Community Engagement

The Public Policy Center's work in public engagement is focused on helping policymakers, community organizations, and individuals make informed decisions based on data and research. Researchers focus on a variety of topics, including: institutional trust and confidence, dispute resolution, public perceptions of new technologies, environment and natural resources policy, and community improvements. Center staff are engaged in multiple projects facilitating research related to public engagement and behavioral aspects relating to various aspects of environmental policy. A key area of Center consultation and research involves strategies to promote public engagement in governmental and policy issues.

Recent projects include: Lincoln Vital Signs Project, Public Perceptions of Unmanned Aerial Systems, and the Lincoln Bicentennial Cascade Fountain Renovation Survey.

Efforts in this area include:

  • Collaborating with the Lincoln Community Foundation assisting with the Prosper Lincoln initiative which brings together thought leaders from across the community to promote public engagement in key issues affecting the community.
  • Leading the development of the annual Lincoln Vital Signs report. This reporting of various statistical indicators has spurred community efforts in early childhood, employment skills, and innovation, and later in affordable housing and strong neighborhoods. Center staff continue with developing assessments and providing strategic consultation with this process. 
  • Providing consultation and analysis for the City of Lincoln Taking Charge project. This project includes focus group and electronic survey activity gauging public feedback to various issues from taxes, quality of life, and public safety.
  • Consulting with local government on how to utilize the continuously collected engagement data to measure progress on City goals.
  • A public survey to help assess public interest in the Cascade Fountain and inform renovation plans.
  • Assisting with the development of the Lincoln Open Data website which added another layer of transparency to the City’s Taking Charge performance management process.
  • Leading public discussions to successfully site a hazardous waste storage and treatment facility in central Nebraska.
  • Leading strategic planning for State Emergency Response Commission to better prepare Nebraska to respond and prevent hazardous waste incidents.
  • Developing a stakeholder engagement process for United Way of Lincoln/Lancaster County for agencies to participate creating Results Based Accountability.
  • Evaluating seven public engagement projects for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • The Read Aloud Lincoln initiative, bringing together Lincoln’s museums (including the University of Nebraska State Museum) and libraries to promote early childhood reading.
  • Evaluating innovative strategies (via federal grant support) to end functional homelessness in Lincoln.
  • Evaluating the processes and outcomes of the Lancaster County Adult Drug Court to enhance program functioning and effectiveness.
  • Facilitating and evaluating an initiative in Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, to identify and assess persons with mental illness who interact with law enforcement and correctional facilities.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of an integrated behavioral health and primary care program in eastern Nebraska.
  • Evaluation of the City of Lincoln reEnergize Lincoln program.
  • Center researchers provided data analysis for Lincoln’s New Americans Task Force survey, which assesses community barriers for immigrant and refugee communities.
  • Center researchers partnered with the UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources Clayton Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance, and the Nebraska Bureau of Business Research, for a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace highlighting Nebraskans’ views of U.S. foreign policy. Their efforts included interviews, focus groups, and surveys of individuals across Nebraska.

Lincoln Vital Signs

The Center collaborated with Lincoln’s largest public, private, and philanthropic organizations to vision and compile widely-used reports in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019 that present Lincoln over time and in comparison to other communities and the U.S. as a whole. The reports have been used by a wide variety of organizations in strategic planning, grant writing, advocacy and education, and investment decisions. The report spurred interest in community leaders to take action to nurture Lincoln’s assets and address challenges. This led to a city-wide visioning project eliciting ideas from over 2,000 residents to create a community agenda now known as Prosper Lincoln.

Learn more by visiting the Lincoln Vital Signs website.

Prosper Lincoln Initiative

The Center occupies a central and strategic role in visioning and implementing the Prosper Lincoln initiative, which brings together leaders from across the community to create system change in the following five areas: early childhood, innovative workforce, strong neighborhoods, affordable housing, and civic investments. Learn more by visiting the Prosper Lincoln website.

Significant aspects of Prosper Lincoln include: 

  • Engaging neighbors, community leaders, business leaders, policy makers, and nonprofit leaders in implementing a community-wide agenda. 
  • Participation by dozens of University faculty, staff, and departments.
  • Spurring philanthropic funds supporting scholarships for early childhood education students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  • Establishing first-time kindergarten readiness assessment by Lincoln Public Schools.
  • Establishing community-wide Read Aloud 15 Minutes initiative working with Lincoln’s public libraries and public and private museums as the core, funded by local dollars and federal support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
  • Organizing agencies into one-stop coalition to raise awareness about career pathways; hosting career fairs for veterans, job seekers and case managers; and hosting tours with local businesses.
  • Consulting with local businesses to create career pathways for under-employed persons.
  • Creating Reverse Pitch and State of the Practice events connecting tech driven businesses to UNL students in computer science and engineering.
  • Establishing the Future Builders program surveying 4,150 local high school students, identifying those with entrepreneurial profiles to participate in events, and offering the top students a month-long immersion at the Clifton Strengths Institute at UNL.

