Category: Engagement At Duke (Page 2 of 3)

Save the Date: APPAM Forum

State and Research University Partnerships in the Opioid Crisis

Continuing the dialogue around evidence-based policymaking discussed at last spring’s APPAM Institutional Member Forum, Duke Policy Bridge at the Sanford School of Public Policy will host a 2018 topical forum on how to build research and policy partnerships around the prevailing national issue of opioid misuse.

Opioid misuse is a major epidemic across the nation. Local and state officials bear the burden of responses to the epidemic and need assistance coordinating research and resources. As observed through Duke’s and other institution’s collaborations with state government on this issue, research universities can provide valuable resources and expertise to government leaders.

This Institutional Forum, held at Duke University, will connect the worlds of research and policy across this escalating public health epidemic, and will be a valuable opportunity for academics, researchers, and policy officials to exchange best practices for research and policy support in the face of this crisis.

Break out topics will focus on the key areas of:

  • Providing support services for children in households with substance use
  • Assisting state officials with data science inquiries
  • Embedding networks for treatment after overdose
  • Providing a system of care in underserved and rural communities

Speaker details and registration are located here

Duke Research Shows Childhood Obesity Increasing

On Monday, Duke researchers released a paper in the journal Pediatrics documenting their findings on childhood obesity in the United States, and the results are alarming.

Despite a host of programming to combat things like sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits, childhood obesity continues unabated, with a worrisome increase in severe obesity for 2 to 5 year olds. Analyzing data from the Center for Disease Control’s annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), Duke and Wake Forest University researchers also identified disparities along racial/ethnic lines with African American and Hispanic children experiencing higher rates of obesity than their White and Asian American peers.

The current findings run counter to previous reports that childhood and adolescent obesity had stabilized or even decreased in recent years. It also suggests that current efforts to combat obesity are insufficient and may only be impacting specific areas of the country. Associate professor of population health sciences and lead researcher on the analysis, Asheley Skinner, put the findings into perspective: “Obesity in the youngest group is a concern…because when obesity starts younger, most of these children continue to have obesity throughout childhood and into adulthood.” In the long term, the implications of such trends range from increasing medical costs for concomitant diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure to decreasing life expectancy.

The Duke Team that collaborated on the recent report works out of Duke’s Center for Childhood Obesity Research, established in January 2017 under the Department of Pediatrics. Of particular interest is the Center’s stated goal to translate original research into policy change “by collaborating with legislators and key decision-makers and providing them with expertise and advice.”


Duke’s Drones helping DoD

Duke researchers from the Nicholas School of the Environment’s marine lab recently won funding for a project that will help the Department of Defense (DoD) use drones to improve land management practices. The Marine Robotics & Remote Sensing Lab specializes in the use of drones, also known as Unmanned Aviation Vehicles (UAVs), to inform marine science and conservation. From counting grey seals in Canada to mapping the North Carolina coast before and after hurricanes, the applications for UAVs are myriad.

For this newest project, researchers at Duke received nearly $1 million from the U.S. DoD to understand how commercial drones with high-resolution imaging can help land managers monitor the effects of storm erosion, amphibious training, and prescribed burns on training facilities along the coast. In particular, the project aims to help integrate UAVs into monitoring practices at Camp Lejeune’s Onslow Beach, a key training area for marines. David Johnston, director of the lab, described how the research and training provided through the project will help “develop the protocols to help balance policies regulating UAS use and provides a clear transition plan to facilitate use across DoD land assets.”

Johnston’s team of Duke researchers will conduct the research in partnership with UNC’s Institute of Marine Science, Croatan National Forest, and Attollo LLC, a veteran-owned company with experienced drone pilots. Leveraging research findings, the private-public partnership will ultimately focus on “technology transition” – providing equipment, training and protocol development to land managers at Camp LeJeune.

For more information on the project, check out this in-depth article from Coastal Review Online.

New Policy Bridge Series in Duke Today

As part of Policy Bridge’s mission to connect Duke researchers with policymakers, we’ve launched a new series in Duke Today highlighting policy engagement efforts led by faculty and researchers across campus. The inaugural article highlights research scientist Katie Rosanbalm, who works with schools and child services agencies across North Carolina to better identify and treat children affected by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). From focus groups with care providers to collaborations with nonprofits, Rosanbalm’s community-based research is already seeing results. One pilot program in Rowan County has resulted in fewer hospitalizations and crisis center services requested since its inception four years ago.

