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Jim Granato & Frank Scioli

Frank Scioli & Jim Granato

The University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs received a $130,000 grant from Houston Endowment to initiate the creation of a long-term panel study on social, economic and behavioral dynamics for the Houston region. A panel study is a longitudinal design in which a cross-sectional population sample is selected and surveyed at periodic (for example, annual) intervals. Panel studies are known for their scientific rigor because the observation of the individual at regular intervals through time decreases aspects such as recall error that could lead to less accurate analyses and subsequently to ineffective planning and policy decisions.

A panel design provides the same leverage for socio-economic and behavioral dynamics that can be found in medical protocols (such as found in drug/therapy treatments).  For Houston region policy makers and business leaders, an on-going panel study would shed light on issues such as changes in economic mobility, the demographic structure of the population (minority, female, immigrant), family composition, labor force participation, poverty, welfare use, (un)employment, (un)employment duration, earnings, work hours, assets, taxes, mental and physical health, and more. Examples of panel surveys with substantial academic & policy benefits include the Panel Study on Income Dynamics (PSID) & the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).    

Jim Granato, Hobby School director, is coordinating the planning process and team.  Dr. Granato has over 15 years of administrative, teaching and research experience in quantitative social science.  His experience includes serving as Visiting Scientist and Political Science Program Officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF), where he led activities similar to the proposed panel study.  Dr. Granato and his NSF colleague Frank Scioli wrote, planned and directed the American National Election Survey recompetition as well as numerous other research projects. The panel study planning team involves a mix of local and national experts, each person having specific knowledge (substantive and technical) of the various challenges in the construction of a valid panel survey.  

The panel study experts met for a workshop at the University of Houston on March 21-22, 2008 to discuss various features of an optimum study, including the strengths and drawbacks of different research designs and costs. Click here to read the Workshop transcript.

Dr. Granato said the March workshop accomplished what he hoped for and more. He said, "The workshop produced a 'great conversation' on the challenges ahead in developing and implementing panel surveys for the Houston region. While there were different approaches discussed, there was unanimity of opinion on the importance of creating and developing this type of study for Houston because of the dynamics of the area's economy and population. The social scientific investigation of such an environment is crucial to efficient planning for our city's growth. And the benefits don't stop at the Houston region. While other urban areas are going through social and economic changes of their own, most are not transforming at the pace of Houston so the findings from our study could assist other government leaders and business decision-makers with their future plans as well." With the information from the workshop, Dr. Granato and Renee Cross, Hobby School associate director, will create a project blueprint.

In addition to the academic experts, there will be extensive consultation with members of the Houston community who are involved in the private and public sector including the Hobby School advisory board members.  They will assist by providing feedback on the most pressing issues in Houston that could be addressed in the survey.  

The potential panel study will be a public resource, with all findings and raw data accessible online on the Hobby School of Public Affairs’ website.