UIC Funds New Research on Citizens’ Role in Public Policy

Five research projects at the University of Illinois at Chicago dealing with the citizen’s role in public policy have received $20,000 awards.

The awards, given by the UIC Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement, are funding faculty research aimed at improving citizen participation in government services, often through the use of technology.

Recent projects supported by the institute include software that helps students understand the political redistricting process, technology for persons with disabilities to communicate their policy preferences, and tools for public exhibits to display information specific to each viewer. In addition, the institute has supported the study of political participation among immigrant communities in the Chicago region.

The institute runs Civic Source, a web portal that hosts civic engagement and policy information, learning tools and opportunities for civic engagement.

The five research projects for 2012 are:

  • Digital libraries: Eugene Fregetto, clinical associate professor of managerial studies, will focus on the emerging digital library, learning how patron demand will drive a change in library collections and the skills of library staffs.

“Current undergraduates are less excited and more skeptical of today’s digital media and social networks,” Fregetto said. “Interestingly, many express an adult-type regret when talking about how their younger siblings are hooked on the digital media.”

  • Public service careers among diverse groups: Margaret LaPorte, visiting director of graduate student services in the department of public administration, will research why college students of various ethnic backgrounds pursue public service careers and what factors lead to their success.

“All sectors of public governance — federal, state, local, nonprofit — will need talented and well-trained young professionals to fill the void left when current employees retire or leave to work in other sectors,” LaPorte said.

  • Habits of democratic citizenship: Anthony Laden, associate professor of philosophy, will evaluate civic engagement to distinguish actions that foster habits of democratic citizenship from other forms of public-spirited action.

“Habits of democracy include capacities for listening to others and taking what they say seriously, even if it is unfamiliar to us or we disagree with it, and treating others with respect rather than merely as the objects of our pity or charity or contempt or dismay,” Laden said.

  • Illinois’ fiscal crisis: David Merriman, professor of public administration, will produce materials that will help citizens understand the budget process, become involved in the policy debate, and demand that the government respond to their concerns about fiscal solvency.

“Incomplete and confusing budget reports disguise the true extent of the problem and the catastrophe has been prolonged by lack of political will,” Merriman said.

  • Community foundations’ impact: David Perry, professor in UIC’s Great Cities Institute, will partner with Terry Mazany, chief executive officer of the Chicago Community Trust, to compile national case studies of civic engagement that increased the effectiveness of community foundations.

“We’re asking community foundation heads around the country, ‘Are community foundations really place-based, or have they lost their meaning?’“ Perry said.

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