Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Moran tackles policy challenges

Christian Moran Christian Moran

Thesis explores legislators' use of social media

Christian Moran's unfinished master's degree in journalism bothered him a bit, so in 2012 he looked into completing it. "I had one more class to go, which UW–Milwaukee let me take at UW–Madison, then I did my master's thesis," Moran says. "I appreciated the opportunity to step outside the professional world and look at politics from an academic perspective."

For his thesis, Moran combined qualitative and quantitative methods to conduct a natural experiment on the use of social media by members of the Wisconsin Assembly. His survey garnered an 82 percent response rate, and he interviewed Assembly Majority Leader Robin Vos and Minority Leader Peter Barca, plus one rank-and-file member from each party.

"One finding was that the strongest predictor of Facebook use by Wisconsin lawmakers was how much they spent on postal mail," Moran says. "The more they spent on postage, the more likely they were to use Facebook. Facebook did not replace traditional communication methods."

The second strongest predictor of Facebook use was political party. "Democrats were in the minority when I did the research, so they used Facebook to react to Republican actions," says Moran, who discussed his research on the Wisconsin Eye television show Morning Minute. "Third, I found that younger lawmakers were more likely to use Twitter."

Christian Moran's love of approaching problems from different perspectives brought him from journalism to policy analysis. "I like having the ability to look at problems and improve situations," the 2006 alum says. "My interest in journalism and analysis makes me skeptical so that I enjoy working out whether I'm being told the truth and how to be objective."

Moran started in journalism to follow his quest for objectivity and truth. He worked part time for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and pursued a master's degree in journalism at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. "Then I got a call from a lawmaker who was looking for a staff member with good communication skills," Moran says. "I joined her staff full time and moved to Madison to work at the Capitol."

Moran took advantage of his work schedule to continue graduate school. "The flexibility at the Capitol meant I could bike down State Street and take classes at UW–Madison, so I switched my master's to the La Follette School," he says. "I enjoyed going down the street and thinking about public policy from a different perspective."

In his most recent position in the Legislature, Moran served as a communications, budget and policy advisor to a member of the Joint Finance Committee. He helped to craft legislation and budget amendments, coordinated projects with other lawmakers, and managed media relations, which included writing press releases and columns, and organizing media events.

"I worked for a Democrat, and we had to stake out a position, but nothing was ever a personal issue for me," says Moran, who received a State Bar of Wisconsin award in 2012 for his work on a law that helps law enforcement, district attorneys and litigants get access to the information they need before interacting with juveniles. "I still believe we can find some common ground between Democrats and Republicans."

Part of staking out a position meant first getting all of the facts straight, so Moran would call different agencies, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and outside stakeholders to collect information he could use to advise his representative and help him fully develop his stance on different issues. Often he'd be posing his questions to La Follette School alumni. "That's quite a testament to La Follette — there are alumni everywhere," he says.

Now a budget and policy analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Moran is receiving those phone calls, answering questions from LFB staff and explaining to DHS staff and others the expected effects of proposed policies. "It's fun and interesting to be on the other side, recalculating program costs for specific programs under different budget proposals" says Moran, who has drafted issue briefs related to Senior Care, chronic diseases and other topics.

"The work at DHS is almost identical to the work I did at the La Follette School, including my workshop project," Moran adds. "In the summer I worked on budget requests. I determined what a program would cost for two years. Different divisions within DHS have different initiatives, and to help managers determine what should be included in the department's budget, I would give an objective analysis, and outlined the costs, pros and cons of the different alternatives."

Moran says his La Follette School training gave him a good grounding and good analysis skills. "I finished my degree in 2006 and stayed with the Legislature," he says. "When I joined DHS eight years later, I still had the nitty-gritty policy analysis skills I learned at La Follette. The training I received was excellent."