Vision of the Metropolitan Institue

Below is the new vision for the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. I look forward to partnering with you on collaborative efforts.

Vision

As one of Virginia Tech’s premier research initiatives, the Metropolitan Institute conducts basic and applied research on the dynamics of metropolitan complexities, such as demographics, environment, technology, design, transportation, and governance. With most of the globe's population moving to urbanized areas, the major public policy challenges of this century will require a deeper understanding of how metropolitan complexities play out across multiple jurisdictions, locations, infrastructures, and stakeholders.

The Metropolitan Institute fosters research on designing, planning, and governing of livable, sustainable, and economically-viable urban spaces. Our research embraces the challenge of addressing the intertwining variables, goals, mechanisms, and systems of accountability within this space through an integration of heterogeneous information, emerging computational mechanics, and predictive theoretical frameworks. The Metropolitan Institute offers two special capabilities to help policymakers and practitioners address these emerging public policy challenges. Firstly, the Metropolitan Institute can visualize, analyze, interpret, and employ information from a wide assortment of sources, using sophisticated analytical approaches in a cost-effective manner as part of a new era of social science research that embraces policy informatics to solving complex problems. Secondly, the Metropolitan Institute provides an interdisciplinary platform for academic researchers from public policy, to geography and planning, from economics to computational sciences, and from architecture to engineering to advance the cause of designing, planning, and administering resilient and sustainable urban spaces.

Located in the National Capital Region in Alexandria, VA, the Metropolitan Institute is housed within the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) where it can leverage key strengths of the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) faculty within the Departments of Urban and Regional Planning (UAP), Public Administration and Policy (CPAP), and Government and International Affairs (GIA), while also reaching beyond the boundaries of department, college, or university, to bring together the richest collaboration of thinkers to each research question. The Metropolitan Institute advances the mission of Virginia Tech by enabling policy makers, city planners, businesses, and citizens to invent the future of resilient and sustainable metropolitans.

Welcome Letter from the Director – Metropolitan Institute

Just completed finalizing my first letter as the Director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. We will soon be loading this on the Metropolitan Institute's website and sharing it with faculty, staff, and friends of Virginia Tech.

Welcome Letter from the Director

Greetings,

It is a privilege to introduce myself as the new director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. I look forward to growing the Metropolitan Institute in the rich history of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, fueled by the dynamism of the School of Public and International Affairs. As we chart a new course for the Institute, I invite members of the Virginia Tech family (students, professors, and administrators) and past/future partner organizations from the Washington, DC metropolitan region and beyond, to visit our web site, review our upcoming work, and contact us as we explore new collaborations.

For the past decade, my intellectual curiosity has focused on designing more resilient and innovative organizations. Critical to this endeavor is understanding how information is managed within and beyond the organization’s borders. As part of my explorations, I have employed numerous research methodologies from behavioral to computational, and have collaborated with industry and academic partners across a range of disciplines from engineering to public administration and management.

A necessary reality of conducting my research was traveling to various parts of the globe to study organizations, the leaders and managers who were responsible for them, and the employees who supported their mission. Over the course of last five years, I have had the privilege of traveling to over 20 cities, including Mumbai, Madrid, Rome, Ljubljana, Johannesburg, Bangkok, London, and Prague. Observing and experiencing the diversity of metropolitan forms led me to consider the design and consequences of how information traversed urban systems across infrastructures, organizations, and social networks.

Urbanization is a major force of change in our world today and will impact the future of the planet on a number of dimensions from resiliency to sustainability and economic vitality. The need to become more effective and aware of the design and implementation of policies has never been more critical. Central to developing new and more effective models of urban policy are the needs to:

  1. Innovate the policy setting process, making it more dynamic, inclusive, cost effective, and timely.
  2. Leverage information through the deployment of computational systems, simulation platforms, and participatory platforms that allow for crowdsourcing of solutions to local problems
  3. Facilitate multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder approaches to framing, studying, and solving, the most complex urban problems.


I envision the future of the Metropolitan Institute as an open collaborative platform that brings together diverse expertise to solve complex urban issues. The Metropolitan Institute will fold together the best and brightest in the fields of informatics, urban planning, international affairs, engineering, and public policy to forge a new set of solutions for today’s urbanizing world. The Metropolitan Institute is a space that is open for all of you to connect and collaborate.

