The University of Iowa

UI Public Policy Center: People Solving Real-World Problems

The University of Iowa Public Policy Center:

People Solving Real-World Problems

It all began in 1987, when the University of Iowa Office of the Provost made a seemingly small, but ultimately grand, investment: a $25,000 grant to begin the UI Public Policy Center. Today, what started with a part-time secretary and a used computer has grown into a multi-million-dollar enterprise, addressing issues that touch most of our lives.

Imagine the range of issues that can be addressed when you combine expertise from disciplines such as computer science, economics, engineering, statistics, geography, urban planning, psychology, dentistry, internal medicine, neurology, and pediatrics. Add to that the range of resources within the Colleges of Engineering, Law, Liberal Arts, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Public Health as well as the Center for Computer-Aided Design, the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, and the National Advanced Driving Simulator. Through unique combinations of interacting disciplines and complementary resources, the center is opportunely positioned to address a remarkable range of issues.

Today's Public Policy Center focuses mainly on issues of health, safety, and transportation. One group of investigators is assessing, for instance, the health and well-being of Iowa's children and families, gathering critical information to improve health and social services for children and families in need. Another group is addressing various health and social concerns experienced by elderly drivers, exploring age-related dementia, strokes, and other medical complications in relation to driving capacity, and balancing the right to drive and the risk to safety. One center project will develop guidelines for choosing the right Medicaid health plan, while another develops guidelines for deciding whether to build a new road. When society makes the switch from gas-powered vehicles, the current gas-tax system will no longer be suitable for financing public roadways. No worries, though. The center is developing a new system, using global positioning technology and on-board computers to determine individual road use and fair charges while ensuring user privacy in every case. And what about the new vehicle-based phone, e-mail, and Internet services? Should we have safety concerns? The center is on it, ascertaining the level of driver distraction due to these new technologies.

PPC projects reach in multiple directions but have one thing in common: they strive to improve our quality of life, to make our lives safer and healthier. Each and every PPC project has the capacity to make our lives better. While many PPC projects have included a focus on Iowa, the issues addressed and the information collected extend with ease from the state to societal level. Models developed in the state of Iowa, for instance, have been widely adopted on a multi-state or national basis.

The reach of the PPC's work is reflected in its range of private, state, and federal sponsors. PPC projects are funded, for instance, by the Pew Health Professions Commission and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; by the Iowa Department of Personnel, the Iowa Department of Economic Development, the Iowa Department of Human Services, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Iowa Department of Transportation; and by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Health, safety, transportation, and the multitude of separate, yet interrelated, questions. These are focuses of the UI's Public Policy Center and its various interdisciplinary teams. And these are issues that enter, from so many directions, into our daily lives and so affect us as individuals and as a society. As the PPC motto goes, these are indeed people solving real-world problems.

To learn more, visit the Public Policy Center website at or phone the PPC staff at (319) 335-6800.