Would you like us to highlight your research in the next installment? To inquire about our engagement story series, email

Policy Engagement Training

Organized by the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN), in partnership with the William T. Grant Foundation, this interactive workshop provides researchers and data scientists the opportunity to learn best practices for developing reciprocal relationships with civic intermediaries and policymakers. In the pursuit of its mission to bridge the gap between universities and the policy process, the network has identified the knowledge and skills that researchers need to use their expertise more effectively in the policy realm. The centerpiece is an approach that emphasizes relationships and research-practice partnerships between academics and practitioners, rather than the traditional model of one-way information dissemination.

This workshop aims to provide concrete tools to empower researchers to foster long-term, reciprocal relationships with policymakers. These relationships — which are most formally organized as research-practice partnerships, but can take many other forms — have the potential to address policy crises and opportunities when they arise, as well as to promote policy improvement over the long-run. Skills taught in the training include: how to develop ongoing, reciprocal, trusting relationships with policymakers and civic intermediaries; how to assess policymakers’ resources, needs, and opportunities; the timing of the policy-making process; how to make effective use of intermediary groups; how interaction with policymakers can help researchers determine better research questions; and how ongoing policy engagement can be a part of researchers’ academic success.

Co-hosted by Duke Policy Bridge


Date: Friday, March 30th

Time: 8am-3pm


Open to doctoral students, post-docs, research associates, and faculty.

Applications will be accepted until 8:00am EST Tuesday, February 13th. We will notify applicants of their admission status by Monday, February 19th.

Duke Professor Uncovers Gerrymandering

Chair of Duke’s Math Department and North Carolina native, Professor Jonathan Mattingly, has changed the course of the state’s history with his data-driven research on gerrymandered districts. Earlier this month, a panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional districts as unconstitutional gerrymanders created to disproportionately benefit the Republican party – and they cited Mattingly’s research in the lead opinion.

By creating thousands of simulations of possible districts – and applying a host of other statistical techniques – Mattingly works with a team of Duke students to understand if real-life congressional districts were shaped to favor one political party over another, i.e. if they have been victims of gerrymandering. The group’s work is part of the Data+ program, a 10-week summer research experience for Duke undergraduates interested in tackling interdisciplinary challenges through data analysis, just one initiative of the overarching Information Initiative at Duke. Check out the team’s website for more details about the diagnostic tool they use to quantify gerrymandering in North Carolina and seven other states (Arizona, Iowa, Maryland, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin).

Mattingly’s research is actively influencing the future of politics in North Carolina, although the case’s resolution is not yet clear. The federal panel of judges that declared the districts unconstitutional had ordered the NC General Assembly to enact a remedial plan by January 24th. On January 18th the Supreme Court agreed to freeze the lower court’s opinion, most likely delaying political justice for another election cycle.

Research to Action: Prison Reform

Researchers at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy released a report in December reviewing nationwide prison management practices and providing specific recommendations for the state’s prison systems. In the wake of an investigative series in the Charlotte Observer detailing serious violations within the state’s prisons, the NC Governor’s Crime Commission had tasked Duke researchers with finding potential solutions to an intransigent problem: prison staffing and security.

Lead researcher and recent Sanford graduate, Caitlin Saunders, joined Joel Rosch, senior researcher and policy liaison for the Center for Child and Family Policy, in a recent podcast summarizing their key findings. After an extensive literature review, interviews with national organizations and in-depth interviews with seven state-level prison systems, the researchers ultimately came up with three broad categories of recommendations for the state of North Carolina: invest in personnel, establish a cohesive organizational culture, and improve facility safety.

In speaking with prison administrators across the country, Caitlin and her team found that the issues North Carolina faced in hiring, screening, training and retaining correctional officers were ubiquitous. One surprising finding: hiring and retaining staff in prisons isn’t all about the money. In fact, according to Caitlin, states with the highest salaries don’t have the lowest vacancy rates precisely because employees care more about their workplace environment, professional development opportunities, and feelings of efficacy than their paycheck alone.

The report was also highlighted on January 9th on the news show Capital Tonight and will serve as a tool for policymakers as they look to reform North Carolina’s prison systems.

Cook Center’s New Brief on Civic Wealth

On December 8th, 2017, The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity released a new research brief on the concept of civic wealth, written in collaboration with the Scholars Strategy Network and Insight Center for Community Economic Development. All three organizations work to translate research into policy, and their latest research is doing just that.

The Research Brief introduces a new concept through which to understand the current and historical political landscape in the United States: civic wealth. Using economic wealth as a parallel notion, the authors posit that civic wealth is a combination of a person or community’s civic assets minus their civic liabilities. Civic assets may include qualities such as a higher sense of efficacy, high political knowledge or social connectedness. Civic liabilities take away the ability to fully participate in politics, including such things as mass incarceration, stigmatization, voter suppression or caregiver responsibilities.

