Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Students present 9 workshop reports to local, state, international clients

Milwaukee acts on students' recommendations

On the Wednesday of finals week, La Follette School students Bo McCready, Ian Ritz, Rocio Sanchez-Moyano, Mike Schultz and Sarah Wainscott found themselves in the middle of a construction zone on Milwaukee's Cesar E. Chavez Drive. Read more ...

With a University of Wisconsin-Madison flag as greeting, four students presented their workshop report at the U.S. Government Accountability Office in Chicago. From left are is GAO assistant director Dave Lehrer; students Chris Denney, Brian Quinn and Lilly Shield; GAO economist Sharon Hermes; and student Holden Weisman. The group's fifth member, Brian Bell, is on active duty with the military. Hermes reported she received lots of good feedback from GAO staffers after the presentation.

Wisconsin Legislative Council deputy director Laura D. Rose (second from left) stands with students Joanna Marks, Colleene Thomas, Jonny Hunter, Keri L. Johnson and Lindsay Pascal, authors of An Analysis of Food Safety in Wisconsin.

From suggesting ways to improve food safety to evaluating countries that receive U.S. aid, policy analysis and recommendations by La Follette School students are now on the desks of policymakers across Wisconsin and around the world.

Students in the domestic and international public affairs workshops completed their presentations to clients this week, with one group finding itself back in Milwaukee for an encore appearance.

Five students who designed a package of services to mitigate the negative effects of construction on businesses appeared with Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett on May 12 when he unveiled the Public Works Support for Business Program. The students first presented their research and recommendations to city staffers on May 7 along with their classmates in professor Susan Yackee's Workshop in Public Affairs.

The second Milwaukee project analyzes programs to encourage residential property owners to maintain private sanitary sewer laterals. The third report assesses the environmental, economic and regulatory factors that form the policy context for aquatic invasive species management.

The three groups spoke for 15 minutes each, then fielded questions from about 15 City of Milwaukee staffers, including city budget director Mark Nicolini, a 1983 La Follette alum. Nicolini praised the students' work, saying it was important and helpful to the city's Division of Management and Budget, the client for all three reports.  Budget office staff member Erick Shambarger, who holds a 2002 Master of Public Affairs degree from La Follette, also complimented the reports.

"The La Follette School values its longstanding relationship with the City of Milwaukee," Yackee says. "We appreciate the opportunity for our students to contribute to the city's policy-making by applying their analytical skills to substantial policy and public management issues."

In the state policy arena, students in professor Andrew Reschovsky's Workshop in Public Affairs produced two reports for Wisconsin agencies. One, prepared for the Wisconsin Legislative Council, identifies two policies to decrease the incidence of food-borne illness and to enhance Wisconsin's food-safety system. The students' first proposal would mandate quality certification using standards and audits to reduce bacterial contamination in the production and packaging of fruits and vegetables. Their second proposal would involve implementation of a preferential purchasing program for meat raised without large quantities of antibiotics. They presented in a Capitol hearing room to about 20 people, including council co-chair senator Fred Risser, other legislative council members and staff.

Student Perspective

The Workshop in Public Affairs was truly a capstone for our group: A wide variety of skills that we learned throughout the La Follette curriculum were brought to bear during the analytical process and the writing of the report.

It was difficult to bring all of the pieces of our study together in a coherent fashion and in a way that would be detailed enough for our client but also make sense to a general audience. We improved our abilities to distill large amounts of sometimes complicated or arcane information down to more salient facts for our audience.

We believe that our report will make a difference. Our client told us that drafts of our report were circulating among staff members even prior to our presentation and that many of our findings would have implications for the IRIS program.

The bottom line regarding my feelings about the project: I do not believe that I would feel as confident about starting a career in government had I not experienced the workshop project. Had the project been easy or free from surprises along the way, I do not think it would have been as valuable for any of us.

— Jake Schindler, co-author of Understanding Self-Directed Care in Wisconsin: A Comparison of IRIS and Family Care Programsisconsin: A Comparison of IRIS and Family Care Programs

Staff from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services' Division of Long Term Care heard students compare two state programs that provide self-directed long-term care services to frail elderly people and people with physical or developmental disabilities. "There was lots of praise for the work the students did and indications about how useful their analysis will be for the work of the Division of Long Term Care," says Reschovsky.

He notes that the workshop reports remain influential long after their authors graduate. Researchers in Michigan contacted him this year about a 2004 report on local government collaboration that they had found useful: Supporting Public Service Efficiency: Creating Incentives for Local Government Collaboration in Wisconsin.

U.S. Government Accountability Office staff in five cities heard from students who shared their assessment of the investment advice given to participants in defined contribution retirement plans. The authors recommended research to document sources of investment advice; the effects of advice on participant behaviors; how to improve communication of investment fees; and changes in the provision of investment advice resulting from federal regulations to be approved in 2010. Reschovsky and his students traveled to the GAO's Chicago office, which shared the presentation via video with staff in Boston, Denver, Seattle and Washington, D.C. The students fielded lots of questions after their presentation from the 20 GAO staffers in the room and from others at the remote sites.

Members of an international workshop team flew to Washington, D.C., to present suggestions for reducing secessionism in Jammu and Kashmir, a state in India that abuts Pakistan. Prepared for the U.S. Office of South Asia Policy, the report surveys the economic development potential of the most promising sectors for state development and analyzes the likelihood that their growth will reduce secessionism.

Two groups in the Workshop in International Public Affairs presented in the La Follette School conference to their clients via web conferencing that enabled the clients to see the students' presentation slides as they spoke. A report for the Millennium Challenge Corporation weighs five indicators the U.S. agency uses to evaluate underdeveloped countries' aptitudes to utilize U.S. financial aid. The students also suggested and analyzed two new indicators, as well as identifying two more criteria for evaluating the indicators.

"The students' analysis should contribute to the MCC's upcoming review of its criteria and methodology to select countries to receive U.S. foreign aid," says professor Melanie Manion. "Aid is more effective when countries promote good governance, invest in the health and education of their residents, and expand opportunities and create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship and private sector growth."

— updated July 8, 2011