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Political Polling in Transition: Event Recap

April 15 Friday 10:22 AM

This election season can be described a lot of ways, but “boring” is not one of them. Watching the news, it seems that pundits agree there are some unusual things happening-- can we trust conventional polling methods, strategy, and political wisdom to make sense of it all?

This past Wednesday, the Martin School and the Department of Political Science hosted an expert panel featuring Dr. Stephen Voss, Celinda Lake, and Robert Blizzard. Dr. Voss is a political science professor here at UK, and Celinda and Robert are both prominent political strategists that often work on opposite sides of the aisle. Their discussion was engaging, extremely relevant, and informative.

Dr. Voss framed the conversation by looking at recent Kentucky elections to highlight the large margins by which public political polling has gotten it wrong. Methods haven’t changed, but something about the climate has changed. Robert Blizzard, having worked for a firm that has used private polling to advise hundreds of candidates, highlighted ways public polling could be better, focusing on how constructing a sample might be improved.

Both political strategists agreed that voters are not in a happy place-- a majority of Americans have felt we as a nation have been on the wrong track for more than a decade, the longest negative streak ever seen. Celinda took a closer look at how the population has changed and the ways messaging is informed by polling. The nation is not only becoming more diverse, but also family dynamics are also changing. Lake felt that no one was paying enough attention to the fact that almost a majority of mothers today are single moms, for example.

We’re a bit biased (and very nerdy), but what an enjoyable discussion! We cannot thank the Board of Visitors, and especially Mike Ruehling, Brad Cowgill, and Crit Luallen for arranging to have such interesting and entertaining speakers and agreeing to moderate the discussion.


Learning to Manage Data in Today's World

April 14 Thursday 10:44 AM

What are some of the most important things you learn in an MPA/MPP program? Data management would certainly be on that list.

This semester, Dr. Toma is teaching a “Government Information Systems” to MPP and MPA students. A cornerstone of policy implementation and research is data. Understanding data collection, management, and analysis is paramount, and we've never had greater access to it than we do today. The aim of the course is to provide students with the tools needed to answer important policy questions with data—where can data be found? How do you work with Excel and Stata, the computer package used by social scientists to calculate statistics on large data sets, to answer these questions? At the beginning of the course, Dr. Toma shared with students that doing a regression is the easiest part of research—finding and preparing the data for analysis is much of the blood, sweat, and tears.

The class is very hands-on—the group meets in the computer lab every week to work with data sets. The semester started with an introduction to the ethics of data management and the IRB process. There have often speakers who are experts in managing data from a particular field, such as education, transportation, and healthcare. Some of these speakers are practitioners in the field, while others have been Ph.D. students who will continue to be great resources for MPA/MPP students.

The class will culminate in a research project. Each student selects a question of interest, finds his or her own data sources, and creates a data set to analyze. “I’m treating this project as an opportunity to get a head-start on my Capstone,” explains Sarah Smith, a first-year student. “I’m really excited about my topic, and I hope the product will be a great marketing tool to showcase my interests and abilities when I start looking for jobs after graduation next year.”

If you’re looking for an elective for the fall, let us make a suggestion—add this class to your shortlist. You’ll be a better researcher for it.


Impressions from CGI U 2016

April 13 Wednesday 02:02 PM

Three Martin School students had the honor of attending the Clinton Global Initiative University in California the first weekend of April. To be selected, students submitted proposals to address a need in education, public health, human rights, poverty, or climate change. Beta Ardiansyah, a second-year Martin School student, was selected to participate in the three-day conference with other students from all over the world. The goal of his proposal is "to end child labor in rubber-farmer households in the Rambang Lubay Indonesia," which he hopes to achieve through subsidizing family income to free up children to go to school.

He really enjoyed the speakers, especially Salman Khan, the CEO of Khan Academy. One of his big takeaways from that particular session was simple—"don’t waste inspiration"! Even if they come to you at 2 am, write them down.

While some of the sessions were more general, others were focused on the practical details of implementing the possible solutions to complex problems in the student project proposals. Beta attended sessions that concentrated on how to maintain your network, fundraising, and marketing your ideas. These sessions gave Beta tangible ideas to make his project better; he realized that for the sake of scalability, his methods would need to be adjusted so that he could get buy-in from all stakeholders.

What was the best feature of the conference? “Networking!” Beta shared, “developing countries in the world have a similar problem” in education, so being able to talk about how different groups have had success in the area was great.

Students who may be interested in participating next year, Beta says he would recommend it 125 percent!

Read CGI’s recap here.


Capstone Chronicles: Part 3

April 13 Wednesday 02:50 PM

This is the third installment of an ongoing series following our MPA and MPP students in their final semester as they complete their Capstone Project, which is an intensive research project that addresses a self-selected policy question.

The end is all too near! Our Capstone cohort has finished their papers and will head to the ring to defend their projects next Thursday. Each student is preparing a 12-minute presentation of their research, to be delivered to a panel of Martin School faculty and expert practitioners. After their presentation, the panel will pepper the students questions about their projects—why they chose a particular method or to further interpret their results. Total, each session is scheduled for 45 minutes. Immediately after the presentation and questions conclude, the faculty meet to discuss whether or not the student’s work passes muster.

To prepare, Dr. Petrovsky has scheduled practice presentation sessions this week with all the students to test their mettle before they head to the lion's den. Each second-year MPA/MPP student is timed and offered feedback from Dr. Petrovsky and other faculty that may attend the practices on their content and presentation style. Because the projects are so diverse, each presentation is, too. Some suggestions are small tweaks to wording or how the content is shown on a Powerpoint, while others anticipate the types of questions the experts will want to dig in to.

Based on the practice sessions we sat in on, we are very excited for the big day next Thursday! Members of our community are welcome—we’ll share more information soon.


Capstone Chronicles, Part 2

April 7 Thursday 10:29 AM

This is the second installment of an ongoing series following our MPA and MPP students in their final semester as they complete their Capstone Project, which is an intensive research project that addresses a self-selected policy question. The finished product includes a written paper and an oral presentation to a panel of experts.

We recently checked up on our Capstone Project cohort! We are more than halfway through the semester at this point, and our group of students has moved on from defining their research question and completing their literature review to finalizing their research design and doing analysis. Right before spring break, the group also had the opportunity to participate in an “elevator pitch” event.

The Art of Research
Methodologies for these projects can vary greatly, from qualitative program evaluations to econometric analyses (or some combination of the two). Selecting the best method can be complicated by the nature of the data available. Austin Coleman, a second-year MPP student, is addressing “the effect of income on broadband access. I chose this topic because of the persistence of the gap in access between individuals living in urban and rural areas,” he explains. How can you design your methodology to answer this question? Austin selected multivariate regression analysis; he’s using county-level data from the FCC and the Department of Agriculture.

However, he’s been presented with challenges in regards to his data. “The most interesting impact the data has had on my methodology is related to the amount of state-level variation present,” Austin notes. “State-level factors influence data aggregated at the county level, which I suspect is due to variation in state regulatory policy and the providers present in each state.”

Pitching your Ideas
The Thursday prior to spring break, students met with six volunteer professionals from a variety of backgrounds to present their research in sixty seconds– including a description of the topic, how it is being researched, and why it matters. No pressure, right? During the event, students met one-on-one with two of the experts; after giving their pitch, the practitioner and the student could chat for a few minutes about their research and presentation in greater depth. The feedback was positive– our experts were especially heartened to see students using primary data sources and thinking through implementation considerations.


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