Using civic wealth as a framework for understanding civic participation can inform efforts to engage marginalized communities in the political process. The authors argue that “failure of scholars and practitioners to correctly diagnose the cause of low levels of civic participation lead to ineffectual prescriptions” and that “the concept of “civic wealth” is a productive corrective.” While the concept is still being “operationalized” it has the potential to provide policymakers with a better understanding of the forces driving (and discouraging) political participation, leading to more effective solutions for mobilizing marginalized communities.

To learn more about the research, check out the authors behind the brief:

  • Avi Green, Executive Director of the Scholars Strategy Network
  • Jamila Michener, Professor of Government at Cornell University
  • Shauna Shames, Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University
  • Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Director of Racial Equity and Strategy at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development

Peter Feaver testifies on nuclear policy

On Tuesday, November 14th, Professor Peter Feaver testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lending his expertise on Presidential “Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons.” It was the first time since 1967 that Congress had held a committee hearing to determine what legislative checks and balances exist around nuclear command and control – an increasingly salient topic given the President’s rhetoric on Twitter and other fora vis-à-vis North Korea.

With dual appointments in political science and public policy, Professor Feaver has researched and worked in American military strategy for over 30 years, including as Special Advisor for Strategic Planning and Institutional Reform on the National Security Council Staff at the White House (2005-2007). He currently serves as Director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and Director of Duke’s American Grand Strategy Program (AGS). Feaver joined former military commanders and Department of Defense officials on Tuesday to provide expert opinion and recommend next steps for updating the country’s nuclear policies.

In a succinct testimony followed by an open question and answer session, Feaver educated committee members on the complexities of our country’s nuclear strategy, past and present. He began by describing the importance of maintaining a credible nuclear deterrence component, then emphasized the need for more investments to keep our nuclear technology up to date. Next, Feaver indicated that the best reforms to nuclear command and control should involve maximizing deliberation time – leveraging the human element in decision-making to further mitigate risks. He ended with a plea to act now to review the nuclear command and control which “is likely…overdue for some major (and expensive) upgrades.”

Duke professors regularly testify before Congress to lend their expertise and share research-related findings to policymakers on a variety of issues. Feaver’s invitation to speak at Tuesday’s hearing is testament to the continuing role that academics play beyond the “ivory tower,” working together with policymakers to strengthen our country’s policies through better informed decision-making.

Duke’s Madhu Vulimiri talks Medicaid on WUNC

Duke’s engagement with the broader policy community is driven not only by faculty but also by students like Madhu Vulimiri, a second-year public policy candidate at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Madhu recently joined two senior healthcare leaders in a conversation with Frank Stasio from North Carolina public radio to provide her expert opinion on best practices to improve the state’s healthcare system.

It’s a problem faced by healthcare systems around the nation: a small group of “super users” account for a disproportionate amount of Medicaid costs. Sometimes referred to as “frequent flyers,” these patients create huge expenses because they frequently visit hospitals instead of using preventative care, receiving sub-optimal treatment that doesn’t get to the root of their health problems. Such patients often suffer from other social determinants of health such as substance abuse or homelessness, and thus require a more holistic care environment – one that entails building relationships with social workers, community health workers, and building bridges to coordinate services across the healthcare system.

In North Carolina, such a holistic understanding of health is more salient than ever as the state is poised to move from a fee-for-service system to a managed care system. Instead of the state paying providers directly for volume of care, North Carolina will contract with private insurance companies to pay a fixed amount per month for a group of patients under a provider’s purview. Madhu worked last semester with a cross-disciplinary Bass Connections team to analyze models in other states, take a closer look at Medicaid reform proposals from the former and current governor’s office as well as the General Assembly, and provide actionable recommendations to the North Carolina policymakers and citizens on the question: “What is the best path forward for Medicaid in North Carolina?”.

On April 25th, 2017, Madhu and her Bass Connections team hosted a presentation and discussion in Raleigh for policymakers and citizens where they submitted a report detailing their findings. On that same day, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services requested public comments on Medicaid reform and the team submitted  a public comment highlighting recommendations from their full-length report.

Bass Connections is a university-wide initiative that brings together interdisciplinary groups of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students to apply “knowledge, research and skills in problem-solving, with engagement from community partners.” Projects span an array of policy topics from global health to energy and environment, drawing on the wealth of information and thought leadership at Duke to find solutions to some of the most vexing policy questions.

Want to learn more? Contact to find out what projects are in the pipeline!

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