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Informing County Based Economic Development (ED) Decisions: A Scientific Foundation for Strategic Outreach

Investigators
Brown, David
Institutions
Cornell University
Start date
2012
End date
2015
Objective

The goal is to enhance how universities and CCE educators deploy outreach strategies to local government agencies to enable local leaders to make better-informed decisions. How do locally elected officials weigh political versus scientific data in their decision-making This research seeks to determine when and how University-based data, research, and training influence local decisions, exploring not only the relevance and timeliness of the information, but also the manner & context in which it is searched, supplied and received. Research objectives include:

1. Draw on learning/decision making/conflict/risk communication theory to understand how local decision makers learn.

2. Distill literature on communicating complex evidence-based information to policy makers.

3. Develop our selection criteria.

4. Develop hypotheses about the most effective types of outreach/communication.

5. Evaluate robustness of hypotheses through structured interviews/focus groups.

6. Develop a proposal in partnership with other states (LGET network) for outside funding.

The extension objectives of this project include:

1. Build a cohort of County educators/Extension partners.

2. Enhance current workshop/training curriculum, print, web, and workshop formats; simultaneously to develop capacity to build more effective learning environments; publicize results in outlets/journals targeted at CCE educators.

3. Apply findings to enhance CaRDI/CCE's existing government training and outreach efforts and priorities.

4. Examine the process by which CaRDI, CCE, school districts and counties work together as partners when conducting and disseminating new research and responding to current policy needs.

5. Refine CaRDI's existing strategic plan based on research results.

6. Strengthen relationship with national LGET network to leverage impact of results in designing larger studies and enhanced outreach by universities across the country. In a time of increased fiscal constraint and heightened political tensions demanding greater accountability and efficiency, localities must work more efficiently, collaboratively, and be well-informed about key issues. This project takes an innovative and leading role as a foundation for land grant universities to explore critical questions surrounding the communication of research and information to policymakers. Key milestones of the project are as follows: Oct.'12-Feb.'13-Review of Research Literature completed. Jan.'13-Specific counties will be selected and CCE Executive Directors and County Executives will be contacted. April'13-Analysis completed. May'13-Hypotheses for various delivery methods completed. July'13-Nov.`13-Initial interviews with two leaders in each of four counties will be completed. Oct.`13-Mar.'14-Secondary set of in

terviews will be completed. Jan.'14-April'14-Focus groups completed. July `14-Dec.'14-Specific strategies for CaRDI service delivery will be altered based on findings. March `15-July `15-Revisit initial participants for follow-up interviews/observations. July `15-Sept. `15-Recommendations for enhanced delivery of research knowledge for CCE and other University faculty.

More information

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY:
The key questions that will be at the center of our attention are: When and how do University-based data, research, and training influence local decisions How do locally elected officials weigh political versus scientific data in their decision-making How is university-based information and research viewed, accessed, interpreted and used by decision-makers How is the step-by-step decision-making process that takes place in county-level government decision making contexts Does this constitute a unique local government based "ecology of learning" How can CaRDI/CCE/Cornell enhance their own practice to support balanced decision-making effectively in County government contexts How can Outreach programs, particularly those pursued in the issue areas of greatest interest to CaRDI and those pertaining to Cornell's research and extension priorities, be improved to reflect research supported best practice in local government outreach and training Multiple forces have increased the significance and impact of local policy and decision making in the United States. The greatest attention within social movements regarding "relocalization" has probably been within the food system/agricultural areas. However, in all areas of interest here - agriculture, natural resources, education, environment, food safety, human nutrition and rural and community development - decision making capacity at the local level plays an important and often central role. Effective university outreach can raise the profile of the land grant university and help fulfill the land grant mission by communicating relevant research results to local leadership. However, while outreach strategies are routinely improved based on quality program evaluation work and theories of "learning by doing", all too often ad hoc programming evolves that is not self-consciously informed by research-supported best practice. This potential gap in quality and missed opportunity for effectiveness is ironic for an institution that holds research based learning as a central tenet. This project will advance research to improve CaRDI's, CCE's, and, more generally, the University's effectiveness in engaging stakeholder groups via the communication of appropriate data and analyses to enhance local decision-making capacity. This project will result in better informed and improved decision-making at the local level. In a time of increased fiscal constraint and heightened political tensions demanding greater accountability and efficiency, localities must work more efficiently, collaboratively, and be well-informed about key issues. Learning how to better deliver sound research-based information and training, and promoting engagement with our stakeholders on these critical community and economic development issues will build capacity at the local and regional level. This project takes an innovative and leading role as a foundation for land grant universities to explore critical questions surrounding the communication of research and information to policymakers.

