McCormack Speaks

December 3, 2020
by jackli001
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Building Science Back Better: Renewing Trust in Science in Federal Agencies

By David W. Cash, Dean, John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies University of Massachusetts Boston; +1-617-794-9431; david.cash@umb.edu

Healthcare Worker

The Biden-Harris Administration will need to re-construct the scientific infrastructure of federal agencies whose staff, processes and institutions are severely diminished. In order to address the four priorities of COVID-19, racial equity, climate change, and economic recovery, building science back better will be critical.

Traditional approaches applying science in policy making arenas focus on the credibility of the science – how well the science meets standards of technical adequacy driven by peer review and processes that evaluate methodology and evidence. Credibility is necessary, but not always sufficient in building trust in science, especially when working in areas that are characterized by political conflict. Two other characteristics of science may be equally important: salience and legitimacy. Salience is the relevance of the science to decision makers or stakeholders – is science asking the questions that matter to them? Legitimacy relates to whether the process of creating knowledge has been transparent, fair, inclusive of divergent views or values, and as unbiased as possible.

Building science back better will certainly mean re-establishing the credibility of government science. But a further focus by federal agencies on creating the right institutions and processes to advance the salience and legitimacy of science will increase the chance that government science will make a difference in solving the major challenges we face. Enhancing the relevance of science and assuring that it is legitimate will require intentional efforts that deliberately bridge the boundary between science and decision making and/or communities. Such mechanisms maintain participatory processes that support communication and translation across the boundary; engage stakeholders early and often in the scoping of analysis; disaggregate data by race, income, gender and other variables in ways that have particular resonance at local levels; and jointly create and own data, tools, maps or models that explore problems and test solutions.

A compelling example is the agricultural extension system in the United States, which, for over a century, has effectively linked agricultural research at land grant colleges to the everyday decisions of farmers. The system of county extension agents connects the concerns, questions, and innovations of farmers to scientists at land grant colleges, and supports iterated two-way communication that enhances credibility, salience, and legitimacy of the science. The result is a relatively high degree of trust between farmers and scientists and the deployment of science and technology that assists farmers at local levels. Through the bridging actions of the county extension office, farmers help scope research, are part of building and using agro-economic models, and become innovators of new technology and practices.

What are the prospects of using this kind of framework in addressing the four policy priorities of the early Biden-Harris Administration? The examples below simplify complex systems, but they highlight the kinds of efforts and organizations that can help build trust in science to solve these challenges.

  • COVID-19: As the COVID crisis hit in early 2020, the disaggregation of data that showed which communities by race were hit the hardest enabled such communities to mobilize, for example, with targeted distribution of PPE. Similarly, as vaccines become available, successful deployment will depend on local adoption, and designing processes so that communities trust that the vaccines will be safe and effective. Linking national systems of vaccine distribution to local trusted organizations (e.g., local community health care centers, houses of worship, etc.) may facilitate the ability for local community members to air concerns (ask the questions that are salient to them), and be part of the process of creating a distribution system that is transparent, accountable, and has local ownership.
  • Racial equity: Social sciences play a large part in understanding inequitable structures and biases in wealth, government, health care, housing, policing, and education. For example, by disaggregating wealth data by income, race, gender, and geography, analysts, decision makers, and communities can see disparities in economic variables. In addition, numerous academic institutions and even the Federal Reserve have launched a variety of different kinds of community-engaged action research programs, linking researchers to communities so that participatory engagement in the scoping and conducting of research establishes long-term trusted relationships with communities to both examine the root causes of inequities and propose, pilot, and implement solutions.
  • Climate change: There is now a long record of global through local systems that link science and decision making through robust organizations and processes that engage decision makers and scientists in iterated participatory networks that enhance trust in science through downscaling climate data and models, running state and local-scale risk assessments, and exploring locally driven policy scenarios. NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program is one such example.  Emerging renewable energy extension programs that piggy-back on the agricultural extension system is another.
  • Economic recovery: One part of economic recovery will be job training and workforce development. These are inherently local concerns driven by local industry, markets, and economic indicators, but are influenced by larger scale forces. As is already in place, federal-state-local integrated workforce development programs can be resourced to assure that solutions fit local conditions and are informed both by federal statistics and economic data from trusted local sources. The result of the use of such trusted data can drive growth in sectors that will generate long-term prosperity.

