Research Awards

2023–2024 Faculty Research Grants

Citizen Representation in Wisconsin Energy Policy: An Analysis of State and Local Advocacy on the Line 5 Project

Amber N. Lusvardi, PhD

The political battle over the Keystone XL Pipeline that ended with a canceled permit by the Biden administration showed the potential power of contentious politics in pipeline negotiations. While the Keystone project stalled, others moved forward, including a project to reroute an Enbridge oil pipeline around tribal lands in Northern Wisconsin. This action engaged Wisconsin residents in a debate on the sustainability of fossil fuel projects and the long-term plan for Wisconsin’s future. In this project, I analyze citizen advocacy in local and state government contexts during the approval process for Enbridge for the Line 5 pipeline expansion. I use text analysis of public meeting transcripts, correspondence with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and other public documents to analyze the nature of contention around the pipeline. This project seeks to expand our knowledge of the relationship between the public and state and local actors on a controversial energy policy and the nature of the public’s reticence over new oil projects.

Post-Pandemic Student Challenges at Wisconsin Campuses: Exploring the role that third places take in student engagement and motivation to learn, sense of community, and emotional well-being

Julie E. Peterson, PhD
UW – Stout

Since the pandemic, students have been faced with challenges such as effectively transitioning back into the physical classroom, being engaged and motivated to learn, experiencing a sense of classroom community (SCC) and belonging, and having an increased prevalence of emotional well-being issues. Many Wisconsin universities have also experienced even tighter budgets since the pandemic with limited funding to support infrastructure upgrades. The primary research question of this exploratory study is to determine if student access and use of alternative environments on campuses, such as third places, affect engagement & motivation to learn, overall sense of classroom community, and post-pandemic emotional well-being. Findings from this study will inform the UW-System and administration on which infrastructure typologies and other environments best support the post-pandemic college student. Information gained will also be used to assist in projecting the needs of future students with the goal of sustaining, and ideally growing, university enrollments.

What local & state taxes have citizens of Oshkosh paid since the 1830s?

Gabriel Loiacono, PhD
UW -Oshkosh

When the United States was founded, local taxes were by far the biggest that Americans paid. At the same time, they were the least controversial. This remained true as new United States towns were established, including in Wisconsin Territory. This study will trace the history of local taxation in Oshkosh from the 1830s on. It will focus on:

1) how much residents paid,

2) how local taxes compared to territorial and state taxes, and

3) what local taxes paid for. In 2023, local and state revenue sharing was at the center of Wisconsin lawmakers’ attention.

This study, a long history of local taxation in one Wisconsin city, can provide perspective on how Wisconsinites have raised and spent revenue over time.

The Nonprofit Sector in Rural Wisconsin: Moving Towards Collective Impact

Micheal R. Ford
UW – Oshkosh

The purpose of this project is to use data and cases from Wisconsin to create best practices on how local government can build and execute nonprofit collective impact initiatives that address pressing economic and social needs in rural Wisconsin. The project includes three deliverables:

1) A county-level, interactive data tool for the nonprofit sector in Wisconsin, providing accessible, up-to-date county level nonprofit and community needs data;

2) A research-based “best practices” guide that outlines how rural local government leaders can maximize the collective impact of their local nonprofit sector. The guide will include case studies and strategies for overcoming likely barriers; and

3) Our team will travel to multiple municipalities throughout Wisconsin to present the best practices guide and interactive data tool, further advancing nonprofit leader capacities in rural Wisconsin.

How to Respond to Uncertainty and Pushback During Health Crises: A Guide for Wisconsin Political Leaders and Public Health Care Officials

Phil Clampitt, Ph.D.
UW – Green Bay

The purpose of this exploratory research is to look back at the COVID response and identify lessons learned about properly managing pushback during times of health care uncertainty. By conducting targeted interviews with prominent media health care commentators, Wisconsin political leaders, and academic health care experts, we seek to:

1) identify major quandaries faced by public officials and health care workers in Wisconsin when communicating to the public,

2) evaluate Wisconsin policies and heuristics for managing the uncertainties associated with any unknown health threats,

3) pinpoint lessons learned from those tasked with communicating about the uncertainties associated with health information and related pushback[i], and

4) ascertain the questions that remain to be answered to craft better policy guidelines for communicating to Wisconsin citizens about future, uncertain health threats.

