Public Policy

From its inception, a central mission of the Appalachian Center has been to create public forums and venues for public deliberation on policy and planning for the well-being of Appalachia - that draw on the best of scholarship. For much of the 1980s, the Center conducted well attended annual conferences on issues such as health, education, environment, children's poverty, which attracted a broad spectrum of the public, government officials, academics and journalists. 

Because the region continues to be radically underserved by research institutions, an important gap has been filled by the white papers published by the Center on such policy issues such as Dropout and Functional Illiteracy Rates in Central Appalachia, Education and Financial Resources in Appalachian Kentucky, Cancer Mortality Rates in Rural Appalachian Kentucky and others .  In addition to opening spaces for democratic debate among the general public, the Center has been active in expert consultation for government.  In 1978, Center staff convened academic authorities and informed citizens from across the region at the Executive Office of the President of United States to conduct an all day briefing on Appalachian issues for the Office of Management and the Budget.

The Kentucky Appalachian Task Force was initiated by Governor Brereton Jones to advise him on how best to use federal funds allocated to Kentucky by the Appalachian Regional Commission.  In 1994, Governor Jones asked the Appalachian Center's director to chair the Task Force and allowed him to open it up to widespread citizen input. 

With a grant from the Kentucky Department of Local Governance, the Center facilitated biweekly public meetings across eastern Kentucky in fall 1994 to gain citizen input on programming for Appalachian Kentucky.  Ultimately more than 500 citizens participated in these deliberations.  In January 1995, the Center published Communities of Hope: Preparing for the Future in Appalachian Kentucky, a summary of policy recommendations that grew out of this democratic process of public talk. 

With a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Center implemented the Kentucky/Appalachian Regional Commission Strategic Planning Initiative.  This initiative implemented recommendations from the Committees of Hope report that were aimed at enhancing citizen participation and input in policy-making in eastern Kentucky with special attention to the needs of economically distressed communities and populations.  Center staff and faculty facilitated the creation of the Appalachian Kentucky Advisory Council (a citizen’s organization with a dozen working committees on regional issues) and the Kentucky Appalachian Commission (a deliberative body appointed by the governor and including representatives elected from the council but ultimately disbanded by the following administration). 

Center staff and faculty also facilitated the deliberations of the twelve working committees of the Council (Culture, Economic Development, Education, Governance, Health, Housing, Justice, Natural Resources, Social Services, Telecommunications, Transportation, and Workforce) and four working teams of the commission (Telecommunications, Tourism, Families and Children, and Leadership).  The Council and Commission were important features of the policy environment in Appalachian Kentucky, giving citizens a unique avenue of input on policy formation in the Commonwealth.

Since the late 1970s, the Center has engaged in participatory research projects—projects  in which local community members and experts collaborate.  In the early 1980's, it participated in the very influential Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force, an 80 county survey of land ownership and taxation in the region.  Center staff trained and facilitated citizen teams in the twelve Kentucky counties included in the study. 

The quality of data in this study, on inequality in ownership and taxation, has not yet been surpassed.  A recent UK paper on the unique process won an award from the Rural Sociological Society. The networks, skills of citizenship, and self awareness that developed in this massive mobilization were a very significant factor in the founding of a half-dozen of the most important nonprofit groups to emerge in recent decades.  In the mid 1990s, the Center directed a participatory research project to evaluate the Appalachian Enterprise Zone located in three eastern Kentucky counties, with funding from USDA.

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