Institute for Public Policy and Management: Speaking Most Urgently to Regional Needs

Table of Contents Previous Next

The Institute for Public Policy and Management, under the current leadership of director Betty Jane Narver, keeps a finger on the pulse of emerging trends and issues of vital interest to residents, communities, and their governments in the Pacific Northwest.

The Institute is the applied research arm of the UW's Graduate School of Public Affairs (GSPA). It serves as an umbrella organization for five constituent centers: The Northwest Policy Center (NPC), directed by Paul Sommers (see Northwest Policy Center); the Human Services Policy Center, directed by Richard Brandon (see Washington Kids Count: The Human Services Policy Center); the Cascade Center for Public Service, chaired by Jon Brock; the Center on Reinventing Public Education, led by Paul Hill, and the Fiscal Policy Center, directed by James McIntire.

This UW unit originally was created in the 1930s by the Washington State Legislature as the Institute for Governmental Research. That earlier incarnation responded to state and municipal government research requests. In the 1960s, the unit's mission changed to emphasize academic research and scholarly publications. But during the early 1980s, as the state experienced fiscal stress and cut-backs in university funding, and as national attention focused on state and local governments during a period of federal devolution, the Institute "reinvented" its focus on state and local government policy.

Since 1986, the Institute has developed new constituencies and a more diverse base of operation. "The Institute has increasingly anticipated emerging issues affecting the State's and region's economic and social health," notes Narver. "Over time, efforts have been concentrated in those areas that speak most urgently to state policymaking and resource allocation."

What could be more urgent than the health and well-being of our children? Washington Kids Count, a project of the Human Services Policy Center that tracks the conditions of children and families on a broad range of measures, issues an annual report on The State of Washington's Children. The Human Services Policy Center (HSPC) was created in 1991 and is devoted to fostering integration of various human services--education, health, social and family services--by fostering communication among policymakers, practitioners, academics, and community and media representatives. Core funding for the HSPC is provided by The Stuart Foundations; Washington Kids Count is funded by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, CBS, the Boeing Company, and the City of Seattle. HSPC maintains close ties with Washington's Family Policy council and with the Children's Alliance, the State's primary advocacy group for children.

Washington Kids Count is just one of many ways that research at the Institute addresses regional needs. Another example is The Portrait, a publication of the Northwest Policy Center and U.S. Bancorp. It furnishes a valuable source of data on income, population, and employment in eight northwestern states and two Canadian provinces, presenting performance reviews for past years and projections for the upcoming year. The NPC was created in 1987 with a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation and works to improve public strategies for maintaining a vital economy and a healthy environment in Northwest states. It focuses on understanding the regional economy, creating an entrepreneurial economy, revitalizing nonurban communities, preparing the workplace and workforce of the future, and improving environmental quality.

On another front, a study conducted by the Institute led to the establishment of the Hanford Joint Council for Resolving Employee Concerns. The Institute was asked by the Washington State Department of Ecology to study the feasibility of a third-party review process to resolve problems and disputes at the Hanford nuclear reservation in southeastern Washington State.

For years, Hanford has been the focus of controversy over the handling of employee concerns and complaints about safety and environmental problems. When these disputes have escalated into "whistleblowing" cases, they have been accompanied by harassment claims and disruption of careers. The consequences can be very damaging for all parties, including employees, management, contractors, the community, and government agencies.

In the course of the study, Institute researchers conducted over 125 interviews with informed and affected parties, examined volumes of reports and files, and reviewed research data on whistleblowing and on dispute resolution. The Institute recommended the creation of an independent, neutral, problem-solving forum for handling significant employee concerns. Such a body now has been established, and GSPA faculty member Jon Brock, who was involved in the study, has been tapped to served as chair of that Council. In addition, the Institute's recommendations have been used by the Department of Energy as a model for other nuclear facilities around the country. An editorial in the Seattle Times called the step bold and innovative--"a welcome breath of fresh air."footnote 1

Jon Brock also heads the Institute's Cascade Center for Public Service. The center provides management training for mid- and senior-level executives in state and local government and has provided training for newly elected state legislators. On another front, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, led by Paul Hill, a national education expert who has been associated with Rand Corporation, focuses on national issues of education policy, especially on governance structures in urban school districts. It is funded in part by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Exxon Foundation, among other organizations. And formed in 1994 was the Fiscal Policy Center, a primary resource for policymakers and advocates on issues of federal budget cuts and state tax and spending limitations, particularly as they affect low income and vulnerable populations.

The key figure who keeps all of these plates whirling in the air is Institute director Betty Jane Narver. Her own work has focused on education reform efforts at the state and national level. She has conducted research on the implementation of federal and state programs such as federal block grants, programs for the developmentally disabled, growth management, and a program called First Steps, the extension of Medicaid to pregnant women living at 185% of the poverty level. She is currently the principal investigator for a study of Tacoma's enterprise community. The study is part of a national independent assessment of selected enterprise communities and empowerment zones.

Narver's recent work has focused on workforce preparation, especially for traditionally underserved populations. She serves as chair of the Washington State Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board and is a member of the Governor's School to Work Council. With support from the German Marshall Fund, she has observed workforce preparation programs in Germany, Denmark, and Sweden.

Narver has had a long involvement in city and regional issues. Many residents of the region will remember her past service as president of the Municipal League of King County. In addition, Narver is a member of the Education Working Committee of the Washington Roundtable, and Chair of the Seattle Public Library Board. She received the UW's Outstanding Public Service Award in 1991.

  1. "Whistle-blower council is Hanford innovation," The Seattle Times, Editorial, May 23, 1994.

Table of Contents Previous Next