The Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy center advancing evidence-based policymaking in Nevada, continues to see growth after naming Jill Tolles as Executive Director in January of 2023. Michael Stewart joined the team as Research Director shortly after Tolles in January and more recently, Kristine Brown Caliger joined the team as Assistant Director of Outreach and Operations in April.
"We hope all NSHE faculty will consider this their invitation to reach out to us and tell us what they’re working on that could have policy implications for the State of Nevada for the better."
“When I heard that there would be an opportunity to meaningfully support and work for an organization whose sole job is to do independent, nonpartisan, unbiased research on behalf of the improvement of Nevada laws and Nevadans’ lives, I had to jump at that chance,” Caliger said.
Caliger came to the Guinn Center with a background in communications and organizational leadership, having worked for News-4 Fox 11 and later serving as Vice President of Partnerships and Programs at the Reno+Sparks Chamber of Commerce. Caliger received her Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University.
Stewart joined the Guinn Center after retiring from his position as the Director of the Research Division of Nevada’s Legislative Counsel Bureau. Stewart offered his expertise to the center as a part-time contractor in 2022. Once Tolles was named Executive Director, Stewart joined full-time. Stewart holds a Master of Science in Geography, a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, and a Bachelor of Science in Geography – all from the University.
“Jill drew me out of retirement to be the research director, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be here,” Stewart said. “I love the vision Jill has for the center’s future and I’m honored to be a part of this important nonpartisan, data-driven organization.”
The Guinn Center aims to connect policymakers and other decision-makers in Nevada with evidence-based, nonpartisan research and analysis to inform sound policy. The Guinn Center has published more than 100 policy reports and briefs on topics related to taxation, fiscal management, education, health care, social concerns, economic development, workforce development, governance, climate and energy. With the additional team members as well as recently hired Policy Research Interns Hannah Jackson and Kaiden Mejia-Amaya, the Guinn Center is pursuing several new avenues of research, one of which includes reviewing early childhood services in Nevada.
“There's federal and state money flowing into the system of early childhood services, through healthcare, education, even through our Department of Agriculture for food service programs,” Stewart said. “All the stakeholders and service providers want what's best for Nevada's kids. The issue is, there are so many players and the structure is so large that sometimes it's difficult to sort out who is doing what.”
The Guinn Center is working with Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science Jennifer McClendon and graduate student Jeana Miller to perform a comprehensive study of all early childhood services and develop policy recommendations to streamline the system in Nevada.
“Jill and I have hit the ground running in fundraising in order to make some significant hires in the future. Most immediately for a director of health and social policy and a director of education policy, but also eventually rounding out the research division with a director of natural resources and environmental policy and a director of governance and civic policy.”
Other projects include building a robust, community-informed resource for Nevadans about ranked-choice voting (a ballot measure approved by Nevada voters in 2022 and will again appear on the ballot in 2024), a review of policy influencing housing options for persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities and an analysis of Nevada’s workforce pre- and post-pandemic.
Many of these projects utilize new evidence-based, peer-reviewed research from faculty at the University and across Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) institutions.
“We're not only producing original research, but we're also elevating the research of our NSHE partners to bring it into the policy space,” Caliger said. “We translate it into something understandable to a new lawmaker or a city council member or a county commissioner or an engaged Nevadan, making it approachable, usable and effective. We hope all NSHE faculty will consider this their invitation to reach out to us and tell us what they’re working on that could have policy implications for the State of Nevada for the better.”
The Guinn Center moved into a new building in downtown Reno in May of 2023 and plans to continue to expand its team to meet the State’s need for policy research support.
“Jill and I have hit the ground running in fundraising in order to make some significant hires in the future,” Caliger said. “Most immediately for a director of health and social policy and a director of education policy, but also eventually rounding out the research division with a director of natural resources and environmental policy and a director of governance and civic policy.”
In remaining true to the Guinn Center’s mission, funding partners meet the same rigorous standards as their research partners so that all projects remain nonpartisan and unbiased.
“We’re not in the business of pay-to-play research that could get shelved by a client,” Caliger said. “We want to find a diverse cohort of funders for each project. For example, if we were to do a project on natural resources, we would make sure to engage tribal communities, the scientific community, economic development agencies, and anyone who should have a seat at the table when it comes to specific issues. We’re committed to transparency and disclosing who's funding these projects as well and making sure that any conflict of interest is addressed head-on.”
The Guinn Center will hold an open house at their downtown location on October 26 where members of the community can meet with members of the Guinn Center and tour the space. Tolles hopes to continue to build the reputation of the Guinn Center as a trustworthy, accessible resource for demystifying Nevada politics and policymaking and improving the lives of Nevadans.
“I am in heaven because of the amazing team I get to work with every day and our passionate dedication to the mission of bringing evidence-based policy research to key decision-makers in our state,” Tolles said. “We all live in this state and want to see it continue to improve. Matching the needs in Nevada with the brain trust we already have in our higher ed system is tremendously rewarding work, and I am truly grateful for these talented individuals who are helping lead our efforts.”