Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Saturday, June 13, 2015

Report will help city reach sustainability goals

Kyle SchroeckenthalerKyle Schroeckenthaler

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The report “Madison City Operations Tracking Framework: A Roadmap to Sustainability ” is available online.

The City of Madison has new ideas from La Follette School students to help the city achieve the carbon and energy goals laid out in its sustainability plan.

La Follette School students produced the report as part of the Workshop in Public Affairs taught by Donald Moynihan. “The report develops a tracking framework for the city to use to reach its sustainability goals,” says Kyle Schroeckenthaler, who wrote the report with Carl Christiansen, Andy Lick, Eric O’Shaughnessy and Annie Racine. “This framework and its examples of metrics analysis and policy analysis gives the City a decision-forcing tool.”

The 2011 Madison Sustainability Plan sets a goal of 80 percent reduction in City of Madison greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “Implementation of the plan has not been systematic and available data have had a limited impact on policy decisions,” Schroeckenthaler says. “As part of an ongoing partnership with the La Follette School and the university, the city requested a city-level greenhouse gas inventory and research on metrics and policies to inform the implementation of the Madison Sustainability Plan and progress toward the City’s carbon and energy goals.”

By improving how data inform policy through implementation of tracking metrics, the city will be able to define a structured path to achieve the goals of the 2011 Madison Sustainability Plan, the authors note.

Their recommended tracking framework has three components: data collection, tracking metrics, and policy analysis. These components interact in a continuous cycle: data collection informs tracking metrics, tracking metrics inform policy objectives, policy analysis uses evaluative criteria to inform decision-making, and data collection and tracking metrics are then used to evaluate policies and progress.

“The students learned about not just how to identify not just what factors contribute to the environmental impact of the City of Madison, but also the need for a strategic framework to consider tradeoffs between policy options to reduce that impact,” Moynihan says. “Policymakers need not just good data to make smart choices, but a strategic framework that helps them make those choices.”

The report can help the city of Madison prioritize actions it can take to address climate change, Moynihan says, which can seem overwhelming, especially in the absence of an effective national strategy on climate change.

“A fundamental problem in this policy area is how to act upon the information the students provide — their analysis of the emissions impact of city operations and metrics to track progress,” Moynihan adds. “The report develops and illustrates the benefits of evaluative criteria that will point to policy options where the City has the greatest potential influence over outcomes.”

Those evaluative criteria are especially valuable, says Sophia Rogers, a city resident who serves on the committee.

“As an advisory committee with a broad scope of interest, the Sustainable Madison Committee often struggles to understand our role in city policy and what we can actually do to contribute to solutions,” Rogers says. “I'm already using the students' evaluative criteria to understand issues in our city and form recommendations. I might even propose formalizing the process of asking questions corresponding to each of the evaluative criteria in every deliberation the Committee has in the future.”

“I'm also excited about the specific policy recommendations the students identified,” Rogers adds. “We will deliberate the proposal for the city to hire an energy manager this month. I hope to include it as part of a package of recommendations the Committee is proposing in the fall.”