A Case Study in University-Community Cooperation to Improve Local Government Performance

William D. Coplin, Carol Dwyer
This study tells the story of how a university research program, the Community Benchmarks Program (CBP), simultaneously created a unique learning experience for undergraduates and provided technical research assistance to the 35 local government units in New York State’s Onondaga County. A sizable grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation provided the support that allowed the CBP the luxury of experimentation. Procedures were developed to solicit projects from clients and to produce specific studies by an undergraduate upper division class offered every semester. These studies have attracted substantial local media coverage and, more important, demonstrate the value of having systematic and comparative data for making decisions and evaluating programs. The most significant accomplishment of the CBP is the educational value to students and the research value to local communities. The importance of the program has meant that the CBP is now institutionalized at The Maxwell School. This permanent status allows staff to dedicate their efforts towards student education and research and not on raising outside funds. The reader will see that the initial plans to develop macro community indicators to be repeated periodically a la the Oregon Benchmark Project changed as a result of the failure of early attempts to form citizen-based committees and attract news coverage for such studies. Realizing that most citizens, politicians and government officials had little or no interest in community outcome measures and that the media had trouble warming up to comprehensive studies, the CBP moved to discrete studies for clients that request the information or those sought out by the CBP. The research projects focus on specific policy issues. This transformation also better serves the needs and capabilities of undergraduates.
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