Research and Policy Analysis

Debra Fitzpatrick has demonstrated success in leading, managing and coordinating multi-million dollar, multi-year research and policy analysis projects that increase social, economic and political equity.

Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance

Over the past five years, Debra has become a local and national expert on state level paid family and medical leave insurance, arguably one of the most complex areas of public policy being considered across the country today.  Her work has informed the design of legislation at the national level and in multiple states.


Colorado Paid Family and Medical Leave: Program Design and Implementation

Most recently Debra collaborated with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research to produce an expert report for the State of Colorado under contract with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.  The report is a key part of a state FAMLI Task Force process culminating in recommendations for 2019 legislation.


Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance:  Options for Designing and Implementing a Minnesota Program

Under contract with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), Debra served as research lead and author for the most comprehensive policy design and implementation report on state level paid family and medical leave insurance. Recommendations and analysis included in the report were the basis of extensive testimony, fiscal notes and legislation passed in the Minnesota Senate in 2015 and the Minnesota House in 2019. For this project, she recruited and assembled the most experienced team in the country, including the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Carlson School of Management (Department of Work and Organizations); the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, National Partnership for Women & Families, a Department of Employment and Economic Development Leadership Team and a Minnesota State Agency Advisory Group (Labor & Industry, Health, Human Services, Human Rights, Management & Budget, Revenue). Under her leadership and a very tight timeline, the team considered and reported on the current legal landscape, public policy solutions adopted and implemented in U.S. states, Minnesota programs and infrastructure, an analysis of the social insurance model; estimated costs under the current system and possible Minnesota program models, recommended policy approaches, and simulated changes in leave-taking under possible Minnesota program models.

Providing Economic Stability for Rural Minnesota Families, Employers and Communities during Family and Medical Leaves

With support from the Ford Foundation, Debra built on the DEED Options for Designing and Implementing a Minnesota Program report to conduct an engaged policy analysis and design process in rural Minnesota communities.  The process involved stakeholder interviews, a literature review, secondary data analysis and a community review and input meeting; all culminating in a Research Brief shared with legislators and others working on paid family and medical leave legislation in Minnesota. The brief and the policy design recommendations included were largely incorporated in Minnesota’s 2019 paid family and medical leave legislation, ultimately passed by the Minnesota House on April 25, 2019 as part of an omnibus spending bill.  The brief has been shared with every member of the Minnesota legislature and at every committee stop (11 between the two bodies) and on the House floor where it has been frequently referenced and informed the debate. The brief has also been shared on a National Work and Family Coalition call and by national advocates with rural members of Congress during discussions about the federal FAMILY act.

Paid Sick Leave and African American Families

With support from the Minneapolis Foundation, Debra is collaborating with Ph.D. candidate Renada Goldberg from the College of Education and Human Development’s Family Social Science department to understand the design and implementation impacts of the Minneapolis sick leave ordinance on African American employed caregivers and their families. Project approach and preliminary results were presented at the 2018 National Working Families Research Network conference (Community Perception of Paid Sick Leave Policy: Combining Community-Based Participatory Research and Policy Analysis) and at the 2017 National Council on Family Relations Conference.

Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota

As part of an ongoing partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, Debra provides ongoing research support to this collaborative project of the Minnesota Governor’s Office and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota focused on research and policy to address disparities for young women with disabilities and for those from indigenous communities, communities of color, rural communities, LGBTQ communities.  A recent piece focused on the role of young women in addressing the state’s labor shortage exemplifies the kinds of analysis Debra performs routinely for the project.

Workforce Segregation

Debra has taken a leading role in decreasing workforce segregation that disproportionately impacts women of color by conducting research on the economic consequences of workforce segregation and facilitating a multi-sector working group on supply and demand issues within higher-paying nontraditional occupations. This short Emmy award-winning documentary film, Our Rights: Raising the Stakes, features the Debra’s work to increase the participation of women in Minnesota’s construction industry.  Debra’s research and related engagement in this area was also instrumental in making Minnesota the first state to explicitly address gender and racial equity in its state-federal combined WIOA workforce development plan.

Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota

The Status of Women and Girls in Minnesota is an ongoing collaborative research project with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota that systematically examines key indicators for women and girls in Minnesota using an intersectional race/place/gender lens, raising public awareness and advancing public policy on issues important to the lives of women and girls.  Debra serves as the lead researcher and author for every other year reports.  The reports serve as the basis for periodic Road to Equality tours where data are shared with communities throughout the state and follow-up focus groups explore implications and lived experiences.  The Status research and community input informs the Foundation’s annual grantmaking and policy agenda, and identifies new areas where research is needed.

2019 Special Older Women Research Overview
2018 Research Overview
2014 Research Overview
2012 Research Overview
2010 Research Overview
2010 Full Research Report

Debra has done an outstanding job over the past year in producing valuable research and materials and getting that work to the wider community. The Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota Research Overview, published in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, is one of the best, both succinct and comprehensive, documents I’ve seen to state the case for community attention to issues concerning women and girls in Minnesota.”  —Former mayor Karen Anderson, and the first woman to head the National Conference of Mayors

Women in Science & Technology Policy

The purpose of this study is to examine the presence and influence of women in science and technology policy at the federal level. The Women in Science and Technology Policy Project is a collaboration between two areas at the Humphrey School, Women and Public Policy and Science, Technology and Public Policy, University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Georgia Institute of Technology. The project is funded by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation.   Debra’s work on the project has focused on the development and analysis of a new  12 million record dataset of all federal employees; design and execution of focus groups with high-level federal science agency leaders; and a forthcoming American Journal of Sociology article on the gender pay gap and proportion of women in various roles at selected science & technology agencies.  Additional information.

Women’s Path to Political Office

Debra teamed up with the Political Science department to study the path men and women take to office and the role of gatekeeper, support and recruitment organizations, used this research to construct a learning community of organizations working to address diversity among elected officials and developed programs for women students interested in seeking office.  More about Debra’s work in this area.

Are We Progressing Toward Equal Representation for Women in the Minnesota Legislature? New Evidence Offers Mixed Results


Center for School Change

Providing Quality Choice Options in Education

Research conducted by Debra for the Providing Quality Choice Options in Education Policy Primer was part of a broader collaborative project with the National Governors Association funded by the US Department of Education that supported governor led state teams working to improve school choice policy.  Support included research, policy institutes and technical assistance.

Providing Quality Choice Options in Education report

School Choice, Teacher Preparation, Supply & Demand

What Really Happened: Minnesota’s experience with statewide public school choice programs (researcher and co-author) 2002
Asking the Right Questions: Minnesota teacher Supply & Demand (researcher & co-author) 1999
Improvements are Needed:  Minnesota Principals, Superintendents and Parent/Community Advocates Assess Teacher Preparation (researcher and co-author) 1998