In the near-term, I plan to meet with stakeholders across Virginia Tech and also community partners, industry, and government to listen to your ideas. I have been humbled by the warm welcomes I have received from the various scholars and leaders at Virginia Tech. An esteemed university like Virginia Tech has many friends in public and private organizations across the 50 states and the world beyond. I look forward to meeting with the many friends of the University and welcoming them to the Institute. I am excited to begin designing a new future for Metropolitan Institute.

I look forward to meeting with you and hearing your ideas.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Kevin C. Desouza
Director, Metropolitan Institute
Virginia Tech

Washington Post: Appointments and Promotions for the Week of Aug. 29

Made the list of important appointments and promotions in the Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland area. See - Link

Source: "Washington area appointments and promotions for the week of Aug. 29," Washington Post, Saturday, August 27, 2011.

P.S. The Roanoke Times also highlighted my new role with Virginia Tech (Link)

Defining Policy Informatics

I have been busy working on a statement that captures the essence of policy informatics. Here is my first-cut at the definition. I thank all those who have already provided comments on this version, especially Dr. Erik Johnston (Co-Director of the Center for Public Informatics at Arizona State University). Please do send me your comments, both positive and negative, and suggestions for improvement. Thanks.

Policy Informatics

Solving complex public policy problems, dilemmas, and challenges requires deliberate, and sophisticated, information analysis.

Policymakers often are faced with conflicting solutions to complex problems, thus making it necessary for them to test out their assumptions, interventions, and resolutions. Towards this end, it becomes critical for a policymaker to have an information-rich, interactive environment in which complex problems can be modeled, simulated, visualized, and studied.

Relevant information can range from being too abundant to hardly existent. In the former case, we face the challenge of leveraging large quantities of information under severe time and resource constraints. In the latter case, limited or incomplete information has to be used to make decisions on ambiguous solution spaces.

In deliberating, designing, and implementing policies, the policy makers and the public face a number of transactional and collaborative inefficiencies. Some of these inefficiencies arise from the simple reality that information held by both parties is difficult to articulate and even transfer, i.e. information is sticky. This makes it difficult for either party to collaborate as they do not fully empathize with the problems of the other.

In addition, advances in communication and computational technologies enable new pathways to solutions. Rather than trying to solve public problems, governments are able to empower its public to solve their own problems. Crowdsourcing and bottom-up, emergent, problem-solving are desirable as the public have a greater chance of taking charge of their own local problems, voicing their concerns, and arriving at locally relevant solutions. Designing and mobilizing platforms where citizen input is used effectively to solve local problems and collaborative forums improves the results, and therefore the relationships, for both the policy makers and the public.

Policy informatics is the study of how information is leveraged and efforts are coordinated towards solving complex public policy problems. Driven by the need to exploit information to tackle complex policy problems and to ensure efficient and efficient policy setting and implementation platforms, policy informatics seeks to

  • enhance policy analysis and design through visualizing, modeling, and simulating complex policy scenarios,
  • study the role of information systems and information-based governance platforms in policy planning, deliberation, and implementation,
  • advance the management of information systems projects in the public sector,
  • study how information analysis and management influences the design of participatory platforms, and
  • arrive at theoretical and practical frameworks to advance our knowledge of the roles of information analysis in policy setting, the use of computational techniques in policy contexts, and how information-driven policy setting influences the nature of governance and governance platforms.

Policy informatics helps us advance evidence-driven policy design, wherein scientific models and analyses drive decision-making for resolution of complex policy challenges, dilemmas, and problems. Policy informatics is an emerging field of both research and a community of practice focusing on 1) advancing decision-making in the public sector through information-centric analysis of evidence that leverages computational and technological advances, and 2) designing, managing, and evaluating of information systems and infrastructures for policy construction, analysis, and implementation. Policy informatics expands to the multi-disciplinary nature of the public administration discipline by infusing it with the advances of information technology, management of information systems, and computational and informational science perspectives.

 

Kevin Desouza named director of Virginia Tech’s Metropolitan Institute – Press Release

Virginia Tech released the following press release on my new role at the University (Click here to access the press release - LINK).

NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, Aug. 18, 2011 – Kevin Desouza has been named director of theMetropolitan Institute, a center in theSchool of Public and International Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech.

Desouza was most recently an associate professor at the University of Washington’s Information School and has held adjunct appointments in the university’s College of Engineering and at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

"Dr. Desouza's experience with major international corporations and government organizations on strategic management issues will be a great asset to the college and the university," said Jack Davis, the Reynolds Metals Professor of Architecture and dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

Based in the National Capital Region, the Metropolitan Institute fosters basic and applied research on designing, planning, and governing of livable, sustainable,and economically-viable urban spaces. The institute also publishes several publications including the journal Housing Policy Debate.

Desouza’s work is internationally recognized and he has conducted research and lectured across the world. He holds a visiting professorship at the University of Ljubljana and has held past appointments at the Center for International Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, among others.

In addition to his professorship, Desouza founded two research institutes at the University of Washington, the Institute for National Security and Research, and the Institute for Innovation in Information Management.

Desouza has authored, co-authored, and/or edited nine books and over 90 articles. He has also been invited to advise and consult for several major international corporations and government organizations, focusing on strategic management issues ranging from management of information systems, to crisis management. He has given over 40 invited talks and received over $1.2 million in research funding from both public and private organizations. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (UK). Desouza received his Ph.D. from the Liatuad Graduate School of Business at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In addition to directing the Metropolitan Institute, he will also hold an associate professor appointment at the Center for Public Administration and Policy in the School of Public and International Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech. He is also serving on the Presidential Task Force working on Virginia Tech's long range plan.

He will be moving to the National Capital Region in August to begin his new position.

Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies is composed of four schools: the School of Architecture + Design, including architecture, industrial design, interior design and landscape architecture; the School of Public and International Affairs, including urban affairs and planning, public administration and policy and government and international affairs; the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, which includes building construction in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and construction engineering management in the College of Engineering; and the School of the Visual Arts, including programs in studio art, visual communication and art history.

 

Joining Virginia Tech – Director, Metropolitan Institute; Associate Professor, Center for Public Admin. and Policy, College of Architecture & Urban Studies

After spending over 5 years at the University of Washington, I will soon be making a change. Starting this autumn, I will assume a new role as the Director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. I will also hold an appointment as an associate professor (with tenure) at the Center for Public Administration and Policy within the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. While I am excited to assume my new role and take on different challenges in my academic career, I also recognize that I am leaving an excellent institution. I want to thank all of my colleagues and students at the Information School, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, and the College of Engineering, who have been wonderful collaborators and friends. I also want to acknowledge the generous support that I have received from private and government sponsors for my research institutes.

Over the next few months, I will be making the move from Seattle, WA to Alexandria, VA.

Complexity, Policy Informatics, and Public Administration

Erik Johnston (Arizona State University), Qian Hu (University of Central Florida), and I have completed a paper for the Governance of Complex Systems: Challenges of Making Public Administration and Complexity Theory Work Workshop to be held in Rotterdam, Netherlands in June 2011.

How the Application of Complexity and Policy Informatics to Public Administration can Change the Questions we Ask and the Solutions we Discover


We argue for introducing complexity theory to public administration because it allows us to exploit new connections, to raise new questions, and to explore innovative approaches to governance and management. To support more regular, effective, and defensible use of complexity as a contribution to policy-making, public administration scholars must continue to build supporting evidence. In this paper, first, we reflect on why existing analysis frameworks create structural blind spots for understanding governance practice. Second, using examples from our own research and professional experience we demonstrate that a complexity approach allows new questions to be asked that directly connect to policy problems and facilitate decision making in a cost effective manner. Third, we explore a number of factors including practical strategies and ethical concerns that may encourage or preclude the use of a complexity framework and method in policy settings. And finally, this paper calls on public administration scholars to be thoughtfully aware of and ethically responsible for the consequences of the use of complexity methods in research and practice.

Johnston, E., Desouza, K.C., & Hu, Q. “How the Application of Complexity and Policy Informatics to Public Administration can Change the Questions we Ask and the Solutions we Discover,” A Paper for Governance of Complex Systems: Challenges of Making Public Administration and Complexity Theory Work, Rotterdam, Netherlands, June 23-25, 2011.