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Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis and University of Miami win Fourth Annual Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge

Rebecca Harhai
November 9, 2020

Faculty from O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and the University of Miami won the fourth annual George V. Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge with an online dashboard to compare the ways states are responding to COVID-19.

The challenge is sponsored by Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs (soon to be Public Service) in conjunction with the Network of Schools and Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA), during their 2020 virtual annual conference. This year’s challenge focused on innovation in the face of COVID-19.

The winning project, “COVID-19 Executive Orders Project,” was created and presented by Peter Stanley Federman, IUPUI, and Cali Curley, the University of Miami. The tool examines and analyzes pandemic-related executive orders adopted at state levels and presents them in a dashboard for comparison.

“We think that we can learn from how executives have responded to this crisis and potentially identify the variables that might predict the type, style and comprehensiveness of further responses to other crises,” Federman said.

The idea was adopted in March at the start of the pandemic, when Federman and Curley realized they could combine their research interests and create something relevant to navigating life, government and policy during the pandemic.

“I was shocked by how much these orders did and the policy areas they touched,” Curley said. “Every aspect of government seemed to be impacted by COVID-19 policy responses, but we were only hearing about the select few that impacted our individual freedoms.”

Federman and Curley plan to use their $10,000 first place prize to hire students to help continue coding the executive orders. They also plan to start a second dashboard that follows the reopening of states.

Michael Kern and Phyllis Shulman, William. D. Ruckelshaus Center at Washington State University and the University of Washington, won second place for their project, “Learning from Responses to COVID-19: Improving Preparedness, Recovery and Resilience in Washington State.” This project analyzed Washington's early response to the pandemic to improve future responses and outcomes.

“The pandemic created a microscope to what is working well and what is not working well in our communities. It’s critical to have an in-depth understanding of what is being learned along the way, so we can consider how to move into the future,” Shulman said

In addition to bettering our post-pandemic society, Kern also wants to use the project to learn lessons and preserve the aspects of our daily life that work.

“It’s important to focus on the appropriate transition from emergency decision-making back to more deliberate decision-making,” Kern said. “There are these landmark events where all normal practices got set aside and we are rarely introspective about getting back to normal. Without learning lessons, we will just carry on and never get back into our more thoughtful habits or apply our productive new ones.”

Kern and Shulman plan to use the $3,000 second-place prize to jump-start the data for a comprehensive assessment of implementation for their project.

The other two competition finalists, who each won a $1,000 prize, were:

Winners were selected by a panel of four judges: Keon-Hyung Lee, director of the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University; Sara Rinfret, director of the Master of Public Administration program at the University of Montana and 2019 Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge winner; David Van Slyke, dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University; and Alex Murray, director of online academic programs at the Voinovich School.

“It was rewarding to be a judge this year and get a perspective of all the great work campuses are doing to help provide solutions during this pandemic,” Rinfret said. “As a previous recipient, I wanted to continue to honor the work of Senator Voinovich, someone I had the honor working for as a native Ohioan.”

The challenge was developed by Laurel McFarland, executive director of the NASPAA, and Voinovich School Dean Mark Weinberg to honor Senator George V. Voinovich and his nearly half-century of public service. He encouraged others to design and deliver practical solutions to challenging public problems, expand higher education public-private partnerships and educate, mentor and develop dedicated public servants.

“I love this competition because I think the spirit of Senator George Voinovich is a reminder to all of us to raise up public servants, public service and the spirit of bipartisanship,” McFarland said. “It’s such a pleasure to do this at the NASPAA conference to both remember the senator and to celebrate the innovation and programming at these schools.”