For more than a century, our state has been guided by something called the “Wisconsin Idea.”

It’s a philosophy rooted in the belief that University of Wisconsin research should be applied to solve problems and improve the health, quality of life, environment and agriculture for all citizens of the state.

First enunciated by UW President Charles Van Hise in 1904, the Wisconsin Idea led to things like regulation of utilities, workers' compensation, tax reform and university extension services. Hence the maxim that "the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state."

Now, through a unique partnership called “UniverCITY,” UW-Madison and Dane County are taking the Wisconsin Idea to another level.

UniverCITY is designed to tap the expertise on campus to help local units of government address specific issues affecting the community.

Staff members and elected officials work hand in hand with faculty and top graduate students on some of the major challenges facing us today. Last year, the city of Monona participated in UniverCITY and by all accounts the partnership was a rousing success.

For the 2017-2018 academic year, Dane County Board supervisors and County Board staff will get a chance to brainstorm with top minds at the UW in four areas of strong interest to our community:

• Economic development.

• Closing the housing gap.

• Meeting the underlying needs of those who are heavy users of county services.

• Water quality and nutrient management.

This is one case where the cliché “win-win” actually fits: UW professors get real-world issues to engage students and Dane County benefits from research that would otherwise not be done in these days of dwindling resources and ever-tighter budgets.

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The end goal is to come up with data and possible policy initiatives to help us address some of our most vexing challenges. I’m optimistic this work will inform the public debate and give County Board members a better guide on how to prioritize and allocate public funds in an effective and fiscally responsible manner.

As the chair of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, I know I’m biased, but I believe local government is where innovation is happening these days. Local governments are seeking opportunities that help us meet the needs of our communities while keeping a sharp eye on scarce taxpayer dollars.

Please watch for further updates as we move forward. This is a truly unique opportunity to put research into action and I can’t wait to see the results.

Sharon Corrigan of Middleton is chair of the Dane County Board of Supervisors.

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