APPROACH:
The project will focus on elected officials in a small set of NYS counties who are making economic development decisions requiring a legislative vote, e.g. for service sharing, property tax cap override, and land use/energy issues. We will conduct structured interviews and focus groups with officials and analyze televised committee/public meetings. These activities will identify factors influencing individual decision making, group (committee/legislative) decision dynamics, and the role of information and educational interventions (university outreach efforts) on process and decision outcomes. Our case studies will, by design, aim to capture variation in context and assist in the broad goal of understanding the variety of outreach models to better fit with the needs and practices of local decision-makers. Counties will be selected because they are focused on economic development and are under tight budget constraints imposed at least in part by the 2012 property tax cap. Our work in year one will systematically identify these sources of information and translational techniques and categorize them by type of information exchange The hypotheses will be driven by our literature review and experience and then tested for value in our case studies in year two. Once we engage in substantial learning about how local decisions are made and with what types of information and sources of data, we will focus in year 3 on the actual dissemination practices used. Each of these initiatives aims to provide useful information to local decision-makers, but it is unclear exactly how this information (research and data) are perceived, utilized, balanced, or ignored. Using data gathered from another Hatch/Smith Lever project focusing on the shared services of local government officials across NYS and basic economic, demographic and political information on each county, we will screen the various counties to make strategic selections. A set of three to four counties will be selected for potential robustness of data and fiscal challenge, and variation in county size and geography, and experience of local leaders. Once we have identified the sub-set of counties to study in detail we will work closely with the CCE Executive Directors in each of these study counties, conducting our focus groups, interviews, etc. To further inform and guide the study, we will form an advisory committee to include CCE, County-level officials, CU faculty, and other stakeholders. The purposes and objectives of the study will be shared with county leaders and then initial structured interviews will be scheduled (45-60 minute interview with each county leader). Other county officials directly involved with the initial participants will be invited to participate in the second round of interviews, including leaders central to budget and tax decisions. Finally, a set of 6-8 other local leaders within each county will be identified and invited to participate in a focus group examining the characteristics of issues and the county context.

PROGRESS: 2012/10 TO 2013/09
Target Audience: The key audiences reached during this first year included our County partners in our three study counties (Onondaga, Seneca, and Saratoga) who participated in our initial research and focus groups. This included members of the County legislative bodies who participated in the decision-making process we were directly studying. In addition, our target audience also includes the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Executive Directors in our three study counties, as well as a broader group of CCE Executive Directors (from Putnam, Albany, Chemung, Tioga, Jefferson, and Genesee Counties) who have participated in conference calls. Changes/Problems: Nothing Reported What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided? In July 2013, CaRDI convened a Community Development Institute (CDI) on the Cornell Campus. Attending were a broad range of local government officials, community development practitioners, planners, economic developers, and school district administrators, among others. A workshop at the CDI focused on this Hatch project, providing an overview of the project goals, our findings to date, and gave an opportunity for the participants to discuss the topic at length. As a result, the participants had the chance to reflect on their own decision-making styles, how and if they sought evidence-based information and other data to inform their decision-making, and gave us ideas about various outreach approaches to consider as we move forward into Years Two and Three. In September 2013, we gave a presentation on the project findings to date at the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) Annual Meetings in Saratoga Springs. County officials from all over the state attended this meeting. As decision-makers, they were very interested in the project and provided some key insights. As in the case of the CDI, this presentation provided both the participants and the presenters with the opportunity to reflect and learn about decision-making styles and approaches to accessing and integrating research and data into the decision-making process. In both cases the importance of the role of intermediaries was reinforced. In addition to these formal conference presentations, our interaction with CCE Executive Directors and County government officials in our three case study counties has provided on-going opportunities for professional development. We have shared our synthesis and analyses of the focus group findings with these groups, and asked for additional comment and insight. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest? The project findings to date have been shared with our County government partners, the CCE Executive Directors in our case study counties, the broader group of CCE Executive Directors who have participated in conference call focus groups, and our advisory committee. In all cases we have compiled a “findings to date summary” and emailed it to these individuals. We have invited comment and feedback in a variety of ways, including a follow up focus group in Onondaga County, and several conference calls with the advisory committee and CCE groups. Our “results” are viewed as preliminary, and are intended to help shape our next phase of work rather than being viewed as conclusive and final. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals? During the next reporting period we plan to focus on the role of intermediaries, such as our CCE partners, in the local government decision making process. As such we will begin to work more closely with a broader set of stakeholders to develop more capacity among intermediaries (including, but not limited to CCE) to effectively navigate the local government decision-making context and help link the University and community more closely. We plan to conduct additional focus groups and other information gathering sessions at such venues as the New York State Rural Schools Association (NYS RSA) in June, the National Association of Counties (NACO) conference in July, a Regional Community Development Institute in the fall of 2014, the NYSAC conference in September, the CCE Leadership Conference in September, along with several smaller meetings throughout this next year. In addition, we will be approaching a group from other Land Grant institutions to explore the possibility of developing a multi-state proposal for longer-term funding. As our research continues to yield promising information, we will work with our CCE and County government partners to enhance our training and outreach efforts and priorities. This next reporting period is an important one for focusing on how CaRDI and CCE work together and separately in responding to information needs at the local level.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
NYC-159400
Accession number
230580
Categories
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication
Bacterial Pathogens
Policy and Planning