate, skin temperature, and contained a 3-axis accelerometer. The homes were also scanned using LiDAR in order to create computer models of participants’ homes. This data allowed researchers to compare in-home stresses and burdens with behaviors; in particular, housing professionals concerned about accessible housing can explore the life space of the participants and learn more about where common problems occur. The model also allows healthcare professionals to learn how older adults use their spaces and how to deploy home health care strategies in the best way possible. Preliminary findings were shared at a virtual presentation on June 22nd, 2020 at the 26th Conference International Association People-Environment, Quebec City, Canada. Dive into their research here.

“Improving Self-Determination of Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) in Wisconsin”

Satomie Shinde, Renátá Tichá, and Brian Abery

This study aimed to provide general and special education teachers as well as key staff at secondary schools in Wisconsin with a training curriculum for effectively supporting the self-determination of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the classroom. The project team provided participants (educators) from participating school districts with an initial assessment to understand the capacity of secondary teachers to support self-determination of students with IDD. The project team collected data and categorized them under self-determination themes such as goal-setting, decision and choice-making, and problem-solving. The assessment initially required face-to-face interaction between subjects and data collectors. However, the project team shifted to distance learning for data collection purposes due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wisconsin’s Energy Future

“Werewolf: Scenario Planning for the Wisconsin Energy System of 2050”

Michael Ferris, Josh Arnold, Adam Christensen, Andy Philpott

WEREWOLF (Wisconsin Expansion of Renewable Electricity with Optimization under Long-term Forecasts) is an independent, multi-year planning tool that provides data-driven cost and benefit information regarding investments and operation of the Wisconsin energy system of tomorrow. The project utilized available energy data sources and interviews to to develop a model that evaluates the impact of various policy options on the energy market and renewable energy generation levels around Wisconsin.

“Advanced Energy Manufacturing in Wisconsin”

Matt Jewell, Yan Li, Thomas Kemp, Kevin Crawford, Junjie Niu, and Brian Langolf

This report evaluated the market conditions for existing Wisconsin manufacturers to further develop products and processes to support green energy industries, identifying specific R&D opportunities to leverage existing capacities in meeting the current development requirements of the wind, solar, biogas, and lithium battery industries. Using a combination of NAICS industrial data and proprietary firm data scalable to the national level, the project evaluated the capacity of state manufacturers to participate in supply chains associated with wind and solar power. Utilizing Wisconsin’s traditional strengths in metalworking, plastics production, and high-precision machining, state manufacturers have the expertise and market position to expand their footprint into renewable and cleaner energy. The study recommends utilizing UW System researchers and foundations such as WARF to bring manufacturers and researchers together and solicit funding for new projects. Further, a task force within relevant industries could be helpful in identifying policy/regulatory changes for reducing barriers.

Biomedical Technology

“UW-Madison-Based Biomedical Technology “Think Tank” For Public Leadership in Advancing Biotechnology Innovation”

Allan Brasier, Jane Mahoney, Thomas Mackie, Mondira Saha-Muldowney

The project team conducted ten qualitative interviews in 2020 with representatives of academia, private industry, health systems, and advocacy organizations identify barriers and facilitators of collaborations between academic institutions and biomedical companies on pandemic public emergency technology. Collaborations focused development of masks, face shields, air purifying respirators, ventilator fixtures and COVID-19 testing solutions. Domains for analysis included process, product, collaboration, regulation, demand, people, financial, tools, and organization. Areas for improvement including aligning goals, recognizing the complexity of engineering, mitigating liability concerns, improving leadership and improving access to upfront capital. Listen to a podcast on their findings. An overview of their research can also be found here.

2018-2019: Future of Transportation & Prison to Work Initiatives

“Leadership, Communication Ecologies, Political Contention and Democratic Renewal Across Four Issues in Wisconsin”

Michael Wagner, Kathy Cramer, Lew Friedland, Karl Rohe, Bill Sethares, Dhavan Shah, and Chris Wells

This project examined ways in which leaders can stimulate openness and willingness to compromise across lines of partisan difference on four key important issues: prison-to-work initiatives, transportation reform, education and health care. This was conducted through a large public opinion survey of Wisconsin adults. Results show a majority of Wisconsinites responding agreed on a variety of issues (e.g. approval of various prison-to-work reforms, approval of fixing existing state roads, approval of nonpartisan redistricting, disapproval of lame-duck session legislation), even across partisan lines. Within the context of political compromise, respondents tended to trust the intentions of their own political party’s leader compared to the opposing party’s leader. Respondents with a more diverse news diet were less skeptical of bipartisan compromise, less likely to hold extreme partisan attitudes, and more likely to split their ticket when they vote. The results will be included in a forthcoming Cambridge University Press publication and journal articles.

Future of Transportation in Wisconsin

“Integrating Autonomous Vehicles into Transit Services for Shared Prosperity”

Madhav V. Chitturi, Chris McCahill, David Noyce, Yu Song

This project examined how transit agencies across Wisconsin can plan and prepare for integrating autonomous vehicles (AVs) into their systems to improve ridership, level of service, customer and operator safety at the same or smaller operating cost. The project led the team to develop new approaches for modeling future transit accessibility, including various land use, ridership, walkability, neighborhood benefit, and jobs impact. Through surveys and panels, and establishing relationships with metro agencies, researchers explored systems in the cities of Madison and Eau Claire for deploying and developing AV services, particularly in underserved communities. Results show that various scenarios can lead to positive benefits. Land use (e.g. parking, zoning) and safety assurance (e.g. ensuring a human operator is on board AVs) are key factors in initial stages of deployment. Downtown areas are optimal locations for pilot testing. Ultimately, the implementation of new systems requires reliability, especially with users who would use AVs.  Visit the Traffic Operations and Safety Lab and the State Smart Transportation Initiative for more on their research.

