About

What is the Pennsylvania Policy Database?
The Pennsylvania Policy Database Project is a free, online resource that provides access to more than 170,000 state and news media records and enables users to trace and analyze with a few mouse clicks the history of public policy in the Commonwealth since 1979. Designed for easy use by educators, students, researchers, policy makers, news reporters, and the general public, it is the first comprehensive state policy database of its kind. To access the database please use the Data Analysis Tool.

The project was built by faculty-supervised students at Temple University and five other universities with the support and cooperation of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Also participating were students and faculty members at Pennsylvania State University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University Harrisburg, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania project is modeled on the national Policy Agendas database (www.policyagendas.org), which allows users to track and analyze federal policy since 1946. Created by political scientists Frank R. Baumgartner and Bryan D. Jones and funded by the National Science Foundation, the national project is housed at the University of Texas. Similar databases are under construction in a dozen foreign countries as a part of the Comparative Agendas Project.

How is this database different from traditional government archives?
The database provides researchers with superior tools for both information retrieval, a goal of most official archives, and pattern recognition, which is often difficult to uncover without spending immense amounts of time and effort painstakingly studying and classifying hundreds if not thousands of records in numerous agency archives. Because the Pennsylvania Policy Database files all state and news media records in exclusive and exhaustive categories that are consistently organized over time, it allows users not only to locate important records but to recognize and graphically display patterns of policy development across many issue areas, many policy making venues, and many years. Users can quickly identify turning points and shifts in public attention between policy areas and significant increases or declines in activity as reflected in legislation, governors’ speeches, court decisions, state spending, or media reporting as it is tracked by elected officials. All records or abstracts of records also can be instantly downloaded for further detailed analysis. 
What records are included and how was it built?
The database includes House and Senate bills and resolutions, acts, legislative hearings, governors’ budget messages, governors’ executive orders, state expenditures, news reports from across the state, Governing magazine articles, public opinion polls, legislative studies, and Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions. Working under the supervision of faculty leaders, students at the participating universities abstracted and coded these diverse records into 20 major and more than 200 minor topic areas, using definitions and decision rules created for the national database. Although keyword search is provided as a supplemental feature, it is not the primary tool for either coding or finding records, as it is in many traditional archives. Keyword search tools require researchers to guess at the terminology to use (including the proper spelling, capitalization, etc.) and are vulnerable to changes in the meaning of terms over time. Rather, each individual record was read and double-blind coded by two students working independently or by one student and a computer using specially created policy coding software. If necessary, a graduate student serving as research manager would break tie votes. The Commonwealth’s expenditures also have been coded in the same major policy topics as the other records. Total state spending and general fund balances or deficits can be stated in constant or current dollars. The project covers the years from 1979 to the most recently completed two-year session of the legislature. 
What are the project’s benefits?
The project supplements existing state information-retrieval systems and is consistent with public demands for increased transparency. State policymakers and aides can more efficiently research recurring issues and previously-tried solutions, avoiding the need to reinvent the wheel. The integration of government records, news accounts, and opinion data can help students, educators, and policymakers gain insights into the underlying causes and politics of issues. The project’s comparability with the national database facilitates insights into federal-state policy relationships. The project provides a central index to different kinds of state records and therefore provides staffers and archivists with a new tool to respond to public inquiries. It outlines a comprehensible, “no-spin” history of an institution – the legislature – whose policy and “PR” outputs frequently — and rightly — reflect partisan debate and conflict but leave the larger institutional story untold. It also codes and provides abstracts and access to the top decision makers in the other two branches, the governor and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

We also believe the project can help correct a long-standing imbalance in both scholarship and public understanding. The state role in American public policy is under-studied in universities, under-reported by the news media, and not well understood by the general public. Scholars and the news media have paid far more attention to national and urban public policy, perhaps partly because many state capitals are remote from the main campuses of major universities and from major metropolitan news outlets.

Acknowledgements

Construction of the database was made possible by funding from the Pennsylvania General Assembly, a grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development, and by in-kind contributions by the participating universities, including faculty time and overhead costs. Virtually all project funds have directly supported students at Temple and the other participating universities. The database now is maintained solely with Temple University funds.

From its inception, the project has benefitted enormously from support provided by senior staff officers of the General Assembly and from assistance provided by many other individuals with state agencies, some of whom are still active and some of whom have assumed other positions in public or private life or have retired. They include:

  • The General Assembly Project Advisory Committee
    Mark Corrigan secretary of the Senate; Greg Jordan, executive director, and Tom Starke, former executive director, Senate Appropriations Committee [R]; Randy Albright, executive director, Senate Appropriations Committee [D]; Clancy Myer, House Parliamentarian; Steve Tuckey, counsel, and Joe Miller, former director of research, House Republican Caucus; Beryl Kuhr, counsel, and Lisa Fleming, budget analyst, House Appropriations Committee [D].
  • The Chief Clerks: Russell Faber (Senate) and Anthony Barbush (House) and Roger Nick, former chief clerk of the House.
  • Commonwealth Offices, Archivists and Records Center Directors
    Heidi C. Mays, House archivist; Evelyn Andrews, Senate librarian; Kathy A. Sullivan, executive director, Legislative Data Processing Center; Harry F. Parker, former chief, Division of Archives, Historical and Museum Commission; Caryn J. Carr, former director, State Library of Pennsylvania; Judy Townsend, former assistant director, Public Services Division, State Library; Randall Tenor, library supervisor, State Library; Robert Zech, director, Legislative Reference Bureau; David Hostetter, former executive director, Joint State Government Commission; Michael Gasbarre, executive director, Local Government Commission; Philip Durgin, executive director, Legislative Budget and Finance Committee; Barry L. Denk, executive director, Center for Rural Pennsylvania; Mark H. Bergstrom, executive director, Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing; Steve Miskin, press secretary to the House Majority Leader; Gary Tuma and Chuck Ardo, former press secretaries to Governor Rendell; and ML Wernecke, former policy director, Department of Public Welfare.
  • Others Who Helped
    Nancy Watson, curator, Thornburgh Archives (the Dick Thornburgh Papers), University of Pittsburgh; James P. Quigel, head of historical collections and labor archives, Penn State University; G. Terry Madonna and Berwood Yost, The Franklin and Marshall College Poll; Christopher Pece, chief, public finance analysis branch, United States Bureau of the Census; and Governing Magazine.
  • The University Advisory Committee (Faculty Leaders and Advisors)
    Frank Baumgartner, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and formerly of The Pennsylvania State University; Beverly Cigler, The Pennsylvania State University—Harrisburg; David Y. Miller, University of Pittsburgh; Donald F. Kettl, University of Maryland and formerly of the University of Pennsylvania; Richard A. Stafford, Carnegie Mellon University; Paul Wolfgang, Temple University; Megan Mullin, Temple University; J. Wesley Leckrone, Widener University and former graduate student, Temple University; Justin Gollob, Mesa State University and former graduate student, Temple University; David Thornburgh, Fels Institute of Government, University of Pennsylvania; Mike King, former executive director, Legislative Office for Research Liaison, Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

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