NEERA1501: University-Community Intermediaries: Supporting Informed Decision-Making Around Polarized Issues

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

NEERA1501: University-Community Intermediaries: Supporting Informed Decision-Making Around Polarized Issues

Duration: 10/01/2015 to 09/30/2020

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Statement of Issues and Justification

The research base addressing the nature and effectiveness of engagement of university information and other resources by local policy/decision makers is thin. Too many faculty, Extension and outreach efforts involving local officials are based by default on localized experience and ad hoc “learning by doing”. While many such efforts are successful and important, the thin research base on which they rest is at odds with fundamental principles for university education and outreach. Supporting local decision-making with the best available research and evidence-based knowledge, and increasing the return on investment in research and outreach are key proposal goals. More systematic, cumulative attention to research on this topic by a multistate community of researcher-practitioners will strengthen the relation between the Academy and local policy decisions. The Community and Regional Development Institute’s (CaRDI) pilot project highlights the importance of informed decision-making for a) “clean science communication environments” (versus polluted science communication environment wherein the science has become entangled with peoples’ core and group identities, values and belief systems in ways that trigger the heavily distorting information filters of “motivated reasoning”, and b) research/evaluation of practices (especially by university-based educators) that are effective in protecting/restoring such environments, especially when controversial, potentially “culturally polarizing” issues like climate change are involved. Our proposed project will coordinate research on academia’s role in the maintenance and restoration of these clean science communication environments, focusing on the important role of trusted “intermediaries” in the poorly documented information chains that link university faculty, researchers and local decision makers. Our proposal, based on a research design which include a series of primary data collection methods and multi-iterative network analyses, will provide new mechanisms and strengthen shared research-based understandings to enhance the capacity of intermediaries, and to more systematically leverage their work. We consider work in this area to be in a theory building phase. With a multistate collaboration building on strong existing applied research agendas, we plan to test fundamental hypotheses about how research can best inform policy decisions. Testable hypotheses will be based on a thorough synthesis of existing and emergent theory.

The need, as indicated by stakeholders

Local officials allocate resources and make key decisions regarding complex, challenging issues. After decades of sustained devolutionary policies at the federal and state levels, the range of responsibilities and expectations of local government in relation to their resources and capacities has probably never been greater. Increased fiscal constraints and heightened political tensions demand greater accountability and efficiency, pressuring officials to work more efficiently and collaboratively, and to be well-informed. In turn, land grant institutions, along with other universities, need to ensure that the research, data, information and programming they produce to inform and support local decisions are relevant and accessible while conforming to academic standards. We view informed decision-making as an intentional and thoughtful process that includes the consideration of current research and other evidence-based information as a critical step in local decision-making.

While there are multiple stakeholders in informed local decision making, we have an ultimate interest in the decisions made by local officials and the community members that elect them, and have already engaged supportive advisory committee members from organizations representing county officials at both state and national levels (NYS Association of Counties, National Association of Counties). However, the most proximate stakeholders of our proposal are the academics and Cooperative Extension educators who have the intention or mission to engage with local officials. The proposed Multistate Research Project group will connect with local officials and other community leaders, Extension educators, outreach specialists and engaged faculty. The CaRDI collaboration with the national Local Government Extension Training network provides a clear avenue for taking this connection to a multi-state and/or national scale.

Our current practice, partnerships and review of the literature collectively highlight the need for a) further research on the need for, characteristics of, and implications for informed decision making of “clean science communication environments” and b) research/evaluation of practices (especially by university-based educators) that are effective in protecting/restoring such environments.

The research “need” is expressed differently by local officials, by Extension educators and by researchers and faculty, each of whom are involved in a communications network or chain of interactions that involves individuals and institutions who generate knowledge and awareness, convey and transform it, and “put it to work”. From a traditional policy education perspective, we are looking at the needs along a spectrum that includes identification of a topic, the process for gathering and engaging with information and data, framing and interpreting the data, identifying a range of solutions, and finally making a decision. We are particularly interested in further research on the roles of Extension educators and faculty. But these roles do not exist in a vacuum, as trust and relationships are paramount (a finding supported by our research to date). Ultimately, our interest is in learning about ways to strategically improve practice and institutions so as to better shape and respond to the interests of decision makers themselves in making informed decisions, particularly when the local context can make the issue controversial and the ensuing debate polarized.

Key research questions this project addresses:

a. How are university-based information, research, outreach and community engagement efforts viewed, accessed, interpreted and used by decision-makers dealing with pressing, complex, and sometimes controversial issues?

b. How do the tensions and conflicts that often exist between data, research, politics, experience, ideology, values and opinion play out in the decision-making process of local government officials?

c. How can the land grant mission, as carried out by universities, best support informed decision-making effectively in local government contexts? What mix of approaches, tools and trainings are most effective, and in which kinds of contexts and with which kinds of issues? How can we adapt/change our engagement strategies most effectively?

d. By addressing these key questions, will these efforts increase the impact of research-based knowledge generated by land grant institutions?

1. The importance of the work, and what the consequences are if it is not done

A central goal of this project is to carry out research that is essential to improving local government oriented Extension and outreach practice. To do this we need to strengthen the “theoretical underpinnings” of these interactions, to deepen the empirical analysis of strategies employed to implement outreach to local government, and to draw closer and more explicit connections between theory and practice. Based on our pilot research, we seek to explore the use and effectiveness of research-based information and other university resources in the decision-making processes of local officials. This project will advance research to improve land grant universities’ effectiveness in engaging key stakeholder groups via the communication of appropriate data and analyses to enhance local decision-making capacity. But it is not just about “communicating” data and analyses. It is about creating contexts for effective learning, supporting a systemic capacity for knowledge generation, and increasing the strength of the nexus between “knowing” and “deciding”. This project will build a much sturdier research foundation than currently exists on which to support better informed and therefore improved decision-making at the local government level.

Given the current lack of a strong research base on the engagement of university information resources by local policy/decision makers, too many engagement efforts with local leaders are based on localized experiences and ad hoc “learning by doing”. More systematic attention would provide a more valuable method of cumulatively evaluating and improving the positive impact of university-generated knowledge. Our pilot research to date highlights the role and influence of trusted intermediaries, such as Extension educators, in the information chain. Discovering, through systematic hypothesis testing and analyses, how to strengthen the infrastructure that supports local decision-making based on the best available research and evidence-based knowledge is a key goal. Ultimately, these research results will increase the return on investment in research and outreach within the entire land grant system, through more effective use of research in policy debates and decision-making.

