By Doug Noonan, Professor
We are gearing up for another SPEA practicum course this spring, a great opportunity for students to do some original research and inform policy and real-work difference-makers. Interested in adding a course to your fall, with a flexible schedule, a fun topic, and a chance to affect policy? Read on!
When we did this practicum in fall 2015, the results were both fun and valuable – for the students as well as the “client.” The idea started with a request from the Indiana Tourism Association (ITA), who were interested in learning more about how local tourism-related investments benefit the local community and improve “quality of place.” Indiana is chock full of these small-scale investments that also benefit the local community. You know that Indianapolis Cultural Trail you enjoy? Not just for Indy tourists. Whether it’s a local rail-trail or greenspace addition, the aesthetic improvements to a small-town “main street,” the cluster of craft breweries or wineries, or even the big complex of sports fields … all these amenities attract tourists and travelers, but locals enjoy them, too.
ITA came to SPEA looking for help in telling that story: quantifying the impact and returns on investment when possible, and also gathering the stories and experiences of local stakeholders. The project evolved into a multi-year effort to build a sort of “guidebook” for Indiana communities who might be considering similar investments in their backyards. Each year, a team of students will examine a handful of exemplar investments and amenities around the state, and present the analysis to the ITA, its large base of stakeholders in “destination management,” and state policymakers. Our inaugural year (last year) had a team of five students in the Practicum (V-585) tackle three different projects:
- Franklin Street in Evansville, IN.
- The Lerner Theatre in Elkhart, IN.
- Indiana Dunes Nature Center in Porter County.
The students dug deep into these community projects. They focused on how local residents and businesses have experienced these new developments. They got to know some new (and previously hidden to some of them) gems in Indiana. And in the end, they briefed the ITA leadership and the leaders behind these local projects about what they found. Some examples of what they found include:
- Arts development in a theater project like the Lerner Theatre takes time to build success, but its main beneficiaries are local residents.
- Locally grown, passionate entrepreneurs can create economic impact as along Franklin Street, especially when the events are consistently delivered.
- Place-based investments in outdoor recreation (as in the Indiana Dunes) can yield harder-to-measure returns for residents and businesses.
One of the students, Chris Holcomb, was invited to present their findings to the Tourism Caucus at the State Capitol Building. Last February, Chris briefed a room full of policymakers and leaders from around the state. He directly translated the practicum team’s work for an audience of about 25 state representatives – guiding Indiana’s next community developments.
As we repeat this practicum in future years, with different local projects, we will build a compendium of evidence, experiences, and lessons learned to inform policymakers and future decisions in communities around Indiana.
This spring, we may be looking at projects like urban trails or wineries. Interested? Sign up for V-585 today!
SPEA-V 585/27357 Practicum in Public Affairs
Collaborative project with the Indiana Tourism Association entitled “Tourism and the Value of Investing in Community.” The work will be on a project examining return on investment for tourism and community-development projects in a few Indiana communities (e.g., state Arts Districts, Grand Park sports complex in Westfield), combining some basic data analysis and some collection of anecdotal evidence from the field.
Please contact Dr. Doug Noonan (firstname.lastname@example.org) if interested. Students can enroll in up to six credit hours.