SMPA to Focus on Urban and Rural Divide with New Grant

The school was awarded $699,600 to study how different communities experience their worlds within political and cultural media bubbles.

January 16, 2018


SMPA's American Communities Project has mapped 15 types of counties to show where the country’s political, socioeconomic and cultural fissures are. (Courtesy of SMPA)

The School of Media and Public Affairs’ American Communities Project was recently awarded a $699,600 grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support work that focuses on health, income equity and the divides between urban and rural America.

The American Communities Project works to map and analyze the social, political and cultural fault lines that shape the United States and tell the stories of local leaders and community members across the country. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant will help expand this work with a new effort to mine data sets on health, economics, media consumption and culture to find the common challenges facing different communities.

Researchers will use the American Community Project’s 15 community types to analyze these relations. Project director Dante Chinni and Stanford researcher Iris Hui developed the 15 county types by analyzing key demographic variables, from race to ethnicity and occupation, in each U.S. county.

The analysis will help provide insights into how different communities experience their worlds within the political and cultural media bubbles that currently define the nation.

“Our research will help community leaders and policymakers develop policies and programs that can improve lives,” Mr. Chinni said. “We want to understand and explain the different realities various American communities live in, why they live in them and what those communities can learn from each other.”

The grant project will produce four reports that explore the nation’s community-level similarities and differences. Each report will focus on a different topic area’s relation to health and equity. The first report is planned for fall 2018. SMPA will also host events and lectures around these reports.

“This is research that will help people and policymakers burst the bubbles that currently define the nation,” said Frank Sesno, SMPA director.

The project will work with data from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program at the University of Wisconsin Population of Health Institute. The American Community Project will also analyze county-level data from the Census Bureau, Gallup, and Simmons Research.