The Centers of Prestige at SPEA

by Bob Baird

Research takes many forms at the research centers and institutes at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Prodigious energy pours forth in the form of extensive and far-reaching studies, plans, analyses, and policy reviews, as well as in needs assessments, surveys, evaluations, forecasts, models, profiles, tests, and publications. Other vehicles of technical expertise include symposia, conferences, workshops, forums, and interactions with policy-makers, decision makers, and diverse professionals.

As might be expected, the work and spirit of these research centers calls into play the vast academic, professional, and cross-cultural prowess of a respected research and teaching institution. In the process, the centers' commitment to important public issues brings considerable prestige to SPEA and Indiana University, along with those much-sought-after research grants.

The centers' research agendas are broad, ranging from public policy on urban, environmental, economic development, educational, and social services matters to work on critical health care issues and preventive medicine, from investigation of traffic accidents, including mounting concern over air bags, to monitoring of global environmental changes. By merit of the nature of public and environmental policy, SPEA's mission, and the mission of the university, the research centers are necessarily multidisciplinary in approach, staffing, and mission, and often collaborative with other departments, schools, and universities, as well as public and private agencies and companies. The Institute for Family and Social Responsibility, for example, is a joint endeavor that receives support and funding from SPEA, the School of Social Work, the Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations, and the IU Foundation.

Some of the centers, such as the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment, are wholly contained within SPEA, while others are housed within SPEA quarters but supported by other schools or academic units and entities. Some of the centers secure funding through state appropriations from the legislature, while others receive support from a variety of local, state, and national sources, including some corporations. The National Institute for Global Environmental Change Midwestern Regional Center, one of six such centers established throughout the country by the U.S. Department of Energy, receives federal funding. The Institute for Family and Social Responsibility got off the ground in 1996 with internal university funding through a Strategic Directions Charter thrust to make IU "America's New Public University."

One successful jointly sponsored development has been the Bowen Research Center, a collaboration between the Indiana University School of Medicine and SPEA. Based at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the center focuses on health issues and practical research exploring health care access, delivery, and efficacy. In its short history (it was founded in 1992) the center has received $13 million in grants and contracts. One of the center's most prestigious undertakings has been participation in a five-year, $3.2 million evaluation of a Medicaid reform plan in the state of Oregon. The study, which examines Oregon's extension of Medicaid eligibility to all uninsured or underinsured residents below the poverty level and associated rationing of medical services (see Health Care Reform in the States), teams the Bowen Center with the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina and Health Economics Research of Waltham, Massachusetts. Center co-director Deborah A. Freund, a professor of public and environmental affairs and vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean of the faculties at IUB, says the center will continue in its current direction, but may move more into research on managed care organizations and strive to become a leader in rural health care.





Another success story that has put IU on the map as a leader in environmental research has been the National Institute for Global Environmental Change Midwestern Regional Center. J. C. Randolph, a professor of public and environmental affairs who directs the center, becomes animated when discussing ongoing research coordinated at the center, which involves analysis of carbon dynamics in the Midwest. (This concerns the release of carbon dioxide from industrial and vehicular sources, and the interaction of the carbon dioxide with vegetation and climate.) Randolph says the institute is establishing a research site in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest north of Bloomington. Institute officials hope to coordinate the data collected at that site and another new site in Michigan with well-documented results collected at the Northeast Regional Center at Harvard University, as well as data collected by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. "If more carbon dioxide is taken up by plants than was previously estimated, this gives us some relief," he states. "If plant uptake is less, human-generated sources of carbon dioxide are more of a problem than we have previously realized." Since the Midwestern center opened in 1990, research grants to faculty members tackling institute endeavors have totaled about $10 million, Randolph says. Collaborative efforts between the institute and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation have generated another $10 million in grants during that time, he notes.

SPEA, which currently has seven research centers and institutes, expects to launch two new ones this year: the Institute for the Study of Government and the Nonprofit Sector and the Institute for Dispute Resolution. The institute on government and the nonprofit sector is envisioned as a preeminent research facility operated cooperatively with the Center on Philanthropy. The dispute resolution center is foreseen as strengthening SPEA's ties with the School of Law in establishing a statewide clearinghouse on dispute resolution and in creating short courses and research opportunities in the emerging field of dispute resolution and conflict management. IU officials hope to tap faculty members from SPEA, the Schools of Business and Law, and the Department of Criminal Justice for executive and continuing education courses, as well as for collaborative research.

Two of SPEA's centers predate the school's founding in 1972. The Institute for Development Strategies was known as the Urban Institute in the 1960s and became the Regional Economic Development Institute in 1984. The Transportation Research Center was called the Institute for Research in Public Safety when it was founded in 1970 as part of the Department of Police Administration. It joined SPEA in 1972. This center continues to conduct highly technical investigations of automobile crashes, has become a national authority on fatalities caused by air bags, and, as a spinoff of its highway safety mission, has become the southern Indiana administrator for the state's Drug Free Indiana campaign.

How do these well-placed, high-calibre centers of knowledge and know-how differ from consulting firms or think tanks? First, they are active teaching centers. "Literally dozens of IU undergraduate and graduate students learn research and policy skills following a hands-on, apprenticeship model of instruction," says Stephen Gottfredson, SPEA's associate dean for academic affairs. "The knowledge and skills our students learn, working daily in close proximity with distinguished IU faculty, are different from--and no less important than--the knowledge and skills they take away from our classrooms. These are active research, service, and teaching centers, and we never lose sight of our three-part mission." For instance, the Institute for Development Strategies, which has involved over forty-five IU faculty members in its research programs over the past six years, also offers a doctoral minor to SPEA and other IU graduate students and conducts weekly research workshops.