The decisions that local governments are making around climate change are an excellent example of a topic we may wish to focus on in this research. There is ever expanding research, information and discourse on this issue. We posit that the dynamics of education and communication around controversial and potentially polarizing issues like climate change are different than for lower profile or less politically polarized issues. A growing body of research shows that standard approaches to information conveyance about highly polarized issues can even have “backfire” effects (e.g, Kahan, 2010). In sum, this project will investigate how faculty, researchers and Extension educators can create processes where research and data about polarizing issues can constructively and openly support informed decision making.

2. The technical feasibility of the research

The pilot-scale, cost effective research approaches we have used thus far have included technically simple (although often logistically complex) methods. For the pilot study, we selected three very different NYS counties (Onondaga, Seneca, and Saratoga) based on characteristics such as population size, degree of urban/rural status, race and ethnic diversity, poverty, economic growth, county legislative structure, and a variety of other indicators. Together with the elected officials and staff, we identified specific fiscally-related decisions requiring a legislative vote (e.g., service sharing, property tax cap override, land use/energy issues, invasive species, casino gambling, investments in water infrastructure, and convention center development). The Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Executive Director in each of these counties played a pivotal role in helping us engage with the legislators and understand the local context.

Research proceeded through focus groups and follow-up meetings with elected officials in the pilot study counties, as well as a literature review and several conference calls with various advisors and Extension educators from other counties. Results of this research included identification of the following four main “categories of influence” that determine how or why data/information/research may or may not be used in the decision-making process. It is from these categories that we derive hypotheses for our proposed research.

a. Attributes of the decision: Level of complexity, Level of controversy, and the importance of consequences and impacts.
b. Attributes of the decision-making body (group): Legislative structure, norms for decision-making, and political diversity/uniformity.
c. Attributes of individuals involved: Experiences and values, leadership skills, relationships and trust, credibility, etc.
d. …and other political and contextual factors: distribution and sources of power, etc.

As we move forward in refining and implementing a multi-state research project design, we anticipate utilizing enhanced methods, including social network analysis, to deepen our understanding of the processes and contexts. Across our multistate group, our research will focus on change practices; that is, what practices, especially by intermediaries, actually result in changing decision-making outcomes? What combination of research methods can convincingly determine this? And what practices can help support the consideration of research-based knowledge in the cases where issues and decisions are highly controversial and/or polarized? Because of the nature of the funding we are seeking, most of our partners’ work will involve adaptation of their ongoing research agendas to integrate with, complement, and respond to the overarching research question and collaborative framework we have adopted. A recent research award to one of our Cornell partners (on Linguistic Bias in Communicating about Public Controversies: Effects of Communication Media) affords an especially exciting opportunity to deepen a longstanding collaboration. The social networking analysis we are proposing to carry out poses, as a primary challenge to its technical feasibility, the problem of obtaining access to the communication records and habits of, ideally, researchers, intermediaries, and local officials. We believe the challenge to obtaining this data can be overcome by building on the longstanding general relationships of trust we have built with all of these groups over decades. This is also a major reason to take a topically and geographically targeted case study approach that enables more intensive interactions with a comparatively small network. Moreover, there are several approaches we will use to obtain at least some of the data we are interested in. These include interviews, access to public records that are either widely available, voluntarily provided or often routinely accessible through the use of Freedom of Information Laws, and survey techniques.

In the next phase of research we seek to build in evaluation methods with respect to varied interventions currently utilized in local policy-relevant work. Particular attention will be given to CCE’s legacy approaches to policy education which have evolved increasingly towards an embrace of “deliberative processes” in cycling through Public Policy Education (PPE), Public Issues Education (PIE), and Public Issue Dispute Resolution (PIDR). Though these tend to focus on policy education approaches intended to promote learning by “the public”, they also influence the relationships between information sources and local policy makers. Interventions evaluated (i.e., research treatments tested) will include elements such as issue framing, avoidance of culturally polarizing language, collaborative stakeholder and intermediary role analyses, “trust building” and multi-stakeholder partnership building. We have identified Cornell faculty to partner with on this phase and we look forward to pooling our knowledge with colleagues in other states (including some of our current project collaborators and advisors). There are several analytic tools that others have effectively implemented to measure and assess social impact and diffusion of knowledge, but that we did not employ in our pilot work. We have evaluated these methods for appropriateness, feasibility and cost effectiveness. We will now formally incorporate Social Network Analysis (Carrington, Scott & Wasserman, 2005; Wasserman & Faust, 1994). Key variables such as reciprocity, structural balance, clusterability, degrees of trust, and depth of relationships will be operationalized (a process of defining the measurement of a phenomenon that is not directly measurable) and measured to assist in supporting or refuting our a-priori hypotheses. We will approach the exploration and testing of the efficacy of different methods and levels of outreach and engagement through the development of logic models linking different kinds of interventions, diffusion networks, and contexts to different expected measurable outputs and outcomes.

3. The advantages for doing the work as a multistate effort

Our prior research findings support the hypothesis that county board structure and political diversity is important in determining the shape and extent of informed decision-making. In addition, we know that the diversity of structures and contexts in NYS is inadequate for generalization beyond state borders. A strong focus of our work moving forward is to develop processes and protocols that have national scope and implications. To better inform, supplement, and support our work with these goals in mind, we have developed a multistate advisory team. Most of our partners are already working on closely related interests and research questions. Our partnership will facilitate a convergence of disciplines and methods on a common research agenda. Rather than focusing on replication of a single experimental design in multiple states, we believe there is more to be learned in this field by using complementary research designed to address a range of contexts and approaches and drawing on the expertise of multiple institutions. Results from such multi-faceted research can then be aggregated and synthesized into knowledge that will inform a broad array of contexts.

The questions this research addresses are relevant for all Land Grant institutions across the country, and indeed any university engaged in applied research and outreach/extension efforts. Approaching this research and outreach work as a multistate effort will allow us to more fully explore the broader ranges of contexts and issues in and with local policy makers’ work. With a more complex range of contexts and issues incorporated into the research, our results can more adequately address this complexity. Our multistate collaborators are listed in the next section. In addition to these individuals and the institutions they represent, this project will benefit from other state-level and national connections with organizations such as the National Association of County Organizations, the National Council of County Association Executives, National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals, and Local Government Extension Training Network. Further we would explore potential relationships with several Communities of Practice via eXtension.

