AAI Pathways with Jackie Counts, Director of Center for Public Partnerships & Research
In AAI Pathways, AAI Director Neal Kingston chats with individuals across AAI and its centers about their work. In this first video, Neal has a conversation with Jackie Counts, Director of Center for Public Partnerships & Research, about the great work her center does.
Neal Kingston, Director of the Achievement and Assessment Institute:
Hi, I'm Neal Kingston, Director of the Achievement and Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas. We have many centers that do a diverse set of work in support of individuals and various communities, local, regional, national, and international. I'm here today with Jackie Counts, Director of our Center for Public Partnerships & Research. Hi, Jackie.
Jackie Counts, Director of Center for Public Partnerships & Research:
Hi Neal, thanks for having us. CPPR, which we affectionately refer to ourselves as, is about 85 people strong. And we are a multidisciplinary group of social workers, psychologists, physicists, engineers, and people who basically want to show up every day and make the world better.
We have three action areas. One is partner acceleration. The second one is applied research. And the third is venture studio. What that means is we really partner with people to take ideas and to help develop them out and also then afterward to evaluate them and see which ones they should continue with and which ones you should just say, “Well, that was just a good idea, but it didn't work for our communities.” A lot of our partners are state agencies that are focused in early childhood youth projects, maternal and child health, home visiting, and education.
Well, I won't ask you about what's your favorite project, that's probably like asking a parent who's their favorite child, but instead just pick one of your projects. And tell me a little bit more about it.
I think today, I'm going to focus on one of our recent ones, which was the Sunflower Summer project. The idea was to create an app that would enable families across Kansas to access venues during the summer. And we didn't have anything developed. And this was an idea, originally, that came from former teachers across the state of Kansas. They thought it would be a good way over the summer to keep children engaged and maintain learning gains. And so, when we were approached, they asked if it could be done. I said, I don't know, I'm going to talk to my team. So I reached out to our team. And basically, in five weeks, we took the idea. We worked with an app developer to create what we call Sunflower Summer, and we onboarded 70 venues across the state. Between July and August 15, over 70,000 children and families accessed the events. And it resulted in almost $800,000 in revenue for the US across the state.
That's wonderful. Well, I know you and your team don't ever rest on their laurels. Any ideas as to what might be next, any new projects coming down the pike?
Well, we have one that just launched on September 21. It is called Kansas Future Fellows. It's not an evidence-based project, but really is focused on futures and what comes next. I think it's particularly timely, because who would have prepared any of us for the past 18-20 months of being in a pandemic, and when I went to school in social work, and we were trained to use evidence based methods and to create new project design, and then implement those programs and see if they work. But what we weren't trained to do was to think far ahead, what are we leaving for the next generation? I have found that personally, sometimes it's really hard to think past incrementalism. And to think, how could we drastically change something to get to the future that we want?
So in Future Fellows, we have identified 11 individuals across the state, they range in age from 20 to 65. And that, that was one of the things that somebody said on the call that they were born in 2001. Like, wow, that really dates me a little bit and what a different world that we have. It's an interesting group of people. It's very multi-sector. We have people from the faith community, we have people who are running a school district. We have the former teacher of the year. We have somebody who was in mental health, somebody else who's in maternal and child health, and we're bringing together them together four times a year to be exposed to ways of thinking about the future and what other tools are out there that use narrative of individuals with lived experience to be able to inform their ideas.
We found that a lot of the individuals who are in this cohort are people who are often the one who is saying, like, “Hey, I have an idea.” We're really trying to bring those people together to think broader for Kansas. One of the things that we did when we got the group together, and we had to do it virtually, was to ask them to bring an object that represents how they're feeling today, and what they think the possibilities are in this work. Somebody brought a box of matches and said that sometimes that they're the one who is starting the fire and getting things going. As well as sometimes they're the one who's throwing the match on something that we shouldn't do anymore. It was a really interesting way to connect people
Quite are diverse group, are they from all over the state also?
They are, they're from all regions. We have one in Northwest Kansas, one in southwest Kansas, that also I forgot to mention one sector, and that's economic development.
Well, I really love that this is such a good example of KU and the Achievement and Assessment Institute, and the Center for Public Partnerships & Research, working across the whole of Kansas. We're known for the community, the physical geographical community in which we reside, but we touch lives of people in every county in Kansas. And I think that's pretty marvelous.
Yeah, we don't just provide services. We also are collecting the voices from Kansans all across the state. And in one project alone, that is our preschool development grant, which our plan for that is called All in for Kansas Kids because we really all need to be in for the next generation. But we collected input from over 10,000 citizens across the state, because we really don't want this to be something that a few people created, but we want everybody to see themselves in this plan.
This is wonderful. I can't wait to hear what you folks are going to do next.