As government science is reconstituted in the Biden-Harris Administration, there is a window of opportunity to re-build better by focusing on all three of these attributes of science – credibility, salience and legitimacy.  Such focus will increase the chance that science will drive better decision making, especially in a complex and politically charged world.

 

For more reading:

Matson, P., W.C. Clark, and K. Andersson (2016) Pursuing Sustainability: A Guide to the Science and Practice, Princeton University Press.

Cash, D.W., W.C. Clark, F. Alcock, N.M. Dickson, N. Eckley, D. Guston, J. Jäger and R. Mitchell (2003). Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 100: 8086-8091.

November 17, 2020
by jackli001
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An Emerging African Studies Program @ UMass Boston: Programs, Projects, Research, Scholarship, Faculty & Students

Written by: Associate Dean and Professor Rita Kiki Edozie, PhD; Balkissa Daouda Diallo, PhD Student; Ojemire Daniel Benjamin, PhD Student; Dennis Jjuuko, PhD Student

African Scholars Forum at UMass Boston Collage of faculty members and students.

Introduction

Unlike its peer institutions in Boston – Boston University, Harvard University – until May 2018, the UMass Boston had no formal African Studies program. This is true despite the fact that the university’s majority-minority student base also boasts of a vibrant African immigrant, African international, and Cape Verdes student population, several doctoral students engaged in advanced African studies research, and a dynamic cohort of teacher-scholar interdisciplinary Africanist faculty. Be that as it may, while the Africa Scholars Forum (ASF) at UMass Boston, whose goal it is to achieve a formal African Studies program for the university, is only two years old; African studies programming, research, and teaching at the university is deep and expansive across campus and spans more than three decades in existence.

Included among the study and research of Africa’s array of offerings are an Africana Studies department that offers introductory courses on African culture and literature, study abroad programs in South Africa, Cape Verdes, Togo, and Senegal; and a center of African, Caribbean, and Community Development (CACCD) that delivers dynamic collaborative research and projects in West Africa in collaboration with the Boston-based West African Research Association (WARA). There are also specialized research programs such as the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program, (IGERT) as well as a rich cohort of faculty Africanists and graduate students, including doctoral, students conducting advanced research and scholarship on critical topics of African affairs. These decentralized though rich and dynamic presences of African Studies at UMass Boston informally come together through the ASF to inform a strong, emergent African Studies program at the university for the benefit of students, faculty, and off-campus communities.

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October 21, 2020
by jackli001
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From COVID Economy to Clean Energy Economy

By David W. Cash, Dean, McCormack Graduate School

While the House, Senate and White House are at the brink of a recovery deal, the economic impacts of COVID-19 become even more stark. The pandemic and its most recent spikes have wiped out jobs and shuttered businesses, with the already disadvantaged bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Out of this devastation, it will be a big win if Congress and the White House can eventually take significant steps toward protecting those families and businesses on the edge of economic collapse.

But we also have the opportunity not just for a win, but for a win-win. If future stimulus packages in the US strategically transform a foundation of our way of life – our energy system – to seize multiple benefits, in addition to rebuilding the economy, we will be judged in the future as having generated opportunity from crisis. As a recent report in Science outlines, this idea could be effective globally and cost a fraction of what COVID response spending is likely to be: “We show that low-carbon investments to put the world on an ambitious track toward net zero carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century are dwarfed by currently announced COVID-19 stimulus funds.” [1]

So as the debate drags on, we face a crucial crossroads.

One possible path would direct federal funding towards recreating our previously unsustainable dependence on fossil fuels and its devastating impact on health, geopolitical stability, and the climate.

Alternatively, we can choose a path where investments support jobs that will transform our energy system and make it cheaper, more reliable, more home-grown, more just, cleaner, and more sustainable for future generations. The US would reestablish leadership in the global clean energy marketplace, provide jobs across rural, suburban and urban communities, and begin to redress the disproportionate environmental impacts that marginal communities have endured.

What might this path look like? These guideposts could help.