4. What the likely impacts will be from successfully completing the work

A significant impact from the successful completion of this project will be development of training modules specifically targeted to Extension educators and faculty who are or strive to become local decision makers’ “trusted intermediaries.” Such individuals are important links in the information chain that Land Grant (and other) institutions need to engage with in offering evidence-based knowledge and data to inform local decisions. Our CCE partners have discussed how this role of intermediary specifically pertains to them. Knowing how to “insert” themselves into the local issue (being proactive); how to be viewed as a trusted peer and an expert and impartial; learning how to foster a dialogue around important and contentious issues (providing a safe venue); maintaining close relationships and frequent contact with elected officials; and providing data and information, but with an understanding of relationships and local context, is a set of complicated yet ultimately critical roles to master. Our proposed research will provide evidence-based data guiding people as they move into these roles. In addition, an important outcome of this work will be to increase the return on investment in research-based knowledge by supporting its relevance, accessibility, use, and impact for local decision-makers.

Related, Current and Previous Work

Related, Current, and Previous Work

During the past forty years, a great deal of empirical and theoretical attention has been paid to the systematic deviations individual decision makers make from the rational decision making models that have influenced large areas of social science, including economics in particular, but also sociology, political science, anthropology and psychology. The burgeoning fields of behavioral economics and behavioral psychology have been prominent in this arena, with current and former Cornell faculty (notably Bob Frank and Richard Thaler) playing a significant role in the founding of these sub-disciplines. The importance of these fields was recognized globally when Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist, won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his role in researching decision making heuristics and specifically for the development with Amos Tversky of prospect theory, an alternative behavioral model to that derived from expected utility theory. Within economics, Herbert Simon (another Nobelist) laid the groundwork for much of this work with his publications in the 1950’s on bounded rationality and “satisficing” approaches to decision making. Recently, Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist, also won a Nobel in economics for challenging models of behavior that strictly assume narrow self-interest in decision making, either actively dismissing or failing to account for individual consideration of group interests.

Dan Kahan, a Yale researcher now prominent in this new area of behavioral research, has focused on the role of identity and emotion on risk perception in decision making. Kahan (2010) summarizes three competing behavioral theories. He notes that within the “rational weigher theory”, emotions are either irrelevant to cognitive processes, or at best a “reactive byproduct” of information processing. Importantly for Extension work, this theory can be seen to be the most closely aligned with still prevalent outreach practices that focus on the provision of “information and data” as the central effort underlying outreach programming (Pelletier et al. 1999).

Second is what Kahan terms the “irrational weigher theory”. In this paradigm, deviations from “rational behavior” are explained via common decision making heuristics based in constraints on rationality (cf. “availability cascades”, “probability neglect”, “overconfidence”, “status quo bias”, framing effects, etc.). Within this paradigm, says Kahan, individuals rely on their emotions (“visceral, affective reactions”) and cognitive shortcuts to compensate for practical “limits on their ability to engage in more considered assessments.” Kahneman’s categories of “thinking fast or slow” and “Systems 1 or 2” are paradigmatic here. Outreach practices most consistent with this theory attempt to provide decision makers with tools to correct for predictable deviations from rational optima.

Finally, Kahan advocates for a new “cultural evaluator theory”. Within this paradigm, individuals are construed to express their preferences though “values that define their identities”, in a manner that takes into account the “social meaning” of their activity. In work informed by the philosopher Martha Nussbaum, Kahan reconstitutes a model of “rational behavior” within a framework where emotions “enable individuals to perceive what stance toward risks cohere with their values.” This paradigm points to outreach practices that are constructed to create learning contexts and frames in which new, unfamiliar, value-inconsistent or otherwise unacceptable information is introduced in ways that respect rather than undermine essential value-based elements of individual or group identities (Kahan 2006).

Contandriopoulos and Brousselle’s (2012) significant recent publication on interventions aimed at influencing policy-making behavior through knowledge exchange offers an important synthesis from the different perspective of learning theory vis a vis government officials. It too identifies three “strains of thinking”: the familiar rationalist, the institutionalist, and constructionist strains. Their work also implies that each “strain” privileges different approaches to local government outreach and extension work.

Contandriopoulos and Brousselle point first to “stable” contexts in which rationalist approaches to learning are most productive, noting that within this model “learning appears to be a process of establishing fact and disseminating information, the corollary of which is that failure can be attributed to a lack of adequate information and/or the vagaries of implementation”. Institutionalist concepts of learning, in contrast, associate capacities for learning with institutional context. Primary attention is given to understanding “rules and procedures as well as the administrative organization and structure of government.” A variation of this institutionalist approach highlights the “mind sets or habits of attention” of policy makers, arguing for the importance of cultural variables in learning and that “policy makers tend to learn from others like themselves.” In this model, learning tends to be “incremental and evolutionary”. Finally, the constructionist “strain” holds that “learning is a collective and interactive process”, whereby “learning begins with practice” and is “rooted in pragmatics”. Unless information is brought to bear in the actual situations in which decision-makers operate, learning potential is limited.

Numerous very practical tools and models also exist to help decision makers reach the “best” decision. In some of these models (see for examples), the inclusion of “objective data” is explicit. In others, the use of “subjective data” is also considered. However, as stated above, relatively little is known about how local officials seek out “objective data”, and how it might compete with or complement “subjective data” in their decision-making process.

Despite this interesting general work, scant theoretical and empirical research has been explicitly focused on local decision makers in their official decision making roles. Well known political theory certainly provides important frameworks for understanding government decision making, for example Lindblom’s influential descriptions of “fragmented, disjointed incrementalism” and “muddling through” (Lindblom 1979; Lindblom 1959). Nonetheless, empirical research honing in on the role of information and learning in the decision-making processes of local government officials is underdeveloped. Contandriopoulos and Brouss (2012:12), for example, generally address policy-making systems “characterized by high levels of interdependency and interconnectedness among participants” in which “all participants receive information from various sources, make sense of it, modify it and produce new information aimed at others.” Though their work is relevant to local government policy contexts, it does not explicitly consider them. Blackman’s (1998) paper on the barriers to “evidence-based decision-making” in local government provision of educational and social services is a modest exception. As an example of “grey literature” on related topics, Hattery and Lindstrom (2010) provide recent, useful survey-based evidence on the training experiences and expressed learning modality preferences of New York elected officials, but they do not evaluate effectiveness as opposed to preferences.

