We all want a more efficient, effective and responsive government, but policymakers sometimes have trouble agreeing on what that looks like.
What seems like a livable minimum wage to one person may appear onerous to some small businesses. While some believe wind turbines are the most promising renewable energy source, others think solar or nuclear options offer the best long-term solution.
So how do we come to a consensus?
While many laws and policies are based on public safety and security concerns (speed limits, DUI laws, police and fire protection services, etc.), many are reflections of common values and perceptions. One challenge is collecting data that accurately reflects public opinion.
Boise State’s new Idaho Policy Institute was created to do that and more. Launched in August 2016, it is providing objective research support and analysis at the state and local levels to inform decision making.
State and local governments often come up short in regard to resources allocated to research. This new institute helps bridge that gap by providing significant survey information to determine with a high degree of confidence what people want. That leads to more responsive government.
The IPI also offers public-policy research, economic forecasts and economic impact studies, demographic research, leadership development, technical assistance and public engagement. It produces policy white papers and professional reports, taps into professional expertise and learns from other states how to do things differently in Idaho.
Only months old, the institute already is involved in a number of projects related to its mission.
In September, the institute completed a Treasure Valley Public Policy Survey of 1,000 residents of Ada, Canyon and Owyhee counties on their policy preferences and attitudes.
Researchers also are working on projects all throughout the state, including looking at downtown revitalization projects with the cities of Jerome and Arco, examining recidivism rates in Idaho drug courts, and analyzing transportation infrastructure issues.
The institute leverages the incredible depth of expertise and existing resources in universities across Idaho, not just at Boise State. The center works with research faculty and students to address research questions. For example, a recent project dealing with Medicaid and veterans reached out to experts in our economics department.
Other projects include construction management faculty and staff working to gather information on affordable housing, geosciences researchers looking at water management, and a project involving the EPSCoR-MILES project – a federal-state partnership to build Idaho’s capacity to study complex social-ecological processes, particularly those dealing with water.
IPI is involved in projects with the University of Idaho, the Idaho National Laboratory, the Idaho State Public Defense Commission and more.
Because the IPI is a Boise State institute, it benefits students, too. Graduate students, many of whom are already working professionals, get an opportunity to address real-world problems and build on new or existing skills. For example, a recent project involved students working with school districts on using bonds to fund capital construction. Students also are involved in researching and proposing best practices for border-town tourism growth. As part of this project, they will be learning to develop and implement public-opinion surveys.
This student involvement is not only educational, it is a recruitment and retention tool. Students do analysis and build strong working relationships with client agencies. Many are then hired to fill jobs in those agencies, keeping our best and brightest master’s and Ph.D. students in Idaho.
Solid public-policy data benefits Idahoans in real ways. Gathering information about what people think and want allows government to be responsive to what the community is asking for, not simply to peddle special-interest projects.
Finding out why people move here, why they stay, and how they feel about education, taxes and other important issues are steps toward building stronger relationships of trust between communities and decision makers.
Mark Rudin is vice president for research and economic development at Boise State University, where he oversees the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of Research Compliance, and other administrative and technical offices. He writes monthly about scientific discovery and economic development in Idaho and beyond.