Docking Institute's new director looks to expand service, areas of endeavor

If anything is to change at Fort Hays State University's Docking Institute of Public Affairs under Dr. Brett Zollinger, its new director, the changes would be more in the nature of additions than anything else.

"Anything agricultural, natural resource related, I'd sure like to pursue that more because for so much of our traditional western Kansas constituency -- the people we're beholden to -- these are very important policy issues," said Zollinger.

And: "The other area that the institute should concentrate on is being more of a resource to our faculty."

But the core mission and focus of Fort Hays State University's Docking Institute will remain the same.

"Our mission is to facilitate effective public policy decision making," said Zollinger.

The Docking Institute is known regionally and nationally for its award-winning research and policy studies.

Zollinger's list of strategic directions for the institute include:
-- To continue building and improving upon the institute's reputation as a "first-stop shop for full research and planning services on a wide array of policy issues and community/economic development issues, particularly pertaining to Kansas."
-- Continue with one of the institute's earliest activities: facilitating public policy debate and discussion through sponsoring the Kansas Legislature program and candidate debates on Smoky Hills Public Television.
-- Continue to be a regional leader in providing labor dynamics studies.
-- Build on the institute's foundation of evaluation research projects. Current projects include work for Hays USD 489, the Kansas Health Foundation, the Information Network of Kansas, and the Washington, DC, municipal government.
-- Continue hosting the Telepower Conference, "which provides crucial information about using information technology for economic and community development. We pull in state-level experts and policy makers and federal policy makers, not only to inform Kansans, but to hear from Kansans," said Zollinger.

The institute's reputation for quality research, planning and survey projects for a wide variety of clients continues to grow. One recent $12,000 study of labor availability for the Columbia, MO, area inspired a previously hesitant business in that community to commit to a $10 million expansion. The study revealed that the industry would have plenty of labor available for the expansion despite a low unemployment rate in the region.

The institute has also taken on projects for counties, Chambers of Commerce, regional economic development organizations in and out of Kansas, government agencies and non-profits.

Under Zollinger, natural resource issues will get more emphasis.

"The future of the region -- what we consider our traditional constituency, Western Kansas -- is so tied into natural resource issues that we need to address them."

The institute has conducted research and planning for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the Kansas Division of Environment, and Groundwater Management Districts in the state and is currently pursuing research on the economic and social impact of siting a reservoir in western Kansas.

Those kinds of issues are a large part of Zollinger's expertise.

"A good deal of my background is in natural resource, socio-economic issues. My dissertation was on the conversion of agricultural land to urban uses in metropolitan adjacent areas," he said.

There's also another point: "State and federal policy makers increasingly are seeing the need for considering natural resource issues from a social science perspective. The social science perspective enhances the biological and agricultural studies."

Zollinger also wants the Docking Institute to be more of a resource for FHSU faculty. "We could be much more useful to faculty than we have been in the past," he said. "We can consult on research. We can help implement research. We can be useful with either grant or contract research -- we can help with their proposals and we can help them actually carry out the research."

He cited the physical assets that the Docking Institute can bring into play: a state-of-the-art computer-aided telephone interview lab, the ability to conduct Web surveys, experience in conducting self-administered and paper-and-pencil surveys and the equipment to scan them.

"We can also commonly do research based on secondary data -- existing, or extant data -- combing through such things as Census files," he said.

The Docking Institute of Public Affairs began as the Fort Hays State University Institute of Public Affairs in 1980. In October 1989, the Kansas Board of Regents changed the name to the Docking Institute of Public Affairs in honor of Kansas Governors George Docking and Robert B. Docking and Lt. Gov. Tom Docking.

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