Perhaps the most fruitfully developed literature we need to more fully draw from builds on the portions of Sabatier’s (1988) “advocacy coalition” framework for policy change that address “policy-oriented learning”. Several hundred articles that cite Sabatier’s seminal article are concerned with local government in general, and a modest fraction of these address policy learning. But only a few go on to address the role of policy entrepreneurs or policy “brokers”, Sabatier’s term that is closest to our use of “intermediaries”. McGuire (2006), drawing on related traditions in public administration, focuses in particular on the role of “public managers” in the arena of collaborative public management. These public servants implement distinct operations within different types of policy networks (informational, developmental, outreach, action; c.f. Agronoff 2003) by engaging “upward, downward, and outward” with these networked environments.

Published research addressing land grant outreach programming targeted at local officials is equally limited (LaChapelle et al. 2010). The Journal of Extension perhaps is the best chronicler of the outreach and Extension community’s cumulative learning on these topics. Thus, Hiller and Rodgers (2003) report that, “There is [only] a small body of literature that deals with county commissioners' attitudes, behaviors, decision-making, and public policy.” It appears that this situation has not greatly changed over the past decade, as Davis and Lucente (2012) concur: “Little literature exists focusing on the evaluation of leadership development programs involving elected and appointed local officials.” In their study, Hiller and Rodgers (2003) note that the part-time elected officials they study, “clearly prefer to do their learning …close to home,” “overwhelmingly” turning to county government staff as principal sources of information. However, they are also “comfortable with experts, but mostly at structured, agenda-driven public meetings and… do not generally consider information from special interest groups as particularly credible or useful.” A review of the CRIS database uncovers additional if isolated research with agendas that partly overlap with ours (eg. Vogel et al. on “Riversmart communities: supporting ecologically restorative flood prevention and remediation in New England”; Decker’s project on “Developing knowledge to manage economic, health, and safety risks of wildlife for individuals and communities in New York”; Gasteyer’s work on “Assessing community capacity for water infrastructure and resource management”; etc.) Perhaps the most closely aligned CRIS entry, one for Conference Papers and Presentations, is one entitled: Shifting Intermediaries: Using Community Capitals Framework to Understand the Changing Role of Land Grant Institutions. International Drought Management Conference, Lincoln, NE, April 4-6 2014.” However, this entry is more indicative of the potential for new research partnerships than it is of a new well-developed research base.

A major output for our current, New York State-based three-year project (ending Fall 2015) has been the distillation of key themes and ideas to guide both our research and extension efforts. These key variable sets (attributes of the decision, attributes of the decision-making body or group, attributes of the individuals involved, and other political and contextual factors) consistently emerged as influential in how or why data/information/research may or may not be used in the decision-making process. In addition, the role of “intermediaries” was identified as crucial and has been a key focus as we expanded our engagement of stakeholders in the design of trainings and other capacity-building efforts to support local decision-making.

Our proposed project will continue to expand upon and synthesize the aforementioned and related bodies of research literature. By significantly expanding the scope of interests, expertise, policy contexts, experience, issue areas, and geography made possible by a multi-state project collaboration, we expect to more systematically synthesize implications for local government outreach programming in the context of controversial or polarized topics.

Throughout our current project’s duration, we have strengthened our relationship with the National Association of State County Associations. Through the interests of Stephen Acquario, the Executive Director of the NYS Association of Counties and President of the National Certified County Association, we have presented to and interacted with both the NYS-based and the national association members on several occasions. In addition, we have benefited from the input of our project’s advisory committee, several of whose members represent universities and interests outside NYS.

Our current project, Informing County-Based Economic Development Decisions: A Scientific Foundation for Strategic Outreach, includes members from outside of NYS (faculty from CT, NH and MT and a NACO (National Association of County Officials) staffer based in Washington, D.C.). We have well established relationships with many of the collaborators listed on this project, especially with those in the area of community development with whom we have connected on various projects and activities over the years. These researchers have agreed to be project collaborators, joining the three who were already advisors to our pilot project. There is a collective interest in more deeply exploring the ways in which data, research and other university resources can most effectively inform decision-making around the complex issues facing communities. There is interest in sharing research and learning best practices in supporting intermediaries, in supporting informed local decision-making, and in forming a learning community or a community of research and practice.
Our initial multistate partners/collaborators will include:

Gerald Benjamin, State University of New York, New Paltz (political scientist; Director, Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach; former Director of Center for NYS and Local Government Studies and the Rockefeller Institute of Government Research)

Michael Dougherty, West Virginia University, Extension Professor and Specialist

Daniel Eades, West Virginia University, Extension Specialist

Charlie French, University of New Hampshire, Extension Specialist/Associate Professor in Community and Economic Development,

Stephan Goetz, Director, Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development will be an informal advisor to the project and on occasion the other three regional centers for rural development will be involved.

Dan Kahan, Yale University, Law School, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law & Professor of Psychology, leader, Cultural Cognition Project

Tim Kelsey, Pennsylvania State University, Professor of Agricultural Economics, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Community Development

Paul Lachapelle, Montana State University, Associate Professor of Political Science, Extension Community Development Specialist, Local Government Extension Training founder

Chris Plein, West Virginia University, Professor of Public Administration and Eberly Family Professor for Outstanding Public Service

Martin Shields, Colorado State University, Director, Regional Economics Institute and Professor of Economics.

Members of CaRDI’s existing Informed Decision Making advisory committee (for example Poppy McLeod with Cornell’s Department of Communication and Karon Harden with the National Association of Counties (NACO)). Additionally, local government professional organizations in the participating states will be invited to collaborate.

Much of the current and past work of our proposed partners and collaborators is related to and reinforces the work we propose in this next phase of work:

Stephan Goetz has extensive experience both conducting and supporting research on emerging issues facing rural communities, including many that are controversial, such as hydraulic fracturing. He presently directs the USDA/NIFA-supported National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy (NARDeP) Center,, which was organized by the Regional Rural Development Centers to provide information about the increasingly contentious and complex rural policy issues facing the U.S.

Martin Shields works closely with local elected officials, economic development practitioners and other community organizations across Colorado on a variety of complex local issues, including oil and gas development, economic and fiscal impact analysis and local tax policy.

Gerald Benjamin directs a regional SUNY research center that advises NY state local governments on structural reform and best practice policy alternatives (eg. intergovernmental collaboration). He served twelve years as a county elected official, two as chief elected official, was active in the state and national county associations, and headed the commission that wrote and saw through to adoption Ulster County's first charter. His book with Richard Nathan on the tri-state New York City region, Regionalism and Realism, (Brookings, 2001) is an acknowledged contribution to the national debate on regionalism in governance.