Unlike consulting firms and think tanks, the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment at IUPUI, directed by Mark Rosentraub, shies away from mere "project work" and concerns itself with forging partnerships with communities, governments, and organizations rather than formulating outright solutions to problems. In his mind, the center is something of "a bridge between theory development and implementation. . . . We try to create alternative futures." The center's clients, such as the Indianapolis Department of Public Safety, and ultimately the citizens of Indianapolis, are the arbiters of "where they want to be" and how they grapple with the strategies the center has helped them formulate, Rosentraub explains. A prime challenge of an urban policy center thus becomes getting citizens to "vest in the process" and arrive at performance benchmarks of how they want programs and policies to operate. "Once they establish their benchmarks, we can work with them to identify options to achieve those benchmarks," Rosentraub says.

Likewise, the Bowen Research Center, named after former Indiana Governor Otis R. Bowen, who has dedicated much of his life to improving health care and preventive medicine, serves as a catalyst for "better" lifestyles and a monitor of health care delivery and performance. Just as citizens are the ultimate deciders of their fate and how they will be governed, medical patients, the aging population, and citizens at large must make many choices about whether to drink, smoke, take drugs, become pregnant as teenagers, or engage in any number of other potentially destructive behaviors. The center strives to provide citizens with research-based information and education to facilitate informed decision making.

"Research revealing why and how to prevent harmful behavior would be as great a boon to society as vaccines and cures for specific diseases," Bowen says. Bowen, who began his career as a family practitioner in Bremen, is now a professor emeritus at the IU School of Medicine and serves as an informal adviser to the research institute he inspired. Besides preventive medicine--which echoes Bowen's career--the center is committed to ensuring primary health care for rural and underserved populations, containing health care costs, and maximizing the quality, economy, and efficacy of health care services.

Another center, the Education Policy Office, based at IUPUI, serves in a state education policy-making role under recently passed House Bill 1040 (1996) in staffing the Indiana Education Council (IEC), a bipartisan group of key Indiana decision makers. The IEC consists of seven commissioners, the superintendent of public instruction, four members of the General Assembly, the commisioner of higher education, and the governor's education policy adviser. The office organizes the Indiana Education Policy Network, an Education Commision of the State program, for the IEC. Primary modes of operation for the office (and simultaneously the council) include agenda setting, legislative support, evaluative studies, and policy implementation, according to Robert Lehnen, office director. "Our forums serve to build an education policy agenda for Indiana and provide methods to disseminate policy research and analysis," Lehnen says. "In contrast, the more traditional approaches to conducting research on education policy--reporting research in professional journals, facilitating conversations primarily among those in the education community, and disseminating research-based reports through the mail--are not very effective strategies when the goal is to produce actionable agendas to improve education policy in Indiana." The office, established in the early 1980s through funding from the Lilly Endowment, has been responsible for policy research on the school finance formula used to fund public education in Indiana. It has also conducted policy research on school district report card results in the passage of HB 1402 in the 1996 session of the General Assembly. HB 1402 will produce an improved method of reports on school district performance for Hoosiers. The office also is undertaking policy research on school-to-work and secondary to postsecondary linkages to improve the transition from school to the workplace.

In the realm of social dynamics, the Institute for Family and Social Responsibility has stepped forward to fill a noticeable void. As recent federal legislation converted welfare programs to capped block grants, Indiana and other states have begun to face numerous policy decisions regarding family and social services. "These decisions create challenges, yet they also provide new opportunities for creativity and innovation in the delivery of social services," says Maureen Pirog Good, an associate professor of public and environmental affairs and co-director of the institute. Although Indiana is in an enviable position with a large budget surplus, low unemployment, and a poverty rate slightly below the national average, "ongoing needs assessment indicates genuine interest in securing nonpartisan policy analysis to address the well-being of Hoosiers," Pirog-Good states.

In a similar vein, proponents of the proposed Institute for the Study of Government and the Nonprofit Sector are capitalizing on both SPEA's and the Center on Philanthropy's international acclaim in producing what U.S. News and World Report recently called "the best nonprofit management program in the country." James L. Perry, a professor of public and environmental affairs at IUB, chosen to co-direct the institute with Karen Harlow, an associate professor of public and environmental affairs at IUPUI, proposes sponsoring an annual conference to draw top scholars in the field; an annual faculty proposal competition offering $5,000 research grants; and an active publications and seminar program. In this way, IU would capture even greater visibility in addressing the intricate matrix that has developed between government and the not-for-profit sector. He points out that one-half of all social services delivered at the local level in the United States are a product of government/not-for-profit contracts, according to the authors of a 1993 book Nonprofits for Hire. Such developments raise "enormous questions about whether the nonprofit sector has the capacity to substitute for governmental action and whether emerging government/not-for-profit relationships might not bring harm to both," Perry says.

SPEA's diverse centers target the equally diverse needs of evolving communities, as well as a state, nation, and world experiencing profound changes in demographics, lifestyles, business, and economics, and in the roles of government, the not-for-profit sector, and private enterprise.


Deployed air bags have been related to thirty-two child fatalities and approximately twelve driver fatalities. In the U.S., approximately twenty million of the cars on the road have dual air bags. This photo shows a makeup imprint left from the force of a driver hitting a deploying air bag. In this case, the driver received an eye injury, which was not fatal. The Transportation Research Center's Special Crash Investigation (SCI) team examines these kind of crashes and their resulting injuries and fatalities.


Berry's World reprinted by permission of Newspaper Enterprise Association, Inc.