2023 Kohl Competition winners announced

Photos of the 2023 Kohl Competition winners
From left to right: Mariel Barnes, Menzie Chinn, J. Michael Collins, Zhenhuan (Reed) Lei, and Héctor Pifarré i Arolas.

Do public domestic violence shelters increase survivor safety? This is the important and potentially lifesaving question at the heart of a new research project proposed by La Follette School Assistant Professor Mariel Barnes. Barnes has been awarded funding through the La Follette School’s annual Herb Kohl Public Service Research Competition to investigate the impact of transitioning from confidential to public shelters in Wisconsin, a state that has emerged as an innovator in shelter policy.

“During a campaign to raise money for a new public shelter, I noticed that there were claims that public shelters provided safer, more supportive environments for domestic violence survivors,” says Barnes. “I realized that this was a claim that could be investigated with empirical evidence and that these results could have significant policy impact.” Barnes’ innovative project will also employ statistical matching to estimate the policy effect of making shelters public by comparing public shelters to confidential shelters around the country.

The Kohl Competition supports nonpartisan research that policymakers can use to make evidence-based decisions when shaping public policy. The awards are intended to support La Follette School faculty’s cutting-edge research and to increase the research’s impact through targeted outreach. Assistant Professor Héctor Pifarré i Arolas, Professor Menzie Chinn, Professor J. Michael Collins, and Assistant Professor Zhenhuan (Reed) Lei also received grants this year to fund a variety of projects.

Arolas will use his funding to continue developing a novel analytical method for studying population-level mortality patterns. Current measures used to assess mortality trends and inequality at a population level have limitations that Arolas intends to address through his research. A recent paper of his, published in Epidemiology, finds that Black-White mortality inequality in the U.S. is more than 60% larger than currently assumed using existing methods. In addition to continuing to develop this research, these funds will be used to organize a workshop in 2024 to promote his innovative research.

Chinn’s project aims to develop a new program that will automatically integrate key macroeconomic data sources for Wisconsin as they become available to produce a dynamic model that continuously updates the forecast for the state’s gross domestic product. Current measures of the state’s economy are limited and delayed, so this model could help policymakers forecast employment, tax revenues, and potential fiscal expenditures in near-real time. It could also help them to craft timely economic policy responses.

Collins looks to better understand the barriers that exclude people from being able to access basic financial services, especially for lower-wage workers and people of color. To accomplish this, Collins plans to use his funding to conduct a statewide survey in collaboration with the UW Survey Center modeled on the La Follette Policy Poll released in 2022. The goal is to generate a larger policy discussion about the role of public policy to support and enhance private sector products and services that people need to manage their finances.

Lei will use his funding to hold a book workshop to finalize a current book project on the political logic behind public infrastructure investment. The book will analyze how China and the United States have handled obstacles in efforts to invest in transportation and clean energy infrastructure. In his book workshop, Lei will invite experts on comparative political economy to attend and provide feedback on the book manuscript as he enters the final stage of the project.

Launched in 2016, the research competition is funded by the Kohl Initiative — a $10 million gift from former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl.

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