Michael Dougherty has worked on defining community issues and educating people about them for almost two decades with the West Virginia University Extension Service. He conducted surveys of local government officials to determine their biggest needs, once in West Virginia (with Chris Plein) and once in a three-state study that also examined training needs (with Tim Kelsey). He edited a newsletter on Public Issues Education within Extension. He developed a CEOS lesson for dealing with controversial issues.

Daniel Eades has worked with colleagues throughout West Virginia and the WVU system on programs that raise awareness of local issues and facilitate informed, endogenous community development. His past work in community data analysis and economic impact analysis has been used to guide strategic planning decisions related to community tourism, local/regional agriculture initiatives, and local economic development. He has worked with WVU Public Administration faculty and students on a multi-year project that guides a community through the planning process including dialogue and engagement, creation of a Comprehensive Plan, and project implementation.

Charlie French leads UNH Cooperative Extension’s Community & Economic Development Program, whose focus is to engage diverse stakeholders in local decision-making around a range of topics, including land use, economic development, climate change, and civic agriculture. His research includes working with scientists to help them more effectively engage with community decision-makers (i.e. collaborative science).

Tim Kelsey conducts research on issues such as economic and community implications of Marcellus Shale, public finance and taxation, and land use change. He co-directs Penn State’s Center for Economic and Community Development, and is on the board of the Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Education Institute, which is a partnership of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association and Penn State Extension that conducts in-depth training for citizen planners across the Commonwealth. Current funded research projects include a multistate study of how communities are local governments are managing the opportunities and challenges arising from unconventional energy development; a multidisciplinary study of the community impacts of Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania; a USDA-funded project examining the impacts of unconventional gas development on farms and farming in four states; and an economic impact study of bioenergy development.

Christopher Plein has worked in a variety of community facilitation programs across West Virginia. His past work includes facilitating meetings over land-use management in a national wildlife refuge. Through the WVU Community Design Team, he has helped to facilitate community-based discussions on economic and community development across the state. Most recently, he has been involved in WVU’s town and gown committee and related projects aimed at fostering understanding and communication between the university and the surrounding community.

Because our team and collaborators already have many multi-state working relationships and connections to national organizations concerned with local government, we anticipate collectively creating strong foundations for future work with national scope and implications.


Our overarching objective is to better understand the theory and practice of university/local government engagement by testing the following simple hypotheses:

H0: University-based research and resources have no influence on decisions by elected local government bodies making decisions about climate change-related policy or other potentially polarizing issues.

H1: University-based research has detectable influences on decisions by elected local government bodies making decisions about climate change-related policy or other potentially polarizing issues.

H1.1 University-based or linked outreach institutions that act as intermediaries or knowledge brokers are essential links in the logical chain of interactions that influences decisions by elected local government bodies about climate change-related policy or other potentially polarizing issues.

Assuming our empirical analysis lends credence to H1 and/or H1.1 we will also interrogate our empirical data to better understand the various pathways, valences, and reciprocity of influence and how they are affected by exogenous factors like the nature of the potentially polarizing issue, the structure of the governing body, and the characteristics of the individuals involved.


  1. Drawing on our multi-state collaborator-facilitated access to cutting edge research, similar experiences, and relevant research literatures, we will consolidate, evaluate and synthesize the existing research and knowledge base on best practices for engagement of university resources with local officials’ decision-making processes, particularly in the context of decision making around controversial and culturally polarizing issues.
  2. Identify patterns, processes and networks in which university-generated knowledge, outreach, and engagement practice influences, or fails to influence, local decision making.
  3. Assess the roles, practices, and effectiveness of university/local government intermediaries, in particular Cooperative Extension educators and faculty in participating states, in working with local community leaders facing controversial and potentially polarizing issues.
  4. Critically evaluate Extension’s Public Issues and Public Policy Education traditions that can inform new approaches to engaging with local decision makers around contested topics.
  5. Assess the extent of Land Grant institutional capacity and willingness to effectively engage with the network(s) of local decision makers, particularly in the context of controversial issues.
  6. The questions we address are relevant for all Land Grant institutions across the country, and indeed any university engaged in applied research and outreach/extension efforts. As such, we have solicited the current list of multistate academic partners to reflect these shared objectives and goals, and each partner will contribute at individually appropriate levels of intensity to each research objective.


