Crowd for the AAPOR 2024 Annual Conference networks and socializes in the venue lobby.

Public Policy Center staff sharpen skills at national conferences


Five Public Policy Center staff members recently participated in national conferences, gathering valuable insights on data collection and the evolving landscape of grant proposals and awards.  

Staff members Cassidy Branch, Lisa Halm-Werner, Mike Oie, and Dawn Bower attended the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers (AAPOR) 79th Annual Conference in Atlanta, GA. The theme of this year’s event centered around “Impacting Communities,” emphasizing the key role public opinion and survey research plays within democracy, governance, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

The team participated in a variety of courses and interactive sessions exploring primary data collection methods, incentive strategies, approaches for evaluating and implementing sexual orientation and gender identity questions in surveys, and more.  

“I have attended the annual conference of the AAPOR for ten years,” said Halm-Werner, project manager. “For me, the AAPOR conference is the single most anticipated continuing education event of the year. As a center that provides primary data collection services, one of the key motivations for attending is always to keep our staff aware of the most current tools and issues relevant to public opinion research so we can best serve our clients.”  

Halm-Werner highlighted the need to stay connected with a broad network of researchers and to actively engage with the challenges and solutions discussed within the AAPOR community, focusing on key trends from the conference. “During the 2024 AAPOR conference, the discussion of AI was everywhere—from the promise of how AI could be used to effectively monitor web data collection, to the enormous risks AI can pose to data quality.”  

Mike Oie, data manager, expressed a similar interest in the exploration of AI at AAPOR. “One of the main areas I wanted to learn more about this year was the use of AI in survey research,” said Oie. “Last year, I attended a session on using large language models to aid in the cleaning and coding of qualitative responses. This year there was a follow-up session with the same presenters outlining the improvements made to their models and some of the tests they did with them.”  

The model, Oie described, was being utilized to detect nonresponse or “junk” responses with the intended purpose of filtering out unusable items before passing the data on to human reviewers, ultimately creating more efficiency during the research process.  

“When we’re doing data collection projects, it’s crucial to be aware of what’s happening in the survey space in order to offer the best services for clients,” continued Oie. “In each of the AAPOR conferences I’ve attended, there have been useful takeaways and innovations to learn about.” 

Kris Ackerson, grant development manager, also attended the recent NSF Grants Conference in Philadelphia, PA. The event acts as a hub for faculty, researchers, educators, and administrators to network and discuss the state of current funding, updated policies and procedures, and other timely issues.  

Ackerson identified a session focused on the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) as being particularly valuable.  

“The presenter provided some helpful guidance about the education plan, which is a unique element of CAREER proposals,” said Ackerson. “The session focused in on finding ways to think outside the box and consider ways to engage the public, because proposals too often focus solely on the scholarly impact.”  

CAREER proposals, Ackerson explained, are awarded to researchers with compelling research questions who are also integrating research with education to inspire the next generation of scientists.  

Upon reflecting on the overarching value of the event, Ackerson expressed, “Participating in this conference helps us to stay up to date with changes in grant submission guidelines and the submission process. Given that many of the researchers we support predominantly apply to the NSF, attending is beneficial for identifying funding opportunities, marketing them to potential applicants on campus, and developing proposals within the current guidelines.”  

These travel opportunities were made possible through funds provided by the Public Policy Center in alignment with the University of Iowa’s commitment to professional development. Oie also received a Mary Jo Small Staff Fellowship Award to support his conference attendance. 

The Public Policy Center provides a diverse selection of research support to faculty, staff, and students conducting qualitative and quantitative social science research of significant public interest. To learn more about the center’s individual services, click here.