Applied Public Policy Programs

The Udall Center’s mandate is to engage in applied research and outreach on public-policy topics relating to economic development, environment, tribal governance, public health, public lands, and energy transitions. Our work extends to such themes as social justice, gender equity, human well-being and quality of life, Indigenous entrepreneurship, and energy and renewables, as well as applied public policy, writ large. Our real-world public-policy orientation also is evident in our sustained institutional efforts on national immigration policy and our globally-recognized study of international and interjurisdictional borders, most particularly, the US-Mexico border. Sustaining international collaboration and policy engagement remains a hallmark of our applied public policy programs. Additionally, over the past few years, we have pivoted strongly toward public-health policy with research outputs addressing food systems, water access, and tribal public-health laws.

Since 1995 we have worked in close partnership with the Udall Foundation, a Federal agency, in a congressionally-defined relationship that include provisions for an annual funding mechanism that has provided major financial support. The Foundation has been instrumental in supporting our programs and is the co-creator, with the University, of our Native Nations Institute. The Udall Center enjoys both strong financial and robust programmatic relationships with the Foundation.

The breadth of our public-policy engagements and the success we have achieved in securing external funding for our applied policy work, has permitted us the flexibility necessary to move into new, mission-relevant policy areas as local, regional, national, and international needs dictate.


Lopez-Hoffman & colleagues’ NEPAccess project harnesses the power of data science to introduce a new dimension to US environmental governance. NEPAccess is an innovative knowledge and engagement platform that will be the largest single repository of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, providing advanced search tools, georeferencing capabilities, mechanisms to assess public engagement, and access to NEPA information across agencies, action types, regions, and sectors. NEPAccess aims to revitalize the NEPA so that it can more fully realize its democratic ambitions and improve efficiency and reliability of environmental decision-making.
Throughout our existence we have engaged in economic development policy. From a 1990 major conference on Arizona economic development, through our close examination of the impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the mid-1990s, to our pioneering and ongoing work to link Indigenous economic development with modes of self-governance, we have acted on this strand of our charter. Topics in Indian Country have included analyses of tribal gaming, effectiveness of credit institutions, promotion of entrepreneurship and tribal know-how, and issues relating to home ownership. Most recently, our involvement in economic development is evidenced in research on the economic impacts of outdoor recreation, ecosystem services, wetlands preservation, and local small-scale food production.
We apply research to address renewable energy transitions. We address critical policy challenges associated with transitions to renewable energy, decarbonization, and socio-ecological impacts of energy futures with applicable research in transboundary river basins and in the water-energy-food nexus, which encompasses the effects of and impacts on water use, energy production, and agriculture.
We partner with schools, neighborhood and Indigenous associations, and local and tribal governments on both sides of the US-Mexico border to establish community gardens and promote small-scale entrepreneurship for marketing products produced by women and Indigenous workers. By encouraging better diets relying on locally-grown food and traditional modes of production, we are promoting public health among populations with high morbidity rates.
In examining how nation-states cope with transboundary freshwater resources, we bridge disciplines and borders to help create a sustainable and less conflictive global future. We collaborate with organizations, international institutions of negotiation, and stakeholders spanning the globe, researching hotspots, present conditions, current policies, and perceived modes of cooperation in various areas of instability.
Via the Native Nations Institute, an internationally renowned research and service entity focused on Indigenous nation-building, we engage in political and community capacity-building, leadership development, economic development, entrepreneurship, data sovereignty, youth programs, criminal justice, public health, child welfare, and intergovernmental relationships in the context of colonization. We train emerging Native leaders and staff across the University and broader nonprofit sector in “Native Know How”, and manage a database of several thousand digital materials in support of tribal self-determination.
Lopez-Hoffman & colleagues’ spatial subsidies project expands on the increasing recognition that environmental change in one location can have consequences for human well-being in other, sometimes very distant locations. We work on three North American migratory species that provide ecosystem services in specific locations during migration but have a greater dependence on habitat in other parts of their range. This dependency means habitat provides a spatial subsidy of ecosystem service benefits to people elsewhere. Knowledge of spatial subsidies can be used as a foundation for improving transboundary natural resource policy, creating more equitable governance systems. Similarly, Lopez-Hoffman & colleagues’ ecoclimate teleconnections project is based on advanced climate modeling that shows loss of forest cover in one place can alter temperature, precipitation and gross primary production (GPP) in distant locations. Our work seeks to understand the consequent effects on agricultural yields and crop values in the US. This research will inform public lands policy, enhancing the resilience of coupled forest-agricultural systems facing disruption from climate change.
We build on interdisciplinary efforts to find and implement best-practices for a sustainable future. We specialize in studying green infrastructure, and the development of sustainable built environments. We focus on engaging local communities—especially women, Indigenous populations, and other underrepresented minorities to create equitable and connected regions. Our efforts—which are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods with poor access to recreation, and green spaces—promote mental health. A current initiative is analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous data sovereignty and governance.
We guide water security planningin arid regions. We conduct research on growth-driven water scarcity, degradation of water quality, and hydro-climatic changes andhow these drivers impact water security. We facilitate science-policy dialogues across international political boundaries to devise equitable transboundary policies that enable global water security. We study water conservation and re-use systems and applications, such as using wastewater in agriculture.
The Udall Center Fellows Program—Ongoing Since 1990: For three decades we have maintained the University of Arizona’s only visiting-fellows program. With support for teaching releases from RII, deans, and departments, we have hosted 152 University of Arizona faculty Fellows from 42 departments, spanning 10 colleges. This competitive, peer-reviewed program has featured research on such diverse policy domains as mental health, welfare, elective politics, foreign affairs, philanthropy, bioethics, and corporate behavior. General Policy Themes: Supplementing the broad scholarship resulting from the Fellow Program, we have undertaken studies of general, cross-cutting policy themes. Among these are sustainability, policy learning, public participation, and adaptive capacity related to a range of themes in our applied-policy research and engagement. Our scholarly publications have featured policy analysis of how these concepts operate in real-world situations, especially in transboundary and Indigenous settings.

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