Research Objective #1: Drawing on our multi-state collaborator-facilitated access to new research, experience and literatures, we will consolidate, evaluate and synthesize the existing research and knowledge base on best practices for engagement of university resources with local officials’ decision making processes, particularly in the context of decision making around controversial and culturally polarizing issues. Method #1: In the first two years of this project, we will refine our primary pilot findings from NYS, employing similar methods, by extending our work to new states and contexts through our multistate partners. Specific methods will include additional literature review and synthesis, and new community focus groups and key informant interviews. Our research will be most fundamentally enriched through the learning community we will create. We will do this with our multistate partners, striving to create and support as we provide leadership through the technical committee. All of our named collaborators have deep and extensive research and outreach expertise that is grounded in several social science disciplines, and all have had multiple relevant research, communication and outreach leadership responsibilities. For coordination of research activities, we will organize a minimum of one WebEx meeting and one in-person meeting/workshop per year, each with all participants involved. Participants will be able and expected to share their own relevant work and research agendas, to constructively critique and create emergent collaborative theoretical frameworks, to identify agendas for cumulatively significant empirical research on programmatic innovation within the Extension and outreach systems with which we are involved. The technical committee leadership will establish and manage a cloud-based mechanism for sharing organizational/administrative documents, with work space for evolving joint projects or documents, emergent stakeholder maps, and a repository of participant identified key literature to help collectivize a basis for shared understanding and knowledge. New York/Cornell team members will in addition contact and work with all collaborators individually and in appropriate subgroups to identify, prioritize, interpret, integrate and contextualize the significance of the existing state of research knowledge and its relation to practice. Particular effort on this front will be made in the context of working relationships on other funded or ongoing projects we have with several partners. Research Objective #2: Identify patterns, processes and networks in which university generated knowledge, outreach, and engagement practice influences, or fails to influence, local decision making. Method #2a: We will use case study research methodology for a comparative study of different practices for the integration of research-based knowledge in decision-making. Our research will compare cases where issues and decisions are highly controversial and cultural polarization is latent or extant. In addition to a review of the gray literature, selected collaborators will be asked to identify emblematic case studies of such practices from their own experience and to present such case studies to the full group for discussion and analysis. These case study sessions will be analyzed, summarized and documented. The work of New Hampshire researchers (including Charles French, UNH, and others) will be particularly relevant and valuable for informing our approach to this research objective. These collaborators were involved in a proposal to the Northeastern States Research Cooperative, “Examining information use by local land use policy makers in the Northern Forest Region”, that has not yet been funded. That research proposed to “determine where local land use decision-makers in the Northern Forest get their data and information from, as well as how they apply that information when formulating their plans and policies.” Participation in the proposed multi-state project would provide the possibility to begin this important research, and would inform – theoretically, empirically, and methodologically - future iterations of this proposal to help secure leveraged funds. In addition, the NH team has a number of outreach programs, especially their Climate Adaptation for Coastal Communities Program, that are aimed at local decision makers. NH involvement in the multi-state project would provide a broader and more solid research basis for their involvement in these outreach efforts, and provide additional local experiential data as input to our multi-state research. In addition, our connection with Paul LaChappelle at the University of Montana will be valuable in this area. Lachappelle’s most relevant research agendas address the role of citizens in local government planning and related decision processes. His work has revealed the importance of transparency in decisions, effective leadership, consensus on the framing of risk, and planning scale in affecting trust (cf. Lachappelle and McCool, 2012) Method #2b: After gathering interview and survey data from a variety of key members of our cases, we will conduct social network analyses to estimate relationships of the individual characteristics and network position and visualize the networks of influence – highlighting the network position of researchers and intermediaries, reciprocities, and dependencies. Results from the network analysis will allow comparative study of effectiveness of different approaches across a range of contexts. The methodological work of our University of New Hampshire partners will be instrumental in this area as we move towards quantitative and qualitative analyses. For example, these partners are working on an NSF EPSCoR proposal (Mountains to the Sea: Bridging the Disconnect Between Scientists and the Community Stakeholders) that is designed to better understand how scientists and community stakeholders frame ecological problems differently and how frame differences can be overcome. The work will use community stakeholder interviews and qualitative analysis software (NVIVO); items added to existing survey instruments to measure mutuality, reciprocity, and trust between scientists and community stakeholders; and Ripple Effect Monitoring (REM), a multifaceted qualitative technique used to measure the direct and indirect impacts of research. This work integrates into our overall proposal because it will add to knowledge about factors influencing effective communication between experts and laypersons on environmental topics. The participants will bring methodological expertise and diversity to the multi-state team. To facilitate research into the multiple factors influencing changes in network structures over time, including the influence of deliberate educational interventions, we will implement two rounds of social network data collection and analysis for comparison in the same case study communities during the five year course of the multistate project. We will explore more deeply the potential for coordination and, as funding permits, formal collaborations with some of our partners in this work. Since the early work on social network theory was completed (Wasserman & Faust, 1994), a rich array of social network analysis software has been developed to facilitate empirical research; the diversity of the existing toolkit is informally illustrated by the more than two dozen software options listed under “social network analysis software” on Wikipedia. Huisman and van Duijn (2005) list 31 software packages with variation in strength in visualization, description, procedures, and statistics. We are partnering with our Cornell colleagues who are expert in network analysis software to select the software most applicable for our case study research, and to help design the case study data collection and analytic protocols most suited to the testing of our hypotheses about academic-local government linkage and influence. This aspect of our work will draw on a lineage of research approaches dating at least back to Kenis and Schneider’s 1991 article, Policy Networks and Policy Analysis: Scrutinizing a New Analytical Toolbox. In particular, these authors suggest that researchers deploy network analysis in the service of “the construction and testing of formal models on policy making processes”. Haythornewaite (1996) develops the idea of social network analysis further in the context of information exchange, highlighting the five relational principles and empirical dimensionalities of cohesion, structural equivalence, prominence, and brokerage. Each of these dimensions can be empirically operationalized to help characterize the diversity, density and strength of the connectivity embodied in the networks (Carrington, Scott & Wasserman, 2005). It is with these dimensions in mind that we will characterize the modes of interaction/communication/information transmission (eg. workshops, policy briefings, reports, news releases, informal conversations, social media. etc.) along the chain of linkages. Moeliono et al.’s (2014) empirical paper deployed social network analysis in the context of the “wicked” problem of climate change to measure the growing importance of policy networks as conduits of information and agents in governance. They used surveys and semi-structured interviews to collect data from policy actors, focusing on inter-organizational linkages. Analysis involved calculating measures of network structure including “degree” (the number and robustness of connections), “indegree” (connections flowing towards a node – eg. an “intermediary” in our terminology) and “betweenness” (clustering based on number of shortest path connections flowing through a node). Additional statistical tests measured tendencies for within- versus cross-organizational connectivity. Hopkins et. al. (2015) apply network theory and analytic methods to compare the differential efficacies of teachers’ advice and information networks by subject (language arts vs. math), also noting the relation of different kinds of interactions to different outcomes like simple information exchange, learning and knowledge development. Their data collection methods involved document analysis, interviews, and survey collection of social network data in a single case study. Data in response to the question, “To whom have you turned for advice and/or information…” was used to build hierarchical latent space models, an analytic method that has been recently developed (Sweet et al. 2013). This method enables estimation of the effect of a characteristic of the intermediary (teacher, in this case) on seeking and providing advice and information related to different content domains (math and language arts). Abel and Gillespie (2015) provide another recent example of the application of social network analysis tools to settings relevant to our research project, in their case to evaluate multi-sector community collaborations. They offer an implicit endorsement and helpful caution about our proposed application of social network analysis tools. On the one hand, social network analysis can help address our hypothesis of testing for, and helping to strengthen, university influence on local decision makers by “enhancing understanding of how relationships are functioning and evolving, building capacity to respond to community needs, influencing decision makers and opinion leaders, promoting consensus across community divisions, organizing collective tasks, and enabling more effective service coordination.” On the other hand, analytics that are overly dependent on “statistical analysis of network structure… with data portrayed visually through computer-generated sociograms”, while useful, all too often lead “towards methodological involution.” The corrective remedy, “co-production by academics and practitioners in the development, implementation, and dissemination of research in order to maximize its practical relevance” will be adopted and is indeed inherent in the case study work completed to date and in the deep engagement of our work and in our proposal with local government extension practitioners as well as researchers. This approach, though requiring trust building over time, also helps overcome one of the important limitations to the validity of much social network analysis, namely failure to obtain high participation rates in data collection (Hopkins et al 2015). Research Objective #3: Assess the roles and practices of university/local government intermediaries and in particular, Cooperative Extension educators and faculty in participating states in working with local communities facing controversial and potentially polarizing issues. Method #3: Based on our early findings, by the third year we will develop strategies for systematic evaluation of the efficacy of outreach and Extension interventions of faculty and educators. The use of social network analysis and semi structured interviews, and measures of hypothesized key factors such as degrees of trust and depth of relationships, will be integrated into research designs for exploring the efficacy of both existing and “best practice” methods and levels of outreach and engagement. We will complete two rounds of interviews and surveys to produce inputs for two iterations of social network analysis. An example of how the work of our partners will be integrated into our research is the work of one partner, Cornell Communications Professor Poppy McLeod. She will collaborate closely with our team in finalizing and then pursuing her independently-funded research agenda entitled: Linguistic Bias in Communicating about Public Controversies: Effects of Communication Media. The intended application and impact of the proposed work is to increase the capacity of Extension educators to work with communities and community leaders by improving their understanding of the role of language in public controversies. Another example is our connection with Dan Kahan at Yale. Kahan has been involved in research through the Southeast Florida Evidence-based Science Communication Initiative. An initiative goal is to generate an instructive model of effective evidence-based science communication. The social science team of which Kahan is a part is designing and evaluating interventions including graphic and related forms of data presentation; the analysis of public risk perception dynamics; the design of communication strategies and materials; the development of multimedia communication material suitable for the internet and television; and the use of structured deliberation procedures geared toward promoting open-minded engagement with scientific evidence. Kahan’s research on cultural cognition theory connects directly to the Florida work, helping the Compact avoid cultural polarization. Research Objective #4: Engage in a critical evaluation of Public Issues and Public Policy Education approaches to inform a new approach specifically focused on engaging with local decision makers around controversial topics. Method #4: Based on research from the National Public Policy Education Committee’s Public Issues Education Task Force on core competencies (Smutko et al, nd), and further informed by our own research findings, we will adapt the competencies list for its relevance to our conceptualization of Extension Educators as “intermediaries” in the relationship between the worlds of the Academy and local policy decision makers. We will similarly review the resources associated with Profiles of Practitioners (see ) for relevance to our context. As in objective #3, we will seek to confirm these findings through focus groups and other data gathering methods to develop and fine tune best practice protocols. The work of our multistate partners, Mike Dougherty and Daniel Eades (West Virginia University) will help inform our approaches here. Dougherty and Eades have extensive experience working with local government leaders, with a long term commitment to research exploring the impact and importance of community planning. Their work at WVU engages communities in the planning process through data generation, acquisition, and analysis; targeted strategic planning; and comprehensive planning efforts. WVU’s on-going research continues to investigate the potential impacts these efforts make in the context of West Virginia. This has particular relevance to our critical evaluation efforts to inform a new approach for engaging local decision makers. Participation in the multi-state project will afford opportunities to synthesize these results with results from those of multistate collaborators and thus develop more effective ways to integrate the research findings into WVU’s and others’ local government outreach efforts. Research Objective #5: Assess whether Land Grant institutions currently have the capacity and willingness to effectively engage with local decision makers, particularly in the context of controversial issues. Method #5: Semi-structured key informant interviews with state collaborators and others they recommend will be conducted to assess the current state of institutional capacity and willingness in participating states. The multi-state project team will be expected to generate one or more collaborative research proposals to more systematically test the empirical efficacy of promising local government outreach and engagement approaches in multiple locations and contexts.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Logic models describing paths of communication and influence between faculty/educator activities and local policy makers.
  • Joint publications with multistate partners, both peer-review publications and outreach publications
  • Annual research-sharing and synthesis of results with multistate partner team.
  • Mini-conferences in Year 3 and 5 with a broader group of stakeholders.
  • Research-based best practice protocols for workshops and trainings for Extension educators and other intermediaries, drawing from Extension’s “public issues education” tradition.
  • Output 6: Training modules for Extension and other intermediary-based workshops. Output 7: Proposal for future funding to more systematically implement empirical tests of outreach and engagement approaches in multiple locations and contexts. Integration and Synthesis of Results Our key state partners are involved in ongoing local government research and outreach programming that contextualizes local officials in one or more of these ways. Moreover, each is pursuing research that focuses on analyzing and improving a node or branch of a network that does, or has the potential, to constitute, build and sustain effective bridges between local government decision making and the information and other resources of the academy. The next step will be to coordinate and integrate research strategies and findings across participating states. Local officials in their information seeking, policy learning, and decision making roles can be understood to function in at least three simultaneous but distinctive capacities. They are individuals who take information into account and come to conclusions while embodying limitations and capacities that are typical of ordinary citizens; they are members of groups subject to forces that influence group learning and decision dynamics in general; and as elected or appointed officials they are members of a group constrained by the formal and informal decision-making rules, resources, and influences facing their particular form of governmental institution. Research into learning and decision making in each of these contexts is needed to improve the academic community’s understanding of the existing and aspirational capacities of institutions of higher education to support local government officials’ ability to make informed decisions about potentially polarizing issues.