[i] N. Ron, R. Lipshitz, and M. Popper, “How Organizations Learn:  Post-Flight Reviews in an F-16 Fighter Squadron.” Organization Studies 27 (8) 2006: 1069-1089

Communicating Quality & Building Confidence in Wisconsin Drinking Water

Manny Teodoro
UW – Madison

This project analyzes drinking water choices and attitudes about water utilities in small communities. Wisconsin’s hundreds of small drinking water systems present an important challenge: 84 percent of the state’s water utilities serve fewer than 10,000 residents. These communities often lack the capacity to maintain high-quality service. This study will deploy public opinion surveys in two similar, small Wisconsin communities: one high-performing system and one average performing system. Working with UW’s Survey Center, we will gather data on attitudes and behaviors toward drinking water from residents of both communities. A communications experiment will be embedded in the survey: some residents will receive the federally mandated Safe Drinking Water Act Consumer Confidence Report, while others will receive a comprehensive UW report card on their utility’s performance. The results of this research will yield important evidence about rural Wisconsinites’ trust in drinking water and the effects of communication strategies on public confidence.


Past Research Awards

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2022-2023: Rural Wisconsin and Modernizing WI Education

2022–2023 Faculty Research Grants

Modernizing the Local Government Workforce in Wisconsin: A Next Generation Initiative

Michael R. Ford and Samantha J. Larson
Full Report

Human capital is both the most important, and most expensive, resource in Wisconsin local government. As of the 2020 U.S. Census, there were 183,066 fulltime state and local government employees serving throughout the state. They range from the administrators overseeing the operations of incorporated municipalities, to the front-line workers responsible for public safety, sanitation, and public works. The quality of our local governments is directly related to the quality of the public servants working within each agency. Yet, there remains limited study of how best to train, recruit, and lead local government employees in a changing political and economic landscape in Wisconsin. The purpose of this proposed research initiative is to provide a roadmap for recruiting, training, and managing a modern public sector workforce. We specifically explore three major changes impacting human capital in Wisconsin. First, the Wisconsin State Legislature’s 2011 Act 10 fundamentally changed the relationship between employees and municipal management. Second, there is significant turnover and staffing shortages in positions throughout Wisconsin. Third, there are increasing demands to make equity an actionable concept in local government by diversifying the workforce. Our team will engage with each of Wisconsin’s 677 municipalities to explore all three of these challenges and offer practical solutions that can be immediately applied. Notably, we will distribute this roadmap and recommendations through reporting and presentations available to statewide leaders in rural, suburban, and urban contexts. Therefore, our goal is to foster a workforce that increases the effectiveness of local governments across Wisconsin. This aligns with at least two research priorities noted by the Thompson Center: 1) State and Local Government Interaction as it pertains to local government labor market challenges, and 2) Challenges Facing Rural Communities in Wisconsin as it pertains to staffing community-based volunteer emergency services and the broader local government workforce.

Citizen engagement to transfer innovation to regional development: A survey project to identify citizen needs in small and midsize communities

Peggy James
Full Report

The central research question of this pilot project is to determine if an increase in smart specialization strategies based on citizen input will increase the effectiveness & sustainability of smart city development. The main goal of the pilot project is to establish a foundational understanding of the readiness of communities in Racine & Kenosha counties. Both counties have two midsized cities with populations at or just under 100,000 & are considering smart city technology developments & innovation neighborhoods to stimulate economic development. Outside of these two cities, Racine & Kenosha counties are home to a predominantly rural population of villages & towns that average 12000 & 6000 respectively. In Kenosha the average community size is 6% of the City of Kenosha, & in Racine, the average community size is 15% of the City of Racine. These contiguous counties represent a large rural population; yet there is a discernible difference in population density & distribution. Relying on participatory data collection, our pilot will set the groundwork for investigating the following: 1. Even in small urban areas, citizen needs will vary by location; 2. As connectivity increases, community identification increases; 3. As citizen participation increases, sustainability of smart city initiatives increases. Using existing data sets from private & public sources in combination with interviews with non-profits, a sampling of private business/corporations, & randomized interviews/questionnaires regarding transportation, communication, & access to services, we will develop a baseline picture of the needs in two counties in southeastern Wisconsin- Racine & Kenosha. The University of Wisconsin–Parkside (UWP) sponsors a Center for Research in Innovation & Smart Cities
(CRISC) and will be a pivotal anchor for the pilot project, dissemination of results, & the launching platform for succeeding projects.

