Research Awards

2020-2021 Faculty Research Grants

“Planning Wisconsin Elections in a Pandemic Crisis”

Barry Burden
This proposal tackles three specific concerns about the Wisconsin election system that have been that have become unavoidably acute during the COVID-19 pandemic: local administrative capacity, supply of poll workers, and the need for physical voting locations. Working with relevant stakeholders, the study will conduct a survey of the state’s municipal clerks, a survey of the state’s residents, and analysis of official voting data and polling place locations. Reports on all three concerns will help to inform policy makers and election officials as they prepare for conducting effective elections in emergency situations.

“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 goal of this research project is to identify best practices for online and other forms of alternative educational delivery. The Covid-19 pandemic is inflicting a devastating tragedy across the United States and around the world. The impact on personal lives is immediate and obvious and we applaud the Thompson Center for focusing resources on this critical issue. As an institution dedicated to the training of our future teachers, we are more than concerned that a whole generation of young people is being threatened with the diminishment of our schools. This is not an idle academic research endeavor. We need to quickly and thoughtfully need to (1) understand how our dedicated teachers and administrators of Wisconsin’s public schools at all levels responded over the past few months as our schools were forced to close, (2) evaluate what alternatives to face-to-face instruction worked and what did not, and (3) make informed and innovative recommendations for the possible continuation of school closure in the future.

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

Michael Hansen
This research seeks to understand variance in government transparency, public policy information access, and data privacy on local level government websites in Wisconsin. In particular, the primary goal is 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 will involve a deep-dive into local level government websites in the state of Wisconsin: all 72 county, 190 city, 407 village, 1,255 town, and 440 school district websites. In addition, surveys will be conducted with local level officials in leadership positions in order to better understand how officials view their role in ensuring citizen privacy while promoting effective government.

“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.

“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 Faculty Research Grants

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

Allan Brasier, Jane Mahoney, Thomas Mackie
Listen to a podcast on their findings. An overview of their research can also be found here.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison can play an increasingly vital role in the processes of invention, innovation, and commercialization. However, substantial and largely unappreciated obstacles prevent UW discoveries from efficiently driving innovations in biotechnology and the medical industry. This project advances a model where UW Health and UW Madison develops evidence-based recommendations to facilitate public leadership’s guidance in developing academic-industry biomedical partnerships. We will first hold a one-day Biomedical Technology Symposium to address knowledge gaps between UW System scientists and the medical industry. This information will be used to develop systematic discussion among relevant stakeholders in seeding a “Think Tank” to identify the barriers to biomedical technology start-ups in Wisconsin and develop actionable policies to support start-ups and accelerate biomedical technologies statewide.  The outcome will be a collection of resources, and a consensus that will educate state legislators, medical societies, and UW leadership about actionable policies and develop sustained public leadership.

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

Michael Ferris

Werewolf (Wisconsin Expansion of Renewable Electricity with Optimization under Long-term Forecasts) is an independent, multi-year planning tool that will provide data driven cost and benefit information regarding investments and operation of the Wisconsin energy system of tomorrow. It engages state of the art computing, data science technology and economic principles to provide cost estimates and scenarios for strategic investments in new energy technologies that will be flexible to the uncertainties of a rapidly changing energy landscape.  Werewolf will be informed by a policy brief, interviews and interactions with the Public Service Commission and other legislative bodies, and data developed using tools from the WID optimization group.  The project is intended to help explore the policy settings to achieve, say, 95% renewable electricity generation, estimate the effects of such policies on the state economy and co-benefits, such as impacts on national or grid security, job creation or public health.

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

Cynthia Jasper

Transportation is fundamental to an individual’s ability to live and work. According to the US Census, in 2018 over 6.4% of Wisconsin’s workforce were classified with an ambulatory disability. With the aging Baby Boomer Generation, the percentage of Wisconsin’s population with an ambulatory disability is likely to grow significantly. When combined with evolving transportation technologies, such as ride hailing and autonomous cars; the result is that Wisconsin’s transportation needs will be changing dramatically over the next decades. Therefore, the overall goal of this study is to create recommendations for policy regarding present and future transportation issues for those facing ambulatory and visual disabilities. This study will be in the form of a cost benefit analysis which will include the identification of issues and will recommend practical solutions for policy makers to use in the future.