National Center for State Courts Community Engagement Pilot Project

The “Community Engagement in the State Courts Initiative” is a joint collaboration of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center. With funding from the State Justice Institute (SJI), the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) initiated six pilot projects 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.

Following the completion of a national Listening Tour sponsored by the Initiative’s Advisory Board, the NCSC invited individual or aggregations of trial courts or court systems to submit letters of interest in participating in the pilots. Listening sessions were held in three cities and broadcast under the title “Courting Justice.” Eleven main issues surfaced from the listening sessions and through an online survey of court and civic leaders active in efforts to reduce racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and other forms of bias in the courts. In their letters of interest in participation in the pilot community engagements, courts needed to express their willingness to design and implement a community engagement project designed to (a) improve trust between courts and minority or low-income communities, and (b) make progress on eliminating a disparity and its impact in a specific problem area.

The project is funded by the State Justice Institute and the National Center for State Courts as a strategic initiative carried out in collaboration with the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts and the Conference of Chief Justices.  Visit the National Center for State Courts website to learn more or read about the project.

City of Lincoln Resident Input Efforts

The PPC has worked with the City of Lincoln since 2008. As part of the City of Lincoln’s continuing initiative to assess community satisfaction, the Public Policy Center partners with the City of Lincoln mayor’s office to gather public opinions on particular issues of importance to Lincoln residents. In one such set of efforts, a random sample of Lincolnites is regularly surveyed by mail and an online survey is offered to residents who were not selected to take the random-sample survey. In the past, Lincolnites also engaged in community conversations about key issues, using processes implemented by the PPC. The resident satisfaction survey and community conversations address issues relating to future city priorities and inform city budget decisions.

As part of the PPC’s research on public engagement and trust, we have worked with the City of Lincoln to create unique interactive surveys which have allowed residents to choose city programs important to them, and see the impacts of funding on the city budget and property taxes. The PPC has investigated the impacts of asking residents to fund versus cut different programs, and the use of different decision rules in small group deliberations about city budgeting issues. The long-term goal of this research is to enable public managers and policymakers/elected officials to be intentional and evidence-based in selecting the components of their citizen involvement techniques for use in areas such as budgeting, performance measurement, and management processes.


Conference & Training Facilitation

For many of our active projects, our staff plan and execute conferences, workshops, and seminars of all sizes, virtual and in-person. This includes event management, technology recommendations, graphic design, communications, and accommodations for in-person and remote-hosted events. Additionally, staff are experienced in managing all logistics for virtual and in-person events. The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center is an approved continuing education sponsor through the American Psychological Association (APA). This means we can facilitate psychologists’ access to continuing education that meets APA standards.

Grant Development & Management

We pursue and manage funding opportunities to support policy-related initiatives. Center researchers garner both public and private funding at the local, state, and national levels for applied and translational research grants. We work closely with partners to identify funding opportunities, develop grant and contract proposal narratives, create budgets and timelines, execute agreements, manage grant funds in accordance with funder requirements, and submit required fiscal and programmatic reporting.

Program Design and Evaluation

Center research staff routinely conduct program evaluations in partnership with stakeholders to define questions, plan activities, interpret results, and use findings to recommend and implement changes. We use quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods techniques appropriate to the project. Our programmatic capabilities include survey design, interviews, focus groups, mapping geographic data, overall data analysis, and report preparation.

Project Management, Strategic Planning & Consulting

Our researchers bring high-level management expertise to projects for all kinds of organizations. We bring research-based insights to executive decision-making, develop organizational structures to achieve desired results; assist with communication planning, agenda setting and creating necessary informational materials; implement research plans; and guide open communication among stakeholders. Our researchers are trained in facilitation and regularly lead stakeholders through strategic planning, problem definition, and consensus-building, as well as discovering organizational priorities, setting goals, and creating action plans.

Scholarly Research

Our approach is rooted in academic-oriented inquiry and investigation. We provide basic research products for partners such as high-quality and easy-to-understand literature reviews, white papers, and briefing papers. Our researchers come from diverse disciplines, including: Business, Economics, Family and Consumer Sciences, Law, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology. 

Stakeholder Engagement & Outreach

We work with stakeholders to design and execute customized frameworks. This includes determining the breadth, length, location, and timing of facilitated events; identifying participants; collecting data from participants throughout the planning or engagement process; creating opportunities for feedback and debriefing; and producing draft and final products based on results. In addition, many of our staff consult with outside organizations and conduct professional presentations on a variety of issues.