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.

December 14, 2018
by saadiaahmad001
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Chae Man Lee is One of First Two Recipients of Gerontology Department’s Postdoc Fellowship

McCormack Speaks sat down with Dr. Chae Man Lee, a 2017 graduate of the Gerontology PhD program and one of the first of two of the department’s postdoctoral fellows.

 

SA: What was your research focus as a student?

CL: My research was focused on senior transportation, older driver safety, and healthy aging data reporting for Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. My doctoral dissertation entitled, “Understanding the role of driver, vehicle, environment, and policy factors in crash injury severity among older adults in the United States” investigated how individual characteristics, vehicle elements, environmental elements, and driving licensing policy were associated with level of injury severity, from no injury to fatal injury resulting from car crashes.

SA: What is the main focus of your postdoc fellowship?

CL: As a post doc, I am still doing older driver safety and healthy aging data reporting. I am currently a co-investigator on a healthy aging data report for Massachusetts and New Hampshire, funded by Tufts Health Plan Foundation. I am working with Drs. Beth Dugan and Frank Porell to develop healthy aging data reports for Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. We also do research on transportation options available for older people in Massachusetts, safety of older pedestrians for MassDOT, and the Governor’s Council to Address Aging Issues in Massachusetts to improve transportation safety.

SA: Are there any new or expanded projects you are able to pursue now that you were not able to do as a student?

CL: Besides working on healthy aging data report, I also plan to expand research about older driver safety related with my dissertation. Regarding hot spot analysis of crash location among older drivers in my dissertation, I was doing it only for the Massachusetts area. But, in the future, I will plan to do more on hotspot analysis of crash locations among older drivers in all of the United States.

SA: How have the resources at the McCormack Graduate School and at UMass Boston assisted with your postdoc goals?

CL: In 2007, I made the first journey to enter the Gerontology PhD program. As a student, I met wonderful mentors, Dr. Beth Dugan and Dr. Frank Porell. They are always supportive to grow my research ability. We have been working together on healthy aging data reports from 2013. From getting my degree and currently working on the healthy aging project, the McCormack Graduate School and UMass Boston are always providing great environments for research. The faculties and staff from the Department of Gerontology are all good. As I am an international student, UMass Boston was great to support my visa status to continuously work in the US.

SA: How do you view your work as connecting to the values and mission of the McCormack Graduate School?

CL: I have heavily focused on quantitative research design, data collection, management, and analysis. As a part of the healthy aging research team, I have a good opportunity to look at how my quantitative research experiences are effective in the real life of local areas and service providers for older people. I think that our healthy aging products are in accordance with MGS’s mission.

SA: Anything else that you would like to note?

CL: I want to express special appreciation to Drs. Dugan and Dr. Porell. I have spent my entire life in MGS at UMass Boston with them from 2007 to current. Without them, I am not able to finish my degree and to do my postdoc fellowship. They are not only great mentors and professors in school life but also friends and family members in personal life. They always encourage, guide, and advise me to move forward and to produce better works in my research as well as provide the best warmth.

 

 

December 14, 2018
by saadiaahmad001
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Wendy Wang is One of First Two Gerontology Postdocs

 

McCormack Speaks sat down with Dr. Wendy Wang, a recent graduate of the Gerontology PhD program and one of the department’s first two postdoctoral fellows.

SA: What year and program did you graduate from? What was your research focus as a student?
WW: I graduated in May 2018 from the Gerontology PhD program. My research focused on marital relations, intergenerational relations, and health in later life. For my dissertation, I examined how providing grandchild care affect grandparents’ marital quality.

SA: What is the main focus of your postdoc fellowship?
WW: I focus on two main areas. The first area is healthy aging and senior transportation. I work with Dr. Elizabeth Dugan and her research team. Our team creates Healthy Aging Data Reports that report indicators of healthy aging for every community in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. We also do research on transportation options available for older people in Massachusetts, safety of older pedestrians for MassDOT, and the Governor’s Council to Address Aging Issues in Massachusetts to improve transportation safety.

The second area is family relations in later life. I am currently working on transforming my dissertation into publishable manuscripts. Other studies I conduct examine older couples’ marital quality, personality similarity, health, and relationships between adult grandchildren and grandparents.

SA: Are there any new or expanded projects you are able to pursue now that you were not able to do as a student?

WW: Many of the research ideas stem from when I was a student, but as a student, I didn’t have that much time to explore all these topics. Coursework and dissertation were my main focus at that time. Now, I have more time and freedom to contribute more to the research team; I also do research that I always wanted to do but didn’t have time to.

SA: How have the resources at the McCormack Graduate School and at UMass Boston assisted with your postdoc goals?

WW: The faculty here are very supportive and easy to work with. I not only work with my mentor, Dr. Elizabeth Dugan, but also collaborate with other faculty members with similar interests on publications. Whenever I have problems, they are always there to help. In addition, the Gerontology Department provides funding for attending conferences, and sponsors activities like job-talk practices and conference presentation practices, which helped our professional development. Finally, I am very grateful that I have my own work space, computer, and printer, which allow a very comfortable environment to work efficiently.

SA: How do you view your work as connecting to the values and mission of the McCormack Graduate School?

WW: My work contributes to the understanding of population health and well-being among older adults and their family members. We care about disadvantaged groups and racial minorities, and emphasize equal opportunities. Our research ideas stem from real-life problems that the society is facing or will face. By conducting the research projects, our team tries to provide suggestions to local government and service providers to reduce social isolation, improve health and well-being, and preserve older adults’ freedom and dignity. I believe that the work I’m doing aligns with MGS’s mission to understand and remedy important social, political, economic, and environmental issues, and to promote social justice and equity.

SA: What do you hope to do after you complete your postdoc fellowship?

WW: I hope I will become a more competitive candidate to find a faculty position in a university, and continue my research.

SA: Anything else that you would like to note?

WW: I would like to thank my mentor Dr. Elizabeth Dugan and the McCormack Graduate School for providing me this postdoc opportunity. By doing this postdoc, I am able to work with the professors I am familiar with and develop more research experiences. This also gives me a transitional time to be more prepared for my future work.

January 12, 2017
by justinmaher
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Goodbye, Hello: Reflections on What’s Next for Public Service

by Justin Maher
McCormack Graduate School Dean’s Office

President Obama Delivers Address, 2016Tuesday night, President Obama took the stage to deliver his farewell address. In it, he painted an optimistic portrait of a nation filled with promise and people of all political stripes ready to continue to fight for an inclusive democracy. He also acknowledged that “our political dialogue has become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service.” That frightening proposition, echoed by polls that show the steady and alarming decline of trust in government, deserves serious reflection.

As the assistant dean for academic programs at McCormack, I spend a good chunk of time talking to prospective students investigating graduate school. There are a myriad of reasons why they choose to pursue graduate study. Some are coming from a bachelor’s program and want to continue to specialize in a field they are passionate or curious about. Others are seasoned professionals ready for a career change or new skills. But, in addition to the personal and professional benefits, they are united by a commitment to improving their local and global communities.  Continue Reading →

September 6, 2016
by McCormack Speaks
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Policy Matters

by David W. Cash, Dean
John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies

ivanova-and-students-blogDig beneath the headlines that track the presidential campaigns and you find policy proposals, each of which has real and lasting impact on people–their jobs, communities, livelihoods, and security.

 

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