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Current Projects

After-Action Review of the Statewide Pandemic Response and Recovery

A legislative proviso directed the Military Department to conduct a comprehensive after-action review of the statewide pandemic response and recovery. The Military Department has contracted with the William D. Ruckelshaus Center, with assistance from the WSU Division of Governmental Studies and Services, to provide process design and facilitation for the after-action review and the After-Action Review Task Force. The Task Force will report its findings to the legislature by June 30th, 2023.

For more information, please contact Phyllis Shulman or Kevin Harris.

Behavioral Health Communication Framework

Washington state has worked in recent years to transform the way that Medicaid services are delivered and reimbursed, including integration between physical health, mental health, and substance use disorder services. The significant scope of this transformation has resulted in implementation challenges around collaboration goals, policy effectiveness, and partner communication. The Washington State Association of Counties and the Washington Health Care Authority asked the Center to facilitate a process to help the parties build, test, and implement a consensus-based communication framework to help foster integration success moving forward.

The Center completed twenty months of facilitation of several diverse counties, a BH-Administrative Services Organization and the Health Care Authority in December 2021. The Ruckelshaus Workgroup’s consensus-based Communication Framework creates a structure for partners to solve county-specific/regional and statewide/systemic problems, and plan for positive systems change relative to physical/behavioral health integration.

For more information, please contact Kevin Harris.

Cascadia Coastal Hazards Resilience

The coasts of each state in Cascadia present unique conditions, cultures, and challenges affecting the adaptive capacity and resilience of their coastal systems and communities. Cascadia coastal communities are challenged by rapid coastal erosion and flooding, the vulnerabilities associated with rural isolation, and ocean changes that are already threatening incomes, lifestyles, and coastal community traditions and identities. Coastal communities have emphasized the need for improving linkages between researchers and communities as well as improving the accessibility and applicability of research and data. Achieving tailored multi-hazard solutions that align with the diversity of coastal areas and their needs requires co-production by a broad array of entities.

As of 2020, the Ruckelshaus Center has been working with university researchers on two National Science Foundation (NSF) funded efforts to build coastal hazards resilience.

Cascadia Coastal Hazards Research Coordination Network: The Cascadia Coastal Hazards Research Coordination Network (abbreviated to RCN) is a three-year funded effort to bring together researchers, practitioners, and stakeholders who seek to mitigate the geohazards on coastal communities in the Pacific Northwest. The goal of the RCN is to co-develop research agendas and establish new collaborations that cross disciplinary and institutional boundaries. The Center is assisting the RCN in pursuing its mission through a number of activities and pursuits that bring researchers and stakeholders together, including:

  • Facilitation of the RCN Steering Committee.
  • Design and facilitation of community workshops.
  • Helping coordinate activities and facilitate communication between research groups.

Cascadia Coastlines and Peoples Hazards Research HUB: The RCN is closely aligned with a parallel effort that the Center is part of – the Cascadia Coastlines and Peoples Hazards Research HUB (abbreviated to Cascadia CoPes HUB).

Led by Oregon State University and the University of Washington, the Cascadia CoPes HUB is a five-year collaborative research effort focused on increasing resiliency among coastal communities in the Pacific Northwest. The hub is conducting research and engaging coastal communities with two overarching goals: (1) seek fundamental advances in convergent coastal hazard sciences that will transform our understanding of the risk faced by coastal communities in the Pacific Northwest, and (2) engage communities through the co-production of strategies that will increase adaptive capacity, broaden participation, and achieve equitable and just disaster risk reduction.

Five interconnected teams carry out the work of the Cascadia CoPes Hub:

  • Team 1: Tectonic Geohazard Sources and Integrated Probabilistic Modeling
  • Team 2: Exposure to Inundation and Coastal Change Hazards
  • Team 3: Community Adaptive Capacity
  • Team 4: Broadening Participation and Inclusive STEAM Education
  • Team 5: Community Engagement and Co-Production of Coastal Hazards And Knowledge

The Ruckelshaus Center co-leads Team 5, coordinating the portfolio of community engagement and co-production activities across the hub. The team’s aim is to promote truly convergent science across all the research projects by supporting researchers in these efforts and by supporting community needs and being responsive to community requests, including direct facilitation of outreach to communities.

For more information, please contact:

Amanda Murphy, Senior Facilitator for Project and Programs,

Phyllis Shulman, Senior Facilitator,

Criminal Sentencing Task Force

In 2019, The Legislature established the Washington State Criminal Sentencing Task Force and directed the William D. Ruckelshaus Center (Center) to facilitate the Task Force’s work to review state sentencing laws and provide recommendations for the purpose of: (a) Reducing sentencing implementation complexities and errors; (b) Improving the effectiveness of the sentencing system; and (c) Promoting and improving public safety.

The proviso requested the Task Force submit an initial report to the Governor and the appropriate committees of the Legislature by December 31, 2019 and a final report by December 31, 2020.

In 2019, the Task Force met monthly from September – December for full-day facilitated meetings and reached consensus on two policy recommendations, described in the 2019 Initial Report.

In 2020, the Task Force met monthly from January – August (except for March) and bi-monthly from September – December while creating working groups that met at least twice per month. From mid-October through early December, the Task Force deliberated on potential policy changes, reaching consensus on 47 recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the criminal sentencing system, reduce complexities and errors, and promote and improve public safety. These recommendations, described in the 2020 Final Report, represent a mix of agency policy and legislative statutory changes to address the three policy goals stated above.

