A new dashboard, the Dunn County Factbook, provides a snapshot of the county in data form and showcases the ability of the University of Wisconsin-Stout Social Science Research Center to collect and share that information.
About a decade ago a Dunn County Visioning project was done to look at key aspects of county life, including sustainability, entrepreneurship, leadership, civic engagement, health, and arts and culture. The idea was to understand social and economic conditions in order to encourage population and business growth.
Former UW-Stout lecturer Juliet Fox was executive director of that project, which led to the Dunn County Factbook website. “It’s meant to be a snapshot of where we’re at,” Fox said. “The information is there to let people make their own inferences out of it.”
The factbook is meant as a broad and meaningful glimpse into the progress the county has made toward realizing its vision from 2007. The hope is that stakeholders around the county can use the metrics as a range of tools to mobilize their efforts.
Nels Paulson, UW-Stout associate professor of sociology, said the data provides a snapshot of how the county is doing. The factbook also allowed UW-Stout and the Social Science Research Center to step forward and work on a community project. “The university wants us to have community outreach,” Paulson said. “This is a great way to provide that service.”
Information on the site includes:
- Entrepreneurship: small business ownership, unemployment, income, labor force retail and owned firms
- Sustainability: water quality policies, land and water use, waste disposal and green space.
- Leadership and civic engagement: charitable contributions, voting, nonprofit organizations, social capital organizations and leadership, with the Young Professionals program
- Arts and culture: Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts, UW-Stout’s Furlong Gallery, Wilson Place Mansion museum and Simply Dunn, a Downsville craft shop also used for hosting classes and community events
- Health: premature death, adult obesity, uninsured residents, poverty, crime and prescription opioid overdose deaths
The Social Science Research Center also provides specific, client-based services. Its three-part mission is to engage students with real-world clients and applied research projects; sustain and improve the visibility and reputation of UW-Stout social science and historical research in the region and state; and provide an environment for successful and sustainable interdisciplinary intellectual collaboration.
“One of the goals of the Social Science Research Center is to become a regional think tank,” Paulson said. “What we would like to do is try to work with community partners and redefine the center to provide research to improve the quality of life in this area.”
UW-Stout graphic design and interactive media senior Taylor Kleven, of Rogers, Minn., was the factbook website designer. Kleven, who graduated last summer, said the most enjoyable part of the project was being able to both design and write code. “Educationally, taking on this project helped reassure me that I made the right decision in pursuing both design concentrations offered at UW-Stout,” Kleven said.
Applied social science graduate Wade Dugstad helped compile and research data. Having students work on projects like this helps them gain experience and improve their data-gathering skills, Paulson said.
Fox said Dunn County had an advantage working with UW-Stout students, faculty and the Social Science Research Center. “They have the expertise and are a huge help for any community thinking of doing this,” Fox said.
The nature of the project ensured that the data collected is publicly available and can be updated, Fox added.
Tina Lee, associate professor of anthropology and the applied social science program director, said the factbook is a resource for someone looking to move to or start a business in the county. “This information is useful for people to get a sense where Dunn County is at in terms of key demographics and key areas,” Lee said. “The idea is these are many things you would want to know about a community.”
Collecting data and presenting it are what social science students are learning and will do in their careers, Lee said. “Our hope is we can find more of these projects for our students to do so they can get out good data for people who want it,” Lee added. “We want our research center to have a strong role for undergraduate research. We envision it as a way for our students to get immersed in learning opportunities. This is another way that real world problems connect with the classroom.”
UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.
Retired UW-Stout faculty member Lee Smalley, at left, talks about the Social Science Research Center with Tina Lee, applied social science program director, and students Ryan Leckel, Elle Alvarez and Frank Janovec. One of the goals of the Social Science Research Center is to become a regional think tank, working with community partners to provide research to improve the quality of life in the area.
The Social Science Research Center's goal is to give undergraduate students an opportunity to get immersed in learning and provide good data for those who want it, says Lee, at left, with students Alvarez, Leckel and Janovec.