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • A consolidated, evaluated and synthesized research and knowledge base on best practices for engagement of university resources with local officials’ decision-making processes, particularly in the context of decision-making around controversial and culturally polarizing issues. Impact 1: Improved community-level decision-making emphasizing a ‘clean science communication’ environment.
  • A logic model that helps to identify patterns, processes and ways in which university generated knowledge, outreach, and engagement practice influences (or fails to influence) local decision-making. Impact 2: More targeted and effective strategies for outreach and engagement practices by academics and community leaders to enhance informed decision-making at the community level.
  • Improved practices of intermediaries, along with an improved understanding of their roles. Key intermediaries include Cooperative Extension educators and academics who work with local communities and their leaders facing controversial and potentially polarizing issues. Impact 3: Better communication along the entire communication chain linking universities with local community leaders to best support informed decision-making, leading to community vitality.
  • Enhanced public/citizen understanding and engagement with relevant issues in support of more informed community decision-making in the context of polarizing issues, drawing on Extension’s traditions of Public Issues and Public Policy Education (which focus on supporting involved, participatory governance). Impact 4: More effective and influential intermediary linkages between the academy, local publics, and local officials, supporting informed decision-making and community well-being.
  • Improved understanding of Land Grant institutions’ capacity and willingness to effectively engage with local decision makers, particularly in the context of controversial issues. Impact 5: Enhanced effectiveness of Land Grant efforts to support informed decision-making and community vitality, by allowing academics, intermediaries and local leaders to more successfully navigate the constraints and mobilize the opportunities offered by Land Grant institutions.
  • Local decisions about many complex concerns (e.g., climate change, GMO’s, “fracking”) would benefit from “clean science communication” environments. Our project organizes leading experts who combine research and outreach depth from varied political, geographic, and disciplinary contexts. The research results that emerge from joint learning anticipated in this project will be used to benefit all who are engaged in making informed local government decisions. We list the outcomes and impacts of this proposed work below, numbered to correspond with the relevant research objective and method listed previously.


