A Year-End Message From Kinder Institute Director Bill Fulton

Bill Fulton | @BillFultonVta | December 29, 2016

Image via flickr/nasamarshall

Image via flickr/nasamarshall

The other day, we made a list here at the Kinder Institute office of the reports we produced in 2016. To my amazement, the list was 19 items long – covering everything from magnet schools to mayoral elections, resilient suburbs to fixing potholes, concentrated poverty in Houston neighborhoods to pension reform. And, of course, there’s the 35th Annual Kinder Houston Area Survey.

That’s a pretty impressive list for a research institute that re-booted only last year, when we put together a three-year strategy we called “The Path Forward.” I couldn’t be prouder of our staff and all of the hard work they put into all these reports this year.

But our job at the Kinder Institute isn’t just to produce reports. It’s also to have impact on urban issues, especially here in Houston. And here’s where I am especially proud of everyone here at the Kinder Institute. Because there’s no doubt that in addition to increasing the number of reports, we are beginning to have a big impact.

Kinder Institute Director Bill Fulton.

Kinder Institute Director Bill Fulton.

Maybe the most obvious example is our report, “The Houston Pension Question,” which we released in August. Assisted by the Boston College Center for Retirement Research and Rice’s own Baker Institute for Public Policy, we were able to frame Houston’s pension issues in a straight-up way. It served as a baseline for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the pension boards, other city officials and the press in understanding options for reform. Both the Houston Chronicle and Mayor Turner referred to the report repeatedly as the final pension details unfolded this fall.

But the pension report wasn’t the only Kinder Institute work product to have a big impact on Houston. Our report on disconnected young adults – “Houston’s Opportunity,” prepared in conjunction with JPMorganChase – stimulated a conversation among a wide range of social service and educational providers on how to work better together to make sure that young adults who are neither working nor in school don’t fall through the cracks of “the system.”

Our report “Redeveloping the East End,” prepared in conjunction with the Urban Land Institute, laid out ways for the City of Houston to provide incentives to developers to maximize real estate opportunities along the new light-rail lines in the East End.

And, of course, the Houston Education Research Consortium continued to churn out many research reports that have informed policymaking at the Houston Independent School District.

Even when the Kinder Institute has not had a direct impact on policy and on-the-ground action, we have begun to play an important role in shaping how the public and the media frame urban issues in Houston. We have been a constant presence on the pages of the Houston Chronicle, on television, and on Houston Public Media. The Houston Chronicle has reprinted close to 20 of our blogs this year, and the Kinder Institute played an enormous role in the newspaper’s special section on the future of the city, “Houston: A City of Possibilities.”

Senior Editor Ryan Holeywell wrote an overview of the biggest issues facing urban Houston, and HERC’s Ruth López Turley was the subject of a major profile. Research Fellow Heather O’Connell was featured on television and in print for her work mapping economic and social disparity in Houston, and throughout the year, Kinder Institute folks were a regular presence on Houston Public Media’s public affairs program “Houston Matters.”

These are impressive achievements. But they are only the beginning. Now that we are completely staffed up – thanks to our funding from Houston Endowment – we will be cranking out even more reports in 2017. And we’ll be working with Mayor Turner, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, nonprofits, philanthropies and many others to make sure that our work has real impact.

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