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Informing County-Based Economic Development Decisions

Informing County-Based Economic Development (ED) Decisions: A Scientific Foundation for Strategic Outreach


Hatch-Smith Lever, Integrated Project
October 1, 2012-September 30, 2015


  • David L. Kay (co-PI), Senior Extension Associate, CaRDI & Department of Development Sociology, Cornell
  • Robin M. Blakely-Armitage (co-PI), Senior Extension Associate, CaRDI & Department of Development Sociology, Cornell

On-campus collaborators

  • John W. Sipple, Associate Professor, Department of Development Sociology and Director, NYS Center for Rural Schools, Cornell 
  • Poppy McLeod, Professor, Department of Communications, Cornell

Off-campus collaborators

  • Ave Bauder, CCE Seneca County Executive Director
  • William Schwerd, CCE Saratoga County Executive Director
  • David Skeval, CCE Onondaga County Executive Director
  • Steve Acquario, Executive Director, NYS Association of Counties (NYSAC)
  • Paul LaChapelle, Professor, Montana State University, Facilitator of the national Local Government Extension Training (LGET) network
  • Karon Harden, National Association of Counties, Director of Educational Services


Blakely-Armitage, Robin, and David L. Kay. "Improving University-Extension-Community Communication around Controversial Issues."  CaRDI Research & Policy Brief Series, Issue 68, October 2015.

Project Description

Local officials allocate resources and make key decisions regarding complex, challenging issues. In a time of increased fiscal constraint and heightened political tensions demanding greater accountability and efficiency, officials face pressure to work more efficiently, collaboratively, and to be well-informed about the issues. In turn, land grant institutions, along with other universities, need to ensure that the research, data and programming they produce to inform local decisions is relevant and accessible while conforming to academic standards. A central goal of this project is to improve local government oriented Extension and outreach practice. Our project is a preliminary pilot intended to enhance the effectiveness of research based information and other university resources in the decision-making processes of local officials.  We have worked with elected officials in three diverse upstate New York counties (conducting focus groups in Onondaga, Seneca, and Saratoga Counties) to focus on specific economic development or fiscally significant decisions requiring a legislative vote such as service sharing, property tax cap override, or land use/energy issues.

Among the questions we ask in this project are:

  1. How are university-based information, research and outreach efforts viewed, accessed, interpreted and used by decision-makers dealing with economic development and fiscal decisions?
  2. How do the tensions and conflicts that often exist between data, research, politics, experience, ideology, and opinion play in the decision-making process of local government officials?
  3. How can the Community and Regional Development Institute, Cornell Cooperative Extension and other implementers of Cornell’s land grant mission best support informed decision-making effectively in County government contexts? What mix of approaches, tools and trainings are most effective in which kinds of contexts and with which kinds of issues?

Through the focus groups with our partners, a number of themes and ideas consistently emerged as influential in how or why data/information/research may or may not be used in the decision-making process. Our subsequent work focused on these “categories of influence”:

  1. Attributes of the decision: Level of complexity, level of controversy, and the importance of consequences and impacts, etc.
  2. Attributes of the decision-making body (group): Legislative structure, norms for decision-making, and political diversity/uniformity, etc.
  3. Attributes of individuals involved: Experiences and values, leadership skills, relationships and trust, credibility, etc.
  4. …and other political and contextual factors: Distribution and sources of power, etc.