Massive renewable energy deployment: The 2009 stimulus investments launched a renewable revolution where solar and wind became cheaper than natural gas in some places. And of course, once built, the fuel for solar and wind is free and clean. The right market signals like long-term production and investment tax credits can provide incentives to solidify renewable technologies.

Energy storage commercialization: Since the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, storage – advanced batteries – will be necessary to provide full-time power. On the cusp of affordable commercial-scale and residential-scale storage technologies, large federal investment could push technologies into the marketplace.

Energy efficiency everywhere: Energy efficiency is still the cheapest “source” of energy. Some states have unleashed efficiency, but federal dollars could triple state utility investments in energy efficiency. And since the return on investment is so good, this could more than quadruple ratepayers’ savings on energy bills.

Infrastructure investments: Study after study show that our electric grid needs major upgrades, especially when we add offshore wind, electric vehicles and storage. Strategic and significant investments now will make our economy ready for the smart clean energy future.

Job growth: Stimulus dollars must target sectors poised to grow and train workers. The clean energy sector has demonstrated success in this regard over the last 15 years. And many of these jobs stay here, like energy auditors (can’t outsource), solar panel installers (can’t outsource), wind turbine maintenance workers (can’t outsource), and energy efficiency retrofitters (can’t outsource).

Transportation Transformation: Other countries are racing to capture the global electric vehicle (EV) market. Unfortunately, we are ceding that market to China, Germany and India. And public transit systems in the US are in disrepair and underfunded. Stimulus funds for the manufacture and sale of EVs, and for public transit to become world-class, will reap big benefits in reducing congestion, generating manufacturing jobs, creating cleaner air, and providing consumers with vehicles that are cheaper to run and maintain.

Research and Development (R&D): Deep investments in energy R&D in public research labs, the private sector, and universities have always reaped big economic benefits. These would help develop the technologies of the future now and add to job growth.

More Equal Energy: All of the above investments must target low-income communities and communities of color which have not always benefited from clean energy economic growth. Now is the time to assure energy equity.

The right path is clear. The window of opportunity is limited. The consequences of the alternatives are dire. The next stimulus bill should provide a win-win and help solidify our travel to the clean energy future.

David W. Cash is the Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and a former Commissioner in the Department of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts.


[1] Marina Andrijevic and Schleussner, C-F., Gidden, M.J., McCollum, D.L., and Rogelj, J. (2020) COVID-19 recovery funds dwarf clean energy investment needs. Science October 16: pp. 298-300.

August 6, 2020
by jackli001
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Minimum Wage Continues to Stifle Economic Mobility in Massachusetts

Stephanie Haynes, MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Stephanie Philippe (Haynes), MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Back when I first graduated from the University of Massachusetts – Boston (UMB), I thought for sure that I deserved and earned my way to a life of high salaries and comfortable living. To me, I earned the right to be paid above minimum wage and people who earned minimum wage just need to work harder. It wasn’t until I had to live a real life (i.e. one that was not supported by family) that I realized minimum-wage workers are hard workers and in many instances, they are working harder than us.

One of the things that I think drives this sort of thinking is the perception of who is and who is not ‘deserving’ in our society. Crippled by social biases, many people believe that if someone is making little money it is because they didn’t work hard enough to make more. But the truth is I know people who have worked hard all their lives yet they still make way less than they need to live. Livable minimum wages help address issues of poverty. They are not a handout; rather, they should be seen as setting the financial foundation down equally, so people can be self-reliant. That way people get the chance to always move forward.

Poverty comes in all different forms. To be mindful of that, we have found ways to try to measure poverty – Absolute Poverty and Relative Poverty. When it comes to Absolute Poverty, society agrees that this is when someone is barely able to secure even the most minimal of necessities (i.e.: clothes, a home, hygiene). Here, we try to consider human basic needs and, if you cannot secure those things for yourself or provide them to your family unit, you might be living in absolute poverty. Relative Poverty measures poverty a little differently. “In this case, poverty is defined as having incomes below a certain level relative to the median income in a country. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ( uses a relative measure, defining poverty as 50 percent of the median disposable income in a given country. The relative poverty standard then changes with median incomes (Weller, 2019)”. This means you are able to provide and maintain housing, food, and shelter but, compared to many others, you are deeply struggling.

