Community Engagement

The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center is celebrating 25 years in policy and research. We have collaborated with many partners to bring about real-world solutions in our communities. As a university-wide, multidisciplinary research and outreach unit, we are committed to addressing complex issues by linking academic research, stakeholder perspectives, and practical experience through innovative and creative solutions.

A primary focus is on community engagement to spur community improvement. These  efforts include data collection and analysis, focus groups, and public dialogue to develop strategies and solutions to issues facing our community. 

Here’s a highlight of some of the work that has resulted from these partnerships:

Lincoln Vital Signs

The Lincoln Community Foundation is collaborating with the Public Policy Center (PPC) on data collection and analysis through the Lincoln Vital Signs project, led by PPC Senior Research Manager Dr. Stacey Hoffman. The Lincoln Vital Signs project works in tandem with the Prosper Lincoln project and focuses on helping the community be informed on the state of Lincoln, NE. Lincoln Vital Signs is a website and report commissioned by some of Lincoln’s largest public and private charitable organizations. It describes how Lincoln has changed since 2005, areas where we are successful, and areas where we have room to grow. The report is completed about every two years using publicly available data to measure the strength and health of our community in the following areas: Community Profile, Economy and Workforce, Basic Needs, Education, Health, and Safety and Security. Leaders of public, private, and philanthropic organizations in Lincoln and Nebraska use the Lincoln Vital Signs report to help inform decisions, spark connections, and spur collaboration. To interact with this data, please visit the Lincoln Vital Signs website.

Recently, as part of an upcoming focus of Lincoln Vital Signs, the Lincoln Community Foundation and the PPC hosted multiple public Data Walks across the City of Lincoln in order to gain insight about data related to race equity by interacting with and listening to community members in attendance. The data points covered six areas of findings: Financial Well-being and Work, Housing and Neighborhoods, Safety, Education, Health, and Local Governance. Insights from these conversations will help inform an upcoming focus issue of Lincoln Vital Signs on race and equity in Lincoln.

Prosper Lincoln

While Lincoln Vital Signs reports help the community “be informed,” Prosper Lincoln encourages the community to “get involved.” Findings from the Lincoln Vital Signs report in 2014 led the community to create Prosper Lincoln, a focused community agenda to help address community needs. Based on data, this community agenda focuses on strong neighborhoods, workforce development, early childhood, and affordable housing. Public Policy Center Research Director Dr. Janell Walther supports the effort of Prosper Lincoln by providing strategic planning, facilitation, evaluation, and collaborator engagement, in partnership with the Prosper Lincoln team.

Learn more at

Community Engagement in the State Courts Initiative

The Public Policy Center (PPC) collaborated with the National Center for State Courts on the “Community Engagement in the State Courts Initiative,” a project that aims to improve trust between courts and minority or low-income communities and make progress on eliminating a disparity in the courts. With funding from the State Justice Institute (SJI), the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) initiated six pilot projects across the country, including Nebraska, to learn more about how courts can best engage the public to overcome social inequities and bias in the court system and build trust between various publics and the courts. Senior Research Manager Dr. Lisa PytlikZillig of the PPC co-led the development of a web-based toolkit focused on community engagement and building trust between various publics and the courts. Former PPC Senior Research Director Mark Dekraii also played a vital role in this project's efforts. Learn more about the Engage! toolkit they developed as a beginning point for how courts can engage the public to overcome social inequities and bias and build trust by visiting