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About Us

Page history last edited by Robert Hackett 4 years ago

Front Page / About Us / Overview


About Us

Overview    |    Background     |     Content Plan     |     Local Bureaus 



We are working to establish a network of local "community information hubs" that will make policy information, news, and research available on websites, weekly email news digests, and policy analysis. The local PolicyOptions.org bureaus feature local PolicyOptions Issue Briefs on topics of local interest that draw upon policies and program models from around the country and world.  We believe that comprehensive, up-to-date, neutrally presented information is critical to informed citizen action in shaping policy and planning program improvements.


Why does this matter?


Take any policy-related topic you hear frequently about in the news and conversation: the achievement gap in education, health care insurance, environmental sustainability, economic development, affordable housing. Within any set of issues there is a complex array of information, examples, and choices that impact the public on a daily basis. Yet it’s difficult to sort through the overwhelming amount of information available on the Internet and elsewhere to understand the nature of the issues and how best to improve people’s lives through policy choices.


For example:


  • As a public official or employee of any governmental organization, you certainly are more aware of how to access and navigate the information and analysis pertaining to policy issues. Nonetheless, in many localities and states, good information and analysis is hard to find. Your agency or office often does not have a dedicated research staff to gather it.


  • As a staff members or volunteer in a non-profit organization, you may find yourself more focused on the day-to-day operations and sustainability issues pertaining to your work. You're unable to allocate time for research and understanding of how policy decisions are affecting you and your organization. PolicyOptions.org will help you wade through the information to find information and analysis that is important.


  • As an engaged citizen (including students, faculty members, or administrators in educational institution), you are involved civically in ways to improve the quality of people or the environment in your community. Whether your work is community service, community-based research, or day-to-day program management, you need this information to understand the root causes of our communities’ problems, the current policies, and potential solutions.


The information needs we seek to address, and our proposed approach, are presented in the 2010 report "Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age" produced by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.



Goal of the PolicyOptions


The goal of the PolicyOptions.org network is to fill an important gap in our public life: the availability of accurate, balanced, comprehensive information and analysis about the issues that we care about and hope to impact through public policy and civic engagement.  We believe colleges and universities can help bridge the divide between engaged citizens, community-based organizations, policymakers, and researchers.  


This effort is being led by the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation based in Princeton, NJ, working initially with its network of 70 colleges and universities that participate in the Bonner Scholar and Bonner Leader Program.  The local PolicyOptions.org Bureaus are being hosted by by college or university public policy or community outreach centers or institutes. The local bureaus are linked through an affiliate structure to cover state issues and to a central national office that will cover national and international policy and program activity.


The PolicyOptions.org approach is profiled among those described in Peter Levine's white paper: "Civic Engagement and Community Information: Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication," which was one volume of eight commissioned as recommendations for Implementing the Recommendations of the Knight Commission



PolicyOptions Content


PolicyOptions wiki provide information on:


  • Issue Briefs: that present the scope of the problem of a local, state, or national issue (such as health care or school reform), the past policy, current policy, proposed solutions, a glossary, and sources.


  • Directory of Key Organizations:   listing of local, state, and national organizations.


  • Information Sources: links to sources of information on funding opportunities and awards, legislation, regulations, assessments, publications, and a calendar of meetings and activities. 


PolicyOptions Network Development


Beginning in September 2011, we have been piloting a statewide network of local PolicyOptions.org bureaus in five cities in New Jersey: Camden, Trenton, Princeton, New Brunswick, and Newark, hosted by Rutgers University campuses in Camden, New Brunswick and Newark, as well as The College of New Jersey.


Through this effort we have been testing various approaches for the following:


  • in response to specific requests from local and state policymakers and other community leaders by (a) linking to faculty teaching public policy analysis courses through which students will write these papers and (b) recruiting for each major issue area policy experts who will function as a peer review to ensure that the Issue Briefs are accurate, comprehensive, and balanced;
  • information use strategy for assisting individuals and organizations as they access this information for their decision-making, collaborative planning, grant writing, and public issue forums, leadership training, background for students in academic courses.
  • technology strategy for storing and publishing this information available via the PolicyOptions Wiki;
  • networking strategy for recruiting and supporting communities of people locally, nationally, even internationally who share interest and/or expertise in specific issue or geographical areas, and who contribute to the maintenance of the PolicyOptions Wiki content and help ensure it's accuracy, balance, and timeliness.


Developing local bureaus builds on an earlier 2009-11 pilot phase where we worked with faculty from colleges and universities to incorporate PolicyOptions Issue Briefs into their academic courses.  And, going back further, in 1997 the Bonner Foundation first began working with schools and faculty on incorporating community-based research projects requested by local organizations.  Each of these pilot efforts received funding from the Learn & Serve America Program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.


PolicyOptions Link to Campus Civic Engagement


Through this initiative we are seeking to expand the range of civic engagement partnerships of colleges and universities.  In addition to expanding the types of research support provided by local colleges and universities, the PolicyOptions.org initiative will incorporate both "public education" and "networking" in the form of public issue forums, capacity building support for local or regional issue  collaboratives (e.g., local community food alliance), and networking via social media, email listservs, and other emerging internet-based tools. 




Robert Hackett

President, Bonner Foundation


(609) 924-6663

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