“Advanced Energy Manufacturing in Wisconsin”

Matt Jewell

The transition from fossil fuel energy sources to advanced renewable sources is well underway in Wisconsin, but at present Wisconsin manufacturers are not optimally positioned to integrate themselves into the supply chain for advanced energy generation technologies such as wind, solar, and biogas, along with energy storage technologies such as lithium-based batteries. This report evaluated the market conditions for existing Wisconsin manufacturers to further develop products and processes to support green energy industries, and we identify specific R&D opportunities to leverage existing capacity and capabilities to meet the current development requirements of the wind, solar, biogas, and lithium battery industries. Global climate change will require changes in how we produce energy. At the same time, recent geopolitical events combined with the COVID-19 outbreak is certain to lead to a reevaluation of global supply chains. Taken in combination, it is likely that market and policy changes will create significant opportunities for the domestic manufacture of the components associated with the production of ‘green’ energy. Using a combination of NAICS industrial data and proprietary firm data, that is scalable to the national level, we determine the real capacity for Wisconsin State manufacturers to participate in the component supply chain associated with wind and solar power. We find that there exists significant untapped manufacturing capacity that could be utilized in the relatively short term if required and if opportunity costs are deemed appropriate. We also address bridgeable capacity gaps and workforce-related issues.

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

Susan McRoy

In Wisconsin, over 200,000 adults have “Cognitive difficulty” and over 220,000 have “Independent living difficulty.” These challenges make it difficult for people to balance the essential tasks of money management, shopping, and preparing healthy meals. As a result, they risk poor diet, worsened health, and threatened independence. This project will help by creating new software for both phone and desktop computers  to allow people to 1) create a shopping budget 2) plan meals and purchases of healthy foods 3) create reminders for locating, obtaining and preparing foods into appealing meals and 4) review past purchases and meal choices and share their ideas with others. The software will keep personal data secure and private. The proposed project will empower those with cognitively impairments to continue to live independently by answering essential life questions, including “What can I eat today?”, “Where is it?”, and “What food should I buy?”

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

AgeInPlace is a project jointly funded by the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership and the UW-Madison Graduate School. Our primary goal was to identify, document, and visualize everyday activities of older adults at home, common barriers that hinders their activities, and how home modification done to these homes influence health related behaviors. To this end, our research team employed a set of cutting edge technology including 3D scanning, tracking biomarkers, as well as multiple housing accessibility assessment tools completed by trained assessors. Housing accessibility is no longer an individual medical issue but a public health challenge. With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day, 40% of American households will have someone with disability in less than 15 years. In contrast, only 1% of American houses are ready to accommodate their needs. Large legislative efforts to establish accessibility standards tend to exclude single-family homes, leaving the matter to market-driven forces while the educational sector has been slow to raise awareness amongst future housing professionals, who will eventually lead the market. It is necessary to invest in generating research evidence, innovation in housing policy, generating housing design guidelines that will feed into educating current and future housing professionals. The older adults’ life at home is extremely important in understanding many critical health care issues at home but is incredibly difficult to access for researchers to study. Our research team tracked older adults’ location, movement, activities, biomarkers, functional independence, and life satisfaction for 24~48 hours before and after the home modification. This complex data set is then overlaid and visualized with 3D scanned homes. Following the footsteps of older adults for a day or two gives us good insights into their everyday struggles, which may not be easy for people without disabilities to imagine. Dive into their research here.

“Improving self-determination of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in Wisconsin”

Satomie Shinde

Existing studies show a correlation between self-determination and post-school outcomes of students with IDD, suggesting that supporting the development of those capacities know to enhance self-determination has the potential to promote independence and a higher quality of life in future. The current study aims to provide general and special education teachers as well as key staff at secondary schools in Wisconsin with a training curriculum on how to effectively support self-determination in the classroom. To evaluate program impact, project staff will assess changes on the part of participating teachers in their knowledge, skills, and attitudes/beliefs supportive of self-determination as well as self-determination capacities and levels of self-determination of secondary students with IDD and those in the transition programs (18-21-year-olds) before and after the teacher trainings. Multiple sources of data will be collected, and findings shared with and disseminated to multiple organizations.

2018-2019 Faculty Research Grants

“Integrating Autonomous Vehicles into Transit Services for Shared Prosperity”

David Noyce

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are expected to be widely available in a decade if not sooner, with far reaching ramifications. A data-driven, scientific approach to develop policies for integrating AVs into transit services can provide an unprecedented opportunity to build more equitable, healthy, adaptive, resilient, inclusive and sustainable urban systems of the future. This project proposes to examine how transit agencies across Wisconsin can plan and prepare for integrating AVs into their services to improve ridership, level of service, customer and operator safety at the same or smaller operating cost. The research team will engage multiple communities and transit agencies across Wisconsin through meetings and surveys, identify opportunities for new or supplemental transit systems using AVs, and quantify how that service could affect communities’ access to important opportunities such as jobs, schools, health services or healthy food. Potential effects on household transportation costs, property values, and health impacts will also be examined.

“Can Second Chances for Inmates Work for Wisconsin?”

Andra Ghent

Our project will evaluate the effects of the Second Chance Pell pilot program on the outcomes of Wisconsin inmates. The US Department of Education announced the Second Chance Pell pilot program on July 7, 2015. The program, now in its third year of operation, permits inmates to pursue postsecondary education from behind bars. Milwaukee Area Technical College is one of a select group of institutions invited by the Department of Education to participate in the Second Chance Pell experiment. To control for non-random selection into postsecondary education by inmates, we will use difference-in-difference and regression discontinuity methodologies to assess how the program affects the release dates and recidivism rates.

