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Setting an Agenda for Research

Message From the Assistant Secretary
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Setting an Agenda for Research

Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research
Agendas are important. Meetings run better and work gets done faster and more completely when a clear agenda exists. This is also true for research — well-crafted research agendas can direct resources, shape successful careers, and inform and influence policy.

PD&R has been working over the past several years to improve the scope and scale of its research and the research agenda-setting process. Regarding the research, the Obama Administration has committed to the transformation of PD&R with an ambition to make it into the nation’s leading housing research organization. To that end, nearly $180 million has been appropriated in the last two years and allocated to enable PD&R to address policy issues pertaining to the wide array of America’s housing and urban development challenges.

In terms of the research agenda, the National Research Council report exhorted PD&R to make a larger effort at outreach and input, noting, “the research agenda-setting process in PD&R is too insular and has too much of a short-term focus; consequently, it is unlikely to come to grips with many important realms of emerging urban challenges.” We have taken these words to heart.

In 2010, we started an online vehicle for getting public input for our short-run research agenda. Currently, PD&R is developing a long term research agenda. This process began several months ago, when input was solicited from the public on the HUD User web site to create a transparent method for public engagement. We received approximately 150 comments on various topics, including suggestions for research and issues HUD should examine more closely.

On November 17, PD&R held its first ever Research Agenda Conference to reach out to our partners to identify research needs and gaps. The event brought together academics, researchers, practitioners, non-profit workers, advocates, and federal government employees to discuss PD&R’s research agenda for the next five to ten years. It also focused on generating feedback from our partners about PD&R’s comparative advantage in relation to important research and knowledge-building activities that are being discussed in other venues and by other thought leaders.

In preparation for the Research Agenda Conference, PD&R staff formed teams around the four HUD strategic goal categories—home ownership and finance; rental housing; housing as a platform; and communities. These teams developed framing papers with the aid of expert consultants and these framing papers were distributed to participants in advance to provide background for the discussion of the PD&R research direction. During the conference participants were divided into breakout groups focused on the four strategic goals mentioned above.

This conference was a great success and also fun. We had a lot of fun using voting technology to pick priorities, and play some trivia. Think American Idol for housing and community development research agenda setting. I also had the privilege of hosting a great lunchtime conversation with two of my predecessors, John Weicher and Susan Wachter. (Oprah and Ellen have nothing to fear.)

On balance, the conference marked a new level of engagement and transparency for PD&R. It was the first time we brought a diverse representation of our stakeholders together to give input on the future of our research, and in this way reflects our new commitment to democratizing the agenda-setting process.

The online public input and the Research Agenda Conference were just the beginning of this agenda-setting process. We will continue to look for ways to engage the public and our stakeholders in a transparent and democratic manner. We anticipate 2012 to be a year of continued discussion, stakeholder analysis, and refinement of our agenda as we continue the research mapping process, which we hope will result in substantial research projects, demonstrations, surveys, and papers that will inform the next generation of policy. Thanks in advance for your work and help with this.

Happy holidays!!