The Polis Center will celebrate its silver anniversary in 2014, and the organization has packed a lot into 25 eventful years.
Polis has literally written the book on its home city, the highly regarded “Encyclopedia of Indianapolis.”
It did a well-regarded study called the Project on Religion and Urban Culture, which helped launch an 18-year-and-counting success story called the Spirit & Place Festival, expanding the city’s cultural foundation and creating partnership opportunities for dozens of civic, social and cultural organizations.
And it helped create IMAGIS, a digital survey of city maps, water systems, infrastructure and other types of data that give civic leaders the kind of specific information they need to make real-world decisions.
For the men and women at The Polis Center, like associate director David Coats and communications manager Laura Danielson, work always comes back to knowledge: how to acquire it, and how to make it meaningful.
“Knowledge helps us understand what happened in our past, and how it affects life today,” said Coats. “We are shaped by our decisions, past and present, and by our surroundings.”
Throughout its history, Polis has been a unit of the School of Liberal Arts, but the center has built connections throughout the campus and across central Indiana.
“We try to balance basic research with applied research,” said Danielson. The former strengthens the knowledge of the entire field; the latter comes from the work with clients seeking solutions to real situations and concerns, a never-ending quest for a community-focused research center.
For Danielson, in fact, that mindset is a key to Polis’s work. “One of the best compliments we’ve ever received is that we don’t tell organizations what their problem is or what their solution is. Instead, we help them to understand how they can use data and information for effective decision-making. They appreciate that.”
Coats believes that the same approach is valuable even to governments, as well as non-profit clients and other organizations that work with the center. “One of the most powerful tools we use is geographic information systems (GIS),” he said. "GIS analysis helps us to gather and make sense of all we know about the physical spaces we inhabit, and how they shape the way we live.
“We’re able to maximize the value of the information that is uniquely theirs, but help them to see it in context with their neighborhood or their area,” Coats added.
A lot of the information can be complex and filled with detail. But that is the art of what The Polis Center can do, Danielson believes. “We help communities turn data into useful information,” which often means more accurate decision-making.
The Polis Center also contributes regularly to scholarship and knowledge-building at IUPUI, with many of its partnerships with other schools and units giving students internship opportunities, giving other researchers opportunities to exchange information and insight, and expanding the growth of relationships within the Indianapolis community.
For the researchers and staff at the center, it is all related to the Polis mission statement. “‘We bring things into perspective’ isn’t just a slogan; it’s something we believe in,” said Danielson.