(2016): 1. Formalizing multistate partnerships, hold first annual meeting, and create multistate research agenda. 2. Complete thorough literature review of social network analysis pertaining to government policy. 3. Synthesize literature review including multistate contributions 4. Conduct additional community focus groups and intermediary interviews 5. Develop preliminary groundwork for case study in selected case community (for example, community demographics, strengthening key partnerships with local partners, identifying key issue areas for analysis, etc) 6. Hold series of focus groups with original Public Issues Education team. 7. Research coordination through a series of WebEx multistate meetings 8. Start developing logic models 9. Establish cloud-based project work space

(2017): 1. Establish a publication schedule with multistate partners. Publications will include both peer-reviewed (theoretical and empirical) and outreach materials (case studies, etc) publications. 2. Conduct additional community focus groups and intermediary interviews 3. Design and implement first round of network analysis in relation to case studies. 4. Test logic model and seek input from multistate partners. 5. Research coordination through a series of WebEx multistate meetings. 6. Second annual multistate partner meeting 7. Presentation at NACDEP (National Association of Community Development and Extension Professionals) Meeting 8. Presentation in partnership with one of four Regional Centers for Rural Development

(2018): 1. Mini-conference including multistate partners and broader audience of stakeholders 2. Research coordination through a series of WebEx multistate meetings 3. First wave of publications produced 4. Multistate partners test logic model in local context 5. Presentation in partnership with one of four Regional Centers for Rural Development 6. Begin developing proposals for future work

(2019): 1. Annual multistate partner meeting 2. Redesign and implementation of second round of network analysis. 3. Research coordination through a series of WebEx multistate meetings 4. Presentation in partnership with one of four Regional Centers for Rural Development 5. Presentation at APLU (Association of Public and Land Grant Universities) conference 6. Submission of proposal to major outside funder for future work and funding

(2020): 1. Mini-conference including multistate partners and broader audience of stakeholders 2. Research coordination through a series of WebEx multistate meetings 3. Second proposal or re-submission of original proposal to major outside funder for future work and funding 4. Presentation at NACO (National Association of County Organizations) conference

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

This is a research project designed to directly inform about extension-related activities. As such, every aspect of our proposed work interweaves applied research and extension. All of our collaborators are involved in the integration of applied research and extension. We will utilize numerous networks for this research and follow-up outreach such as the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals, the Local Government Extension Training network, National Association of Counties, and the National County Association Executive Program. We plan to attend national-level conferences for the aforementioned organizations, presenting our research and conducting workshops to further our knowledge base and fine-tune our best-practice protocols. In addition, partner states may conduct workshops and trainings based on collaborative research. A major goal of this proposal is to form a multi-state Community of Practice, seeking additional opportunities for applied research and extension collaboration.

As a multistate project building on our NYS pilot, we have identified three primary categories of stakeholders: a) the community of applied researchers and government outreach specialists who are represented by our named collaborator; b) the other “intermediaries” including Extension educators who are or could be involved in the processes of generating, communicating, highlighting, disseminating, interpreting, publicizing, and contextualizing research-based information and resources for local officials; c) the local officials themselves; and d) their constituents. Our goal for (a) is to create a learning community engaged with every aspect of the work; for (b) to involve them via meetings, trainings and focus groups in helping set research priorities, facilitating data collection, and interpreting results; for (c) to involve them less intensively but in the same ways as category b. Involvement of public stakeholders (d) will be ad hoc, and not formally included in this phase of work.

Key stakeholders and beneficiaries in this effort include Extension Educators in NYS, across our partner states, as well as faculty at our multi-state partner institutions who will directly participate in, and benefit from, the research and information sharing. While this project will improve land grant universities’ effectiveness in engaging stakeholder groups via the communication of appropriate data and analyses, the focus is not solely on effective “communication”. Rather, an important focus includes creating contexts for effective learning, supporting a systemic capacity for knowledge generation, and increasing the strength of the nexus between “knowing” and “deciding”, resulting in better-informed and therefore improved decision-making at the local government level. Community leaders and their constituents are the final, and potentially most important, beneficiaries as they use these applied research findings to build local decision-making capacity around controversial issues.

The land grant systems across the states in this project reach into a great variety of communities. From large urban to remote rural contexts, including the rapidly changing demographics of urban and ex-urban localities, this project will serve a variety of diverse populations but also a variety of local government contexts. These local government contexts are also diverse, as the local leaders, themselves, bring increasing diversity to their positions. As culturally polarized issues are discussed and debated in the local arena, and as local diversity varies the context and outcomes of these decisions, our focus on supporting intermediaries who can effectively navigate these cultural landscapes is an important one as state and local populations become increasingly diverse.


The Community and Regional Development Institute at Cornell University (CaRDI - will provide overall management and coordination of this multistate research project which will include organizing research collaborator meetings, two working conferences, research and extension-based presentations at national conferences and tracking progress on research objectives. One of CaRDI’s co-faculty directors will function as the Principal Investigator of this project (John Sipple). Two CaRDI senior academic staff will function as co-PI’s to the project (David L. Kay and Robin Blakely-Armitage). The multistate research collaborator team (listed earlier) will meet via Webex between one and five times per year and in person once/year. The collaborator team will systematically address objectives, methods and track progress. The team members will be co-researchers and co-learners to review existing research, add to the research base, engage in conversations with their colleagues, and critically reflect on the research/information/extension process of supporting decision-making. Tasks will be assigned at the end of each meeting with reminders given prior to the next meeting. A blog and cloud-based work space will be created to enhance communication among the collaboration team members. The person assigned to track progress and evaluation will be a critical member of the team. For the two working conferences additional faculty and extension personnel will be invited to ensure input beyond the team. Additionally, an annual report will be developed for team members to share with their institutions and colleagues and with the directors of the four Regional Centers for Rural Development.

Literature Cited

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Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Yale University
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