As the Task Force discussed potential policy changes over the course of 2020, the group agreed that detailed, research-based work remains to simplify the sentencing system and reduce racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities in adult felony sentencing. As reflected in Recommendation #1 in the 2020 Report, the Task Force agreed that proper consideration of changes to the sentencing grid will require a thorough assessment of the possible impacts of those changes. This would take more time than initially allotted to the Task Force. Therefore, the Task Force agreed to continue meeting and working together and the Legislature extended the Task Force till June 2023.

For more information, visit the project page.

K-12 Education Governance Situation Assessment

A legislative proviso directed the William D. Ruckelshaus Center to conduct an assessment of Washington’s K-12 governance structure. The assessment identified issues, challenges, and opportunities related to Washington’s K-12 education. Additionally, the assessment gauged the prospects for a collaborative approach to integrating leadership, aligning responsibilities, and increasing efficiency.

The assessment involved background research, interviews, and group discussions. A preliminary report, which included initial findings and recommendations, was delivered on February 1st, 2022. A final report was delivered on March 31st, 2022 and reported wide support for a collaborative approach to explore the potential for integrating leadership, aligning roles and responsibilities, and increasing efficiency and responsiveness for the state’s K-12 education governance structure.

For more information, please contact Alec Solemslie.

Learning from Responses to COVID-19: Improving Preparedness, Recovery, and Resilience in Washington State

The response to COVID-19 in Washington state, while containing many successes, has also highlighted a need for improved cross-sector collaboration and collaborative governance, systems thinking approaches, and engagement of diverse interests and perspectives to prepare for new or recurring emergencies, as well as for recovery. The magnitude and complexity of the COVID-19 response and recovery requires effective crisis decision-making and further innovation to address critical needs, policy challenges, and infrastructure gaps. To address this need, the Ruckelshaus Center’s Advisory Board, along with its core faculty and staff, initiated this pre-assessment and comprehensive learning effort to identify and share key insights from Washington’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The goals of the project are to:

  1. Provide decision-makers at the state, local, tribal, regional, and private governance levels with information to continually inform and improve decisions related to short-term and long-term recovery and resilience and to implement improvements across sectors.
  2. Identify the intersections and interconnections between what is being learned in multiple sectors.
  3. Use these learnings to adapt, innovate, and stimulate new approaches and systemic solutions to address emergent and long-standing public policy challenges.
  4. Apply throughout the pre-assessment and comprehensive learning effort race, equity, and social justice principles, including focusing on disproportional impacts, access, and participation.

For more information, please contact Phyllis Shulman.

aerial view of communityPathways to Housing Security in Washington State

Section 6 of House Bill 1277 (passed by the 2021 Washington Legislature) has reiterated the challenges of affordable housing, housing instability, and homelessness in the state. This legislation has also underscored the many changes and lessons learned associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, HB 1277 has identified the need for a statewide housing assistance strategy. According to the legislation, “the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and shed new light on the state’s homelessness problems and forced communities and providers to reexamine the types and delivery of housing and services to individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness” [Sec. 6(b), lines 11-15]. A myriad of resources and programs have been created, or are under consideration, to pursue various approaches to improve services and outcomes for individuals at risk of or experiencing homelessness [Sec. 6(b), lines 15-24]. The legislature intends the work directed in this subsection to clarify the current state of housing instability and homelessness in Washington and inform the development of options and recommendations for a strategy to improve services and outcomes for individuals and create a pathway to housing security [Sec. 6(c), lines 36-39].

For more information, visit the project page.

Regional Coordination of Hazards and Resilience Science

Washington state has the 4th largest number of disaster declarations, according to FEMA. The Oso landslide and recent wildfires, storms, floods, and other hazards pose significant risks to residents and to the state economy. Recent Washington state reports call for synthesis and translation of current hazards science to make it locally relevant and actionable, to better address local hazards and preparedness needs, and to increase resilience in our region.

There is growing realization that communities must anticipate and plan for hazardous events to reduce disaster risk. To do so requires identifying decision-makers’ needs for hazard sciences to manage and mitigate hazard exposures and consequences. Greater collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies and academic partners promises to help prevent the most disastrous outcomes of such events by improving preparedness and response. Engaging scientists in planning and policy discussions is critical to creating effective community-research partnerships.

University of Washington, in collaboration with the William D. Ruckelshaus Center and funded by EarthLab, will be conducting a series of Hazards Research Coordination Workshops in Washington state to explore ways to improve collaboration with communities and to improve the development, synthesis, and translation of current hazards science and research so that it becomes more accessible, relevant, and actionable.

For more information, please contact Amanda Murphy or Phyllis Shulman.

Spirit Lake/Toutle-Cowlitz River System

Changes to the Spirit Lake/Toutle-Cowlitz River System from the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens put the region at ongoing risk of moderate and potentially catastrophic flooding, due to the buildup of sediment. Engineering measures from the 1980s to reduce flooding risks now need costly repairs or modifications, presenting an opportunity to re-evaluate risk management strategies.

From 2018-2019, the Ruckelshaus Center conducted a situation assessment for the long-term management of the Spirit Lake/Toutle-Cowlitz River System.

The Center is currently facilitating the Spirit Lake/Toutle & Cowlitz Rivers Collaborative.

For more information, visit the project page.