The Determinants of Income Inequality in Rural Wisconsin and Policy Implications

Yan Li, Maria DaCosta, and Wayne Carroll
UW–Eau Claire
Full Report

Rural communities in Wisconsin are currently facing many economic challenges, namely high levels of poverty, declining population, lack of high-quality services, and poor infrastructure. These are issues that call for innovative and creative approaches and require prompt attention. This project is a collaboration of three faculty members at the Department of Economics at our institution. Our project has three main goals. First, we propose to measure regional, particularly rural, income disparities while identifying the main explanatory factors with American Community Survey data and quantile regression analysis. Second, we will examine and quantify the impact of entrepreneurship, growth of immigrant populations and access to broadband on rural incomes in Wisconsin. Third, we will offer insights and recommendations to Wisconsin policy makers. Our research findings will help assess economic needs and resources and provide policy options to address challenges facing rural communities.

A Landscape Analysis of “Grow Your Own” Educator Strategies in Rural Wisconsin Schools

Bradley Carl
Project Consultant: Jenny Seelig
Full Report

Endemic educator shortages in rural schools represent a serious challenge to educating rural students and sustaining rural communities. “Grow Your Own” (GYO) programs are an increasingly common strategy for schools to both expand the “pipeline” of educators and attend to educator and community compatibility. GYO programs are often touted, in fact, as being particularly beneficial for rural schools due to teacher candidates’ prior knowledge of their communities and their familiarity with rural environments. Accordingly, there is growing interest in GYO initiatives that vary in scope and “entry point,” from programs that encourage high school students to become teachers and those that support adults (often paraprofessionals) in obtaining full licensure.

We utilize an asset-based approach to highlight a diverse set of strategies that rural school districts implement to address staffing challenges in Wisconsin. Our study is based on the underlying assumption that rural districts are not waiting on policymakers to solve this challenge, but instead are creating their own affordable and effective solutions. This research has two aims: (1) Document strategies that are already occurring in order to develop a conceptual map of inputs and mechanisms that address rural educator shortages; and (2) Provide a deeper dive into one national program that has taken root in recent years in a number of schools, rural and otherwise: Educators Rising.

2021–2022: Post Pandemic Initiatives & The Wisconsin Idea

2021–2022 Faculty Research Grants

“An Evaluation of Unemployment Insurance Reforms in Wisconsin”

Chad Cotti and David Fuller
Assessing the efficacy of several changes to the Wisconsin unemployment insurance benefit system laws and policies, and developing policy prescriptions for future policy changes, represents the primary goal of this project. Unemployment benefits provide valuable insurance against the risk of job loss. As with any insurance scheme, however, UI benefits create potential incentive problems that can lead to longer unemployment durations, fraud, and abuse. In 2011 and 2013 Wisconsin passed laws aimed at reducing unemployment durations, as well as reducing fraud and general abuse of the UI system. This research seeks to evaluate the impact of these changes on fraud and overpayments in the Wisconsin UI system, as well as the changes to labor market outcomes, such as the unemployment duration. Understanding how and to what extent the 2011 and 2013 UI policy reforms achieved their stated goals should help lawmakers develop future policies that are both more efficacious and efficient.

“Implementing the Wisconsin Idea During Crises: Identifying Opportunities for UW System to Respond Effectively to Public Emergencies”

Matthew Jewell, Thomas Kemp, and Doug Dunham
UW–Eau Claire
The UW System is uniquely positioned to respond to public emergencies that impact Wisconsin. In this project, we will assess how UW System institutions supported their surrounding communities and the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what challenges prevented them from providing additional help. We have identified four cohorts of individuals who can provide unique perspectives on what UW System did well during the pandemic, and where there are opportunities for regulatory, operational, and structural efficiencies so that UW System is better positioned to respond to the next public emergency. We will develop a set of recommendations for consideration by Wisconsin policy makers, with the goal of allowing UW System to more robustly implement the Wisconsin Idea in every corner of the state, even during challenging times of crisis.

“Exploring Policies to Promote High-Performance Computing in Post-Pandemic Undergraduate Education in Wisconsin”

Ying Ma, Sudeep Bhattacharyay, Rahul Gomes, Abhimanyu Ghosh, and Tony Varghese
UW–Eau Claire, UW–River Falls, UW–Stout
This project will investigate the current status of HPC within the UW system, based on which policy recommendations will be proposed to break institutional barriers, enabling the sharing of resources and reduction in the cost. Curricular materials across multiple disciplines, as well as tools that enable a timely transition to HPC-based learning in the event of a public emergency, will be developed. Best practices to catalyze collaborations among universities, industries, and government agencies in Wisconsin will be identified. Integration of high-performance computing in undergraduate education will generate a highly-skilled workforce prepared for the data-driven economic growth, thus ensuring the economic competitiveness of Wisconsin during the post-pandemic rebuilding of America.

“Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Management of Public Trust Waters”

Melissa Scanlan
Reforming the administrative state has focused on streamlining legislative and executive branch processes and reducing burdens on the regulated community. Such a reform came out of the 2011-12 legislative session in Act 21. With close to a decade of application of this law, there have been divergent interpretations of its meaning by Wisconsin’s Attorney General and courts. The research provides legal and policy analysis coupled with qualitative research interviews with Department of Natural Resources’ water managers, elected officials, and the regulated community. This is the third in a time series of interviews with DNR. It will allow for a better understanding of the impact of Act 21 on an administrative agency. From this fuller understanding, one can assess and craft administrative reforms that are narrowly tailored to accomplish goals set by the political branches.

“A Study of Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT) to Fight COVID-19 and Future Public Health Crisis in Wisconsin”

Holly Yuan, Son Nam Nguyen, Yuan Xing, Brandon Cross, Chris Warren, and Greg Garneau
The goals of the project are to: (1) Conduct a survey and review Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT) architecture, security, privacy, and applications during the COVID-19 pandemic. (2) Simulate a secure IoHT framework and workflow with smart biosensors, wearable devices, disinfectant and medical/delivery drones, proximity trace, robots, by using cloud computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. (3) Collaborate with the Thompson Center to deliver workshops, seminars, and panel discussions to further discuss and evaluate privacy, security, opportunities, and challenges of the IoHT. (4) Initiate a Cybersecurity Healthcare Certificate program by partnering with healthcare sectors and cybersecurity & IT industry. We are grateful to the Thompson Center for providing this opportunity to support efforts to improve the health of the people of Wisconsin by supporting this research and creating collaborations between the University of Wisconsin system schools, healthcare sectors and local and state government.

“Privacy Protection Among Community-Dwelling Older Wisconsinites in the Age of Internet of Things”

Jiazhen Zhou, Jeannine Rowe, Roger Yin, and Haijan Sun
The wide deployments of Internet of Things (IoT) medical devices have brought greater efficiency to healthcare as well as serious privacy risks. This is especially true for older adults since they are particularly vulnerable when using technology. To address this issue, an exploratory interdisciplinary research study will be conducted. Starting with semi-structured interviews with a diverse group of community-dwelling older Wisconsinites (age 60+) who use IoT medical devices, laboratory studies will follow to examine the actual status of privacy protection in the adopted devices. These interviews and lab experiment results will be further used for studying improved management, regulation, and standards for privacy protection in IoT devices. This project will help increase awareness of privacy protection among older adults in Wisconsin, motivate better privacy protection by the device vendors, and eventually lead to wider adoption of IoT devices within healthcare arenas and improved quality of life for older Wisconsinites.

“The Wisconsin Strategy: Independent Infrastructure”

Thomas Zolper
The United States energy and information infrastructure is comprised of a network of interconnected pipelines, power lines, and telecommunication equipment. It has been constructed over the past century with limited plans for durability and resilience. The interconnections of the energy and information infrastructure render them susceptible to catastrophic failure by diverse causes including weather events, design flaws, equipment malfunctions and foreign intrusions. Failure of the energy infrastructure left people in the cold and dark during the 2021 Texas power grid failure. The 2021 cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline left the east coast without transportation fuel for a week. This research aims to identify the vulnerabilities of the Wisconsin energy and information infrastructure and propose remediation strategies to reduce the possibility of failure. It will include a state-wide energy audit and recommendations for infrastructure modifications that foster long-term energy security and sustainable energy supplies.

2020–2021: Preparing for Public Emergencies, Reforming the Administrative State, & Privacy in a Digital Age

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, and 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. Read reports on The Partisan Impact on Local Government Dissemination of COVID-19 Information: Assessing US County Government Websites and Assessing Law Enforcement Websites: A Comparative Analysis Exploring Types, Quantity and Quality of Information Available.

“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 examined the role of social, political, and economic context in shaping community responses to Covid-19. We conducted 10,000 short and 50 long-form surveys, using a nationally representative sample of individuals and a convenience sample drawn from Minnesota and Wisconsin, respectively. The project addressed 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.

“Small Cities’ Response to Public Emergencies”

Ismaila Odogba, Anna Haines, and 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. Check out their interactive report, Emergency Management in Small Cities, and read their Phase 1 report, Small Cities’ Response to Public Emergencies.

“Reforming the Administrative State”

Susan Yackee and 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.

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 and 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 and 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 and 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, and 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, and 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, and 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 and 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, and 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 and 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 and 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.