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Partnership builder Diana Robinson appointed to lead NIU Center for Governmental Studies

September 24, 2012
Diana Robinson

Diana Robinson

Diana Robinson has been named director of the NIU Center for Governmental Studies (CGS), a highly respected public policy, technical assistance and public service unit in the university.

Robinson brings many years of experience in public policy analysis, economic development and workforce development to the position, including a decade of increasingly responsible positions at CGS.

She served as CGS interim director for the last 18 months.

“I’m a true believer in our engagement mission,” Robinson said. “My entire career has focused on building community partnerships that make peoples’ lives better, and that’s what CGS and the Division (of Outreach, Engagement, and Information Technologies) are all about.”

“Diana has a widespread reputation as a leader with great vision and exceptional interpersonal skills,” said Anne Kaplan, vice president of the Division of Outreach, Engagement, and Information Technologies.

“She has led the center through a very challenging time in which traditional sources of funding – government agencies and non-profit entities – have faced their own budget crises. Yet CGS today is as strong as it’s ever been, as Diana has found ways to expand the center’s offerings and client base.”

Established in 1969, CGS has an interdisciplinary, full-time professional staff of more than 30 people with doctoral and master’s degrees in fields such as public administration, public policy, business, economic development, computer science, mathematics and statistics.

As the center has grown over the years, it has become known both for its human expertise and for the sophisticated tools and analyses it makes available to clients. Governmental and non-governmental agencies throughout the region, state and nation call on CGS for surveys, studies and analysis; complex mapping projects;  land use, growth and capacity studies; strategic planning assistance; project evaluations; association management; professional development; and a host of other services.

Cover of Illinois Policy SurveyCGS is a unique asset to NIU and the region, Robinson said.

“There are other university-based applied policy and research units in Illinois, but the most important difference is the complex nature of the region we serve,” she said. “It’s a fascinating amalgam of urban, suburban, and rural places and the dynamics within and among them are complex and changing.”

She also praises the work of her colleagues in the center. “CGS is constantly adding innovative new tools to our toolkit and rethinking how we deliver our services. For example, instead of helping municipalities recruit new businesses as their primary economic development strategy, we’re encouraging them to take an ‘economic gardening’ approach where they nurture their own entrepreneurs and help fledgling companies grow and flourish.”

Robinson described two new practices areas – informatics (designing and mining large data sets) and human services – that have been added to the center’s traditional local government consulting and economic and community development practices.

“Our informatics group developed because government agencies needed help in using their data to make smart program and policy decisions,” Robinson said.

“We have new predictive modeling tools that help public agencies of all sizes identify inefficiencies and improve service delivery.  That can translate into significant savings,” she said. “We also work across different data systems to track the outcomes of public investments.  We can help answer questions such as, ‘What happens to people who participate in education and training programs?  Does their employment and earnings situation improve?’ ”

The addition of a human services practice came about in response to economic and demographic shifts.

“We’ve seen enormous changes over the last decade in the number of residents who don’t speak English, don’t have jobs or health insurance, and who don’t understand how to access services. The CGS human services practice helps agencies understand the scope of those issues in their communities and supports them in developing new programs that connect people to the assistance they need,” she said.

NIU and Our Region's Prosperity report cover“There are several other practice areas we’ve been developing that hold great promise,” Robinson added. These include rural health, local food systems, and digital financial reporting: “These hold tremendous opportunities for improving the quality of life in our communities and helping government operate more efficiently,” she said.

Robinson’s pre-CGS portfolio includes seven years as deputy superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE); three years as Midwest regional vice president of the National Alliance of Business; three years as director of the Chicago Academy of Finance; and seven years in a variety of strategic planning and economic development roles in the Chicago city government under Mayor Harold Washington.

She holds a master’s degree in social development from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Robinson is excited about her new role and about the future of the center she now officially heads.

“This is a wonderful time to have a leadership role in CGS,” Robinson said.

“I’m privileged to work closely with Anne Kaplan and so many talented colleagues at the center. They care deeply about the university and how we can contribute to the vitality of our region. Universities everywhere are rethinking their relationships with regions, and NIU is at the forefront of that movement.”