Working to Improve Civic Life in Our Communities

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Marquette Democracy Lab (MDL) is a research initiative that brings together faculty, students, civic leaders, and organizations to study ways to strengthen civic life in our communities. Research shows that places with a solid civic infrastructure are healthier, safer and more resilient. However, most local governments and nonprofit organizations do not have the expertise or capacity to conduct systematic and rigorous evaluations of their efforts to increase civic engagement. This is where MDL can help.

We collaborate with our local partners to co-create the appropriate research strategy (e.g., randomized experiments, surveys, focus groups, quasi-experiments) and then work closely with our partners throughout the research study to ensure that the evaluation does not stretch organizational capacity, is respectful of community members, and answers the questions that the partner wants. Marquette Democracy Lab (MDL) is a member of Laboratories of Democracy, a network of academics from across the country who share a commitment to using social science research methods to inform policy design and implementation.

Ongoing Projects

Citizen activism to improve water quality in Kewaunee County

Kewaunee County, Wisconsin has been called “ground zero” in debates over how best to address agricultural pollution in rural communities. Despite increasing evidence that runoff is contaminating drinking water sources, proposed solutions for protecting water quality remain politically divisive. Large-scale farmers, small scale farmers, environmental advocates and the agricultural industry are often at odds about the right approach to addressing the very real public health concerns stemming from this type of pollution. With a grant of $20,000 from APSA’s Research Partnerships on Critical Issues (RPCI) program, our interdisciplinary team will be examining how Kewaunee residents are working to address water pollution and the impacts of citizen activism on policy change.

Civic engagement in the Near West Side

Over the last six years, Democracy Lab has collaborated with the Near West Side Partners (NWSP) to conduct community surveys that help the organization identify residents' needs and priorities. We have also designed impact studies of NWSP's outreach efforts. Marquette Democracy Lab students are currently working with the Center for Peacemaking, faculty and students in the College of Nursing, and NWSP to conduct a community survey about health and wellbeing in the Near West Side.

Democratic deliberation at Marquette University

Is deliberation good for our democracy? Shir Bloch, a political science major and MU4Gold scholar, is working with Prof. Wichowsky to design a field experiment testing the effects of classroom deliberation about politically contentious topics on students' civic dispositions.