“Future Employee Transportation Planning for the Foxconn Development Site”

Cynthia Jasper, Michael Schlicting

The project team developed and evaluated transportation options for Foxconn employees based upon the 2017 contract between the company and the State of Wisconsin. The contract involved placement of a factory and 13,000 new employees in the small town of Mount Pleasant by 2022. The study examined projects of similar size (e.g. Denver, Austin, Washington DC, Silicone Valley, Japan) for benchmark comparison, along with state and federal data (e.g. housing stock, commute times) to evaluate prospective scenarios. Scenarios addressed road development, public transit, and affordable housing depending upon the number and type of employees Foxconn ultimately employs.

“Connecting Wisconsin of Tomorrow: Methods to Improve Public Mobility under Future Social, Economic and Technological Changes”

Jie Yu, Edward Beimborn, Shamsi Trisha, Xinyu Liu, Josie William

This project addressed the critical challenges facing many cities and communities in Wisconsin. The project team explored how to leverage technological breakthroughs to re-think and re-design future mobility services and enable smart and connected communities. Three separate phases of research were conducted, namely: 1) studying demographic, economic and technological trends; 2) identifying critical issues and MaaS strategies in different phases; and 3) designing the architecture and roadmap for a MaaS ecosystem in Wisconsin. The study designed concepts to address Wisconsin’s growing elderly population, low-income travelers, and smart phone use. The study identified the aging of the population, lack of public transport travel experience, limited smartphone service availability, municipal boundaries, limited local funding sources, transportation staff shortages, limited service capacity, and limited technical capabilities are key roadblocks to policy implementation. Strategies to overcome these roadblocks could include public-private partnerships, collaboration among governments, operational agreements, tailored service packages (e.g. customized information, consistency with user preferences, service bundling), user interface design, and implementing pilot projects to test effectiveness of mass transportation service solutions. Dr. Yu was awarded a $71,000 U.S. Department of Transportation grant to further explore the mobility needs of older adults in Wisconsin and her research team was a Foxconn Smart Cities-Smart Futures competition finalist. This research was presented at the 2019 Wisconsin Public Transportation Association Annual Conference and the 2020 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. Exploring the Feasibility of Mobility as a Service in Small Urban and Rural Communities: Lessons from a Case Study was published in the Journal of Urban Planning and Development. A full report on their findings can be found here.

Prison to Work Initiatives

“Can Second Chances for Inmates Work for Wisconsin?”

Andra Ghent, Arpita Patnaik

The US Department of Education implemented the Second Chance Pell (SCP) pilot program in 2015.  The SCP program permits inmates to pursue postsecondary education. This project evaluated whether increasing inmates access to higher education through the SCP pilot program reduces recidivism. Using a difference-in-difference (DiD) methodology, researchers compared recidivism rates for eligible and ineligible populations. Results showed there is a decrease in 18 month recidivism rates where prisoners had access to SCP relative to those who did not have access. The decrease in recidivism could save Wisconsin millions of dollars per year.

“Jobs. Skills and the Prison-to-Work Transition”

Junjie Guo, Ananth Seshadri, and Christopher Taber

The goal of this research was to identify which types of skill investment in prisoners would lead to a successful prison-to-work transition. The researchers used county level quarterly data on prisoner admission, prisoner release, parole supervision, and new hires by skill and industry in Wisconsin to study the effect of industry-and-skill-specific employment opportunities at the time of release on recidivism. The results showed that low-skill construction jobs (e.g. carpenters, construction laborers) are effective workforce placements for former inmates that reduce recidivism rates. Using O*NET data, lists of skills needed for a number of low-skill construction jobs are listed as possible areas of focus for prisoner training programs that may help achieve successful prison-to-work transitions.

“An Assessment of a Vocational Training Program to Prepare Wisconsin’s Prison Population for Skilled Employment”

Tina Freiburger, Rebecca Konkel

The project team surveyed incarcerated persons regarding factors impacting their recidivism rates to better understand why 75% of incarcerated persons released from prison are reincarcerated within 3 years. This project evaluated two Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining technical education programs for incarcerated individuals in Wisconsin to address their efficacy and impact on the employment outcomes and recidivism for participants. The project used treatment groups of individuals currently or previously enrolled in CNC programs at Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Institution (Ellsworth) and Racine Correctional Institute (RCI) through surveys, focus groups, and data provided by Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WIDOC) and Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (CCAP). Statistics show a strong correlation between employment and remaining crime-free. Survey responses collected by the project team support the expectation of inmates that employment will be associated with decreases in recidivism rates. Moreover, reducing discrimination, stigma and pay-wage gaps upon reentry can help former inmates secure meaningful employment and reduce recidivism rates.

“The Milwaukee Re-Entry Alliance Project”

David J. Pate, Jr.

The objective of this qualitative research project was to understand services for returning incarcerated persons in transitioning back effectively into their communities. The study population was largely Black males in Milwaukee.  As many as 60% of those who are released from prison will go back to prison, while 50% of Black males in Milwaukee have been incarcerated during their prime working years. Within this context, the project explored the delivery mechanisms, policies, and systems that impact the quality of life of these individuals and their ability to achieve self-sufficiency. The project disseminated, collected, and processed evaluative surveys from reentry service providers related to programming, capacity, impact, and their influence by funding. Providers found there is a need for additional funding to provide services, as well as improve relationships with probation officers, change the amount of time services available for returning citizens, and a need for more coordination of services for reentry. Returning citizens and providers would benefit from policies that improve or require pre-release programs, increased access to health services, and improve coordination of social service providers with the corrections system. Dr. Pate’s team received a $1 million grant in support of his work with the Milwaukee Re-Entry Alliance through the Wisconsin Partnership Program.