Planting Big Ideas
Seed Grants Seek to "Grow" Policy-Relevant Research Projects
Big ideas often have small starts. This is why IPR has awarded six seed grants to help its faculty grow small, policy-relevant research projects.
“The seed grant program furthers IPR’s core mission of excellence in interdisciplinary social science research by providing small amounts of money that we hope will lead to other awards or jumpstart larger projects,” said IPR political scientist Wesley G. Skogan, head of the awards committee.
Postsecondary Education and Training Pilot Program for Low-Income Mothers
IPR developmental psychologist Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and IPR research scientist Teresa Eckrich Sommer hope to expand a unique dual-generation intervention that links postsecondary education and training of low-income mothers to their children’s development through early childhood education centers (ECEs).
“ECEs are uniquely positioned to harness mothers’ hopes for their children as a source of motivation for their own educational progress,” Chase-Lansdale said.
The researchers’ recent exploratory work also indicates that such a program provides mothers with a supportive community of staff and peers. In addition, it intervenes at a critical development point in their preschoolers’ lives, at which the impact of maternal educational improvement is likely greater than if the mothers were to wait until their children were in school. Finally, ECE programs address the need for childcare, which is one of the most oft-cited barriers to parents’ postsecondary education.
The seed grant is enabling the researchers to interview experts around the country in workforce development, postsecondary education, youth initiatives, and adult education to help refine the proposed intervention design. The initial seed grant has also led to a new award from the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a pilot implementation (CareerAdvance) through the Community Action Project in Oklahoma.
Information Diffusion over Social Networks: An Experimental Pilot Study
IPR economist Lori Beaman is working with Andrew Dillon of the International Food Policy Research Institute on a project that is testing network theory by investigating the spread of agricultural knowledge through farmers’ social networks in the West African nation of Mali. In particular, the researchers are using an experimental design to track how farmers in 30 villages share information about compost.
“It is puzzling that so many farmers in this region have not adopted various agricultural technologies, especially compost, so we hope to learn more about how this type of information does—or does not—get spread around,” Beaman said.
Farmers in randomly selected villages receive calendars with information on compost practices for crops common in their area. The researchers then track diffusion of the calendars and conduct follow-up interviews to see how well farmers spread the information.
Privatization of Public Housing
As head of the Illinois Families Study—a state-mandated research consortium looking at welfare reform—IPR social policy professor Dan Lewis has tracked the precipitous decrease in financial aid to poor mothers in the state. With this award, Lewis now turns his attention to the dismantling of public housing in Chicago and its impact on residents.
The Chicago Housing Authority launched its “Plan for Transformation” in 2000 and began demolishing densely populated, high-rise buildings. In their place came mixed-income developments, scattered-site public housing, and Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly known as “Section 8”). Lewis plans to interview and track the movements of residents in one of the last remaining large-scale public housing developments on Chicago’s North Side.
“In the last 10 years, 25,000 public housing units in Chicago have disappeared, and where are those residents now?” Lewis asked.
Party Organization and the Policymaking Process
Does it matter if a political party is—or has been—heavily influenced or dominated by patronage-based “machines,” labor unions, or issue-oriented groups?
IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin is comparing organizational changes over three decades between the Democratic parties in the rust-belt states of Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. While it is assumed that organizational arrangements and alliances matter, he said, to date no one has clearly spelled out the relationship, nor fully understood the underlying causal mechanisms.
“Because these state parties are, in certain respects, a microcosm of the national Democratic Party’s three distinct organizational bases, the hope is that this project will help illuminate broader challenges facing the national party,” Galvin said.
“Science of Science Policy”: Scientific Collaboration and High-Impact Research
Prior to 1950, the lone scientist made most breakout scientific discoveries. Since then, teams of scientists have been responsible for almost all blockbuster discoveries.
Having documented this “near universal sea change” in scientific investigation, management and strategy professor Brian Uzzi, an IPR faculty associate, is using his seed grant money to access the ISI Web of Science database and expand his study of interdisciplinary teams and networks, particularly in the public health and science policy arenas. Specifically, he and his colleagues are investigating how multidisciplinary teams affect scientific impact and whether increased funding for multidisciplinary teams is warranted.
“We also hope to see how this trend might affect U.S. leadership in science,” said Uzzi,who is Richard L. Thomas Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change.
The Use of Empirical Research to Protect Juvenile Due Process Rights
Jeannette Colyvas, assistant professor of education and social policy and an IPR associate, isconducting exploratory research that studies the role of empirical knowledge of child and adolescent development in the juvenile court system.
Since the 1960s, the U.S. juvenile justice system has shifted from its protective role to a more punitive one, Colyvas explained, and preliminary data indicate that courts rarely make use of relevant social science information. For example, the 14-year-old defendant in one recent case was determined by a psychologist to have the mental capacity of a 5-year-old, but the teenager was tried anyway and found guilty.
“We hope that our project will highlight the seriousness of the threat to the right to a fair trial for this vulnerable population,” Colyvas said. She is working on the project with graduate student April Faith-Slaker.