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

Junjie Guo

20% of Wisconsin inmates released in 2015 recidivated and returned to prison in 2016. The high rate of recidivism not only raises the prison costs but also reduces the size of the civilian labor force. To inform policies that reduce recidivism and increase employment, this project attempts to answer two questions: (1) what kind of jobs are most effective in reducing recidivism and increasing employment for ex-prisoners? And (2) what kind of skills do ex-prisoners need to improve to secure and succeed in those jobs? We will analyze three datasets on skills, occupations and incarceration and review the literature evaluating the effectiveness of labor market programs in improving different skills. The ultimate goal is to identify the set of jobs that are most effective for a successful prison-to-work transition and the set of skills required by those jobs that ex-prisoners can acquire at a low cost. A full report of their findings can be found here.

“Future Employee Transportation Planning for the Foxconn Development Site”

Cynthia Jasper

This study is an examination into consumer and employee issues and future needs of passenger transportation planning for the Foxconn plant, located in Mount Pleasant, for Foxconn employees and other businesses that may develop around the Foxconn site. It encompasses the cost-benefits of options across the complete spectrum that include transportation options ranging from private automobiles, commuter rail, bus transit, van pools, car pool matches, and employer operated vans and buses. It will also include a recommendation of how Wisconsin can prepare for these transportation changes with an emphasis on increasing public transit to the Foxconn site.

This study will also include workers with disabilities and workers from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds and will lend insights into their transportation needs. This work will serve as a model to spur economic development by looking for the right mix of innovations and community development in order to spur continued economic development in Wisconsin.

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

Tina Freiburger and Rebecca Konkel

Correctional rehabilitation, as a professional practice and a scientific study, has been plagued with the belief that it is difficult or impossible to improve the life chances of returning prisoners. Although little empirical evidence exists on the efficacy of employment programs for incarcerated persons, there are a number of promising programs/interventions that are preparing returning prisoners for employment. Our project will include a process and outcome evaluation of two Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining technical education certificate programs for incarcerated individuals in Wisconsin to assess their efficacy and impact on the employment outcomes and recidivism for participants. These programs have the potential to expand the skilled workforce in Wisconsin and enhance public safety by decreasing recidivism rates of returning prisoners. Furthermore, results of these evaluations will be used to develop “best practices” in improving existing programs and to provide concrete information for policy-makers, practitioners, and applied researchers here in Wisconsin.

“The Milwaukee Re-Entry Alliance Project”

David Pate

The objective of this exploratory audit design phase of the Milwaukee Reentry Alliance Project was to educate and mobilize stakeholders who affect returning incarcerated citizens’ transitions back to their community by exploring the delivery mechanisms, policies, and systems that impact the quality of life of these individuals and their ability to achieve self-sufficiency. Under the guidance of a Principal Investigator, the Alliance will disseminate, collect, and process evaluative surveys from reentry service providers related to programing, capacity, impact, and how these are influenced by funding.  The goal is to use this data to drive the realignment of the existing reentry services landscape so that it is at scale with the risk-need responsivity of Milwaukee’s returning population.

After receiving the Thompson Center Faculty Research Grant, Dr. Pate received a $1 million grant in support of his work with the Milwaukee Re-Entry Alliance through the Wisconsin Partnership Program.

“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

Wisconsin politics have been a microcosm of divisions around the nation. Our project seeks to assemble, model, and analyze a comprehensive communication ecology of a regional socio-political geography for the first time — in our case, Wisconsin.  We are examining 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. In the spring of 2019, we will conduct a major public opinion survey of Wisconsin adults to tap attitudes about the above issues, pay for graduate student research assistance and convene a bi-partisan board of advisors.

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

Jie Yu

Major demographic and societal economic changes are likely to have significant effects on the mobility needs of Wisconsin citizens in the next two decades. At the same time, future technological breakthroughs may help overcome many of the obstacles to seamless mobility. This project addresses the critical challenges facing many cities and communities in Wisconsin: how to leverage the technological breakthroughs to re-think and re-design future mobility services and enable smart and connected communities. We envision an ambitious “Wisconsin Mobility as a Service” (WMaaS) platform and examine its feasibility in realizing the envisioned WMaaS. Specifically, we will analyze existing mobility integration projects to gain insights and identify key elements that lead to successful integration; examine how emerging data on travel patterns, user preferences, and activity-travel constraints can be used to improve system efficiency of transport operators; and finally explores how WMaaS could affect mainstream transportation in Wisconsin.

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.

In 2020, Dr. Yu was awarded a $71,000 U.S. Department of Transportation grant to further explore the mobility needs of older adults in Wisconsin. Her team was also chosen as a recipient of Foxconn’s Smart Cities-Smart Futures competition in 2019.