Since 1947, IGPA has been the place where objective, world-class research and public policy meet.
Years of Policy Research and Public Engagement
Since its creation in 1947 by the Illinois General Assembly and a resolution of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, the University of Illinois System’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) has been the place where objective, world-class research and public policy meet.
The Board of Trustees sought to create a space to “investigate specific, practical problems that arise at all levels of government.” The focus soon narrowed to issues involving state and local government, especially in Illinois. IGPA has grown from a small organization with one faculty member and a few graduate students in the 1940s to a research institute that currently engages more than 150 scholars across the University of Illinois System.
IGPA evolved as Illinois state government changed over the 1960s and 1970s. Early in its history, IGPA often acted in a staff role, advising and providing research to the General Assembly. At the time, a conversation was occurring across the state about reforming government to meet the needs of a modern, diverse, and industrial state. To this end, Illinois established the Commission on the Organization of the General Assembly, in which IGPA played a direct role.
Following the recommendations made by this commission, Illinois embarked on a Constitutional Convention in 1969. IGPA played an instrumental role in preparing for, staffing, and documenting this “Con Con.” By 1970, the new Illinois constitution was ratified by voters, and a modern state government began to take shape with professional staffers, researchers, and support agencies.
During this period, IGPA was central to the debate among American universities about their role in, and responsibility for, public service. Leaders in higher education agreed that public universities had a role to play in democracy. IGPA began to set its research agenda, guided by the best available scholarship and national models, seeking funding for research on Illinois’ most pressing issues, and distributing its research widely.
IGPA Director Sam Gove, Samuel Witwer Sr. (known as the “Father of Con-Con”), and Paul Simon helped launch the public policy publication Illinois Issues magazine. The magazine is now a long-form, digital journalism initiative at the University of Illinois Springfield’s NPR Illinois.
The U of I Flash Index was created in 1995 at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois to provide an instantaneous reading of the performance of the Illinois economy.
Building on Our Past
IGPA has long played the role of convener, bringing groups and individuals together to discuss pressing issues of the day. IGPA has facilitated these important conversations for more than 60 years: from the early Illinois Assemblies that brought powerful stakeholders together for closed-door consensus-building sessions; to conferences engaging national thought leaders on local topics; to fostering a strong reputation with journalists as a source of nonpartisan analysis to make timely contributions to current debates.
IGPA continued to maintain its roots as a facilitator of education for elected leaders throughout the state. Since 1992, IGPA has partnered with the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability to hold a conference for new state lawmakers in preparation for their careers in Springfield.
IGPA has also been a longtime collaborator with the Conference of Women Legislators of the Illinois General Assembly (COWL), with former IGPA Director Bob Rich (director from 1986-1997, 2005-2012) facilitating COWL retreats and contributing to their initial development. This partnership continues to be essential to IGPA’s programming through the co-sponsored NEW Leadership™ Illinois program.
IGPA’s Illinois Family Impact Seminars, led from 2006 to 2015 by former IGPA affiliate Rachel Gordon, represented Illinois in a national network of such seminars. The seminars regularly contributed to knowledge-based dialogue around family policy issues, such as social and emotional learning and the value of after-school programs. They provided evidence-based information to Illinois policymakers, practitioners, and the public. Founding partners for the Illinois seminars included the Institute for Juvenile Research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois Chicago and the Department of Human and Community Development and the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Important political institutions in Illinois have been incubated at IGPA and later spun off to grow and focus their missions. Such programs included the Illinois Legislative Internship Program, the Illinois Resource Network, and Illinois Issues magazine, many of which continue to foster leadership and dialogue in the state.
In the last several decades, IGPA maintained a strong presence in the area of Illinois state and local public finance with a number of distinguished scholars including six winners of the National Tax Association’s dissertation prize as well as an editor of the National Tax Journal. These efforts involved ongoing analysis of state budget issues as well as the examination of various tax proposals including being the first to highlight Illinois’ structural deficit problems.
During the severe state budget crisis from 2015 to 2018, the IGPA Fiscal Futures project provided credible, critical, objective information about the state’s finances to legislators, key statewide media organizations, public interest groups, and the general public. This work continues in the Fiscal and Economic Policy working group.
Central to this remaking of IGPA has been IGPA’s new Working Group Structure. IGPA’s initial Working Groups – the Education, Learning and Child and Family Well-being Working Group, the Fiscal and Economic Policy Working Group and the Substance Use Disorders and Behavioral Health Working Group – launched in 2019 and the Equity, Justice and Human Flourishing Working Group launched in 2021. These Working Groups map policy research onto human needs and desired outcomes in our state. Each group is interdisciplinary and interdepartmental—and built to enable relationships among its members.
In today’s more inclusive IGPA, faculty from more disciplines and across all three universities are collaborating on potential solutions to societal problems, and IGPA is grappling with some of the thorniest questions we have faced in our lifetimes.
IGPA has also continued and expanded programming that strives to launch new generations of public leaders, while also highlighting the work of those who have dedicated their careers to ethical public service.
IGPA presents the annual Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government to a person who has contributed to the practice and understanding of principled play in public life. The award honors the late senator from Illinois, who served from 1949 to 1967.
Our Edgar Fellows Program, launched by former Governor Jim Edgar in 2012, fosters bipartisanship and cross-regional cooperation among participants, who include former and current state of Illinois legislative, agency, and constitutional officer staff, elected officials from all levels and branches, and leaders from the private sector. The program is entirely funded by contributions raised by Governor Edgar and the program’s supporters.
The NEW Leadership™ Illinois program, co-sponsored with COWL, provides college students and recent graduates across Illinois with the fundamentals of leadership to prepare them for public service. IGPA is also working collaboratively with state policymakers to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recovery, and more. At the request of University of Illinois System President Timothy Killeen, IGPA created its Task Force on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic, with three focal areas: economic and fiscal health of the state, community and family resilience, and healthcare workforce.
The task force has produced more than 20 reports that led not only to media coverage but also to consultations with lawmakers and senior state agency officials. One Policy Spotlight from the task force was cited by the chairman of a congressional Ways and Means subcommittee in a hearing.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted creative new approaches to IGPA’s scholarship, notably our “Policy from People” series, which brings an interdisciplinary lens to capturing qualitative and quantitative answers about how policy plays out in practice.
The people of Illinois have made a significant investment in the University of Illinois System, and IGPA’s 74 years of work help return that value to the people by supporting well-informed policymaking that improves their lives.