Imagine, you have been saving to buy a home for the past 10-15 years with the goal of being able to move into a good neighborhood with a monthly mortgage of $1,000-$1,250. This is the American dream and you have a job, so maintaining this home on a $40,000 salary is all you will be doing. After taking out a mortgage, your annual take home salary has already been lowered by $12,000-$15,000 annually. You are left with $25,000, which has to cover your other necessities (food, transportation, utilities, credit cards). Additionally, you may have other bills that you must pay out of that salary. By the time you have finished paying your mandatory bills, you are left with a small pool of remaining disposable income and, as such, it becomes very difficult to move up without making some serious concessions. In the real world, a lot of people do not get to be paid $40k; for them, life is a constant struggle. How can you thrive under those conditions?

Raising the minimum wage would mean that families do not have to decide between paying bills, eating, securing other basic needs, or enjoying life. Even at a $15 minimum wage, individuals would only be making $28,800 which takes them only just above the poverty threshold. When you think about it that way, it begs the question: why are we making it so hard for people to have livable wages?  In our journey to end poverty, we must consider using the minimum wage as a tool to close the equity gap.

 

Reference:

Weller, C. E. (2019). Seventh lecture: Poverty, inequality and budgets. Retrieved from https://umb.umassonline.net/bbcswebdav/pid-3313944-dt-content-rid-26097425_1/courses/B2910-2382/LN, 7th Lecture, PUBADM G 602, Poverty and Inequality, Fall 2019.docx

August 6, 2020
by jackli001
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Mental Health in the Times of COVID-19 – Describing the Necessity for Greater Access

Jeney Zhang, MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Jeney Zhang, MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

As we navigate these extraordinary times amid a global pandemic, economic closures, social distancing, and transitions to online learning have severely impacted the mental health and psyche of us all. The physiological impact of COVID-19 stretches far beyond the physical illness wrought by the disease; the new normal of isolation and quarantine is taking a mental toll. Society, as a whole, is now confronted with and needs to learn how to cope with the fear and anxiety of not only avoiding contracting the disease, but also the sense of economic, social, and academic uncertainty. The stress inflicted by the onset of the pandemic and its aftermath is driving a current mental health crisis. Nearly half of Americans report issues related to mental health due to the COVID-19 crisis and a hotline dedicated to emotional distress saw a more than 1,000% increase in April as compared to last year.

Massachusetts has begun taking steps to address this important issue. On March 15, Governor Charlie Baker issued an executive order requiring insurers to cover all “medically necessary” services via telehealth, including behavioral and mental health. While this is a step in the right direction, the underlying issues of mental health treatment in America still remain. This order expands people’s ability to access behavioral telehealth, but issues of mental health parity related to decisions of medical necessity and rate structures as compared to physical health must still be addressed. Though the stigma of mental illness has decreased in recent years, the treatment and management of it still do not measure up to standards of care associated with physical ailments.

The Massachusetts Legislature is currently working to address these critical barriers to improving access to mental health care. In early February, the state Senate unanimously approved the “Mental Health ABC Act”, designed to put mental health care on par with other physical forms of medical care, remove prior authorization from insurers before receiving care, and expand mental health access to underserved populations. The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House.

The Commonwealth and the whole of America have been in the throes of a mental health crisis for decades and the current COVID-19 pandemic only serves to exacerbate the issue and further expose our lack of preparedness to handle the crisis. Though governments actions to reduce barriers and provide greater access to mental health care are moving in the right direction, the fact remains we lack the proper infrastructure to provide the care needed. The mental health care system in America is vastly underfunded, fragmented, and ill-prepared to handle the volume of new cases sure to arise from this pandemic. Even prior to the current crisis, 1 in 5 US adults suffered from mental illnesses yet less than half receive the necessary treatment. We can hope a silver lining will be found amid current hardships. Perhaps, because the pandemic exposed the already-strained mental health resources and capacity in this country, renewed attention, funding, and planning will be given to this sector as we move forward and recover.

For those suffering during these trying times, the state, other government agencies, and the University Health Services at UMass Boston offer resources supporting mental health and strategies to cope. Prioritizing your mental health and coping with the added stress will make you stronger and better prepared to tackle this new normal, for however longer it may last.

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