For researchers engaged in projects related to public policy on social and economic issues, publications of research institutes--or think tanks--can be valuable sources of statistics and expert analysis. These sources may or may not be discovered in the course of index and library catalog searching, so an awareness of access tools provided by the institutes themselves is helpful.
A nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization based in Washington, D.C., the Urban Institute's "goals are to sharpen thinking about society's problems and efforts to solve them, improve government decisions and their implementation, and increase citizens' awareness about important public choices." In pursuit of these goals, the Urban Institute (UI) produces reports about economic and social issues and makes these available online at no charge. It also collects and publishes statistical information through two centers: the Federal Justice Statistics Resource Center and the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Since its inception in 1968, much of the Institute's work has involved government-funded projects. Current government partners include "more than 45 states and 20 countries."
This site review consisted of a thorough examination beginning with the home page. For researchers looking for UI publications available online, there is a prominent menu labeled "Research." Although the rest of the home page appears otherwise cluttered with icons, they are grouped broadly into categories such as "Special Projects," "News," and "Forums." This treatment highlights notable individual publications, events, and commentary-all of which are useful for serendipitous browsing rather than systematic access. To gain a sense of the site's overall organization, it is easiest to choose the "Site Map."
Within "Research," documents may be retrieved from a topic or author list or via keyword searching. The major topic areas are Federalism, Economics, Social Welfare, and Community Building, with several subtopics listed for each. Most documents are available in both text and .pdf format. In addition to the online material, the UI also produces print publications, which may be explored from the UI Press link.
Of most interest to individuals seeking original research and statistics for economic, social, and public policy topics, the Urban Institute site provides access to a universe of research that is not easily accessible elsewhere.
Washington State University
Editor's Note: UI informs us that they will be releasing a revised version of their site in the near future.