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The Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership announced earlier this month that it will be providing $20,381.50 in funding for Dr. Michael A. Hansen’s research project, “Opening the Door to Backroom Politics: Local Government Digital Transparency and Privacy in Wisconsin.” Dr. Hansen is currently teaching in the Politics, Philosophy, and Law Department in the College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies (CSSPS). Ryan J. Owens, Director of the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership, added that they are excited to fund Dr. Hansen’s research, which has the potential to transform Wisconsin.

The proposed research seeks to understand variance in government transparency, public policy information access, and data privacy on local level government websites in Wisconsin. In particular, the project’s goal is to better understand why some local governments have a lack of democratic transparency, as well as to better understand the factors that are most closely associated with greater digital policy information promotion on policies that impact citizens’ daily lives. The project will involve a deep-dive into local level government websites in the state of Wisconsin: all 72 counties, 190 cities, 407 villages, 1,255 towns, and 440 school district websites. In addition, the project will conduct surveys with local-level officials in leadership positions in order to better understand how officials view their role in ensuring citizen privacy while promoting effective government.

“We are so lucky to have Michael in the Politics Philosophy and Law department,” said CSSPS Dean Dr. Peggy James. “He brings strong research opportunities to our students, such as this one, as well as being a committed teacher and campus citizen.”

The project began in the spring of this year, when Dr. Hansen was mentoring a student, Kalie Sadowski, through the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program. Kalie, and two additional undergraduate students, Joseph Blaszcynski and Sarah Meyer, participated in a research lab that Dr. Hansen had started in the Politics, Philosophy, and Law Department. The project was on assessing the dissemination of information related to COVID-19 on county government websites throughout the United States. The project was successful and we drafted an article that is currently under peer review at an academic journal.

Based on their observation that there was a lot of variance in local governments’ dissemination of information on their websites, Dr. Hansen developed a research design that would allow for a deep dive into the availability of information for citizens on all local government websites (county, city, towns, school boards, etc.) in Wisconsin as a case study. 

“Hopefully, the impact of the research will be a better understanding of the factors that impact a lack of transparency among local level governments’ digital platforms,” said Dr. Hansen. “Further, we hope to develop a checklist of information that citizens are most in need of accessing in order to provide this information to governmental bodies. Finally, the overarching goal of pursuing funding for the project is to be able to hire and mentor undergraduate students as research assistants and provide them with an opportunity to participate in scholarly research.” 

One aspect of the project involves interviewing elected local level leaders on their views on digital transparency and privacy. One challenge that Dr. Hansen anticipates running into during this project is trying to conduct interviews with local level readers in person, during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has raised the possibility of conducting surveys as an alternative to the more in-depth interviews. Regardless of the challenges ahead though, Dr. Hansen remains undaunted and is excited about the benefits this will bring.

“I am beyond grateful to the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership for the funding of this project. Without this funding that they are providing this project would not be possible. In addition, the students that I am able to provide compensation for their work are excited for the opportunity to be research assistants,” said Dr. Hansen.


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