Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The relationship between governing and skill

The majority of my professional career has been dedicated to public policy.   In particular, public policy (and budget) solutions to challenges confronting children, youth, and their families in the District of Columbia.   A significant portion of the work included how to make more people good at public policy.   That's why Want to Govern? Survey Says, Attend Policy School caught my attention.

The Governing Magazine piece discusses the results of the Governing-commissioned survey seeking to answer the question "Do people who attended policy school and now work in government think their education was worthwhile?"   Governing is not alone in thinking about preparation for effective government service.   As author J.B. Wogan wrote,

Eight months ago, The Washington Post published a provocative Sunday op-ed with the headline, "Want to Govern? Skip Policy School." The authors argued that schools of government did not prepare students for a career in public service.


The results offer a stark contrast to a critical assessment of policy schools by James Piereson, president of the conservative William E. Simon Foundation, and Naomi Schaefer Riley, a conservative journalist, in a Dec. 6, 2013 edition of The Washington Post. Piereson and Riley wrote "the schools' curricula and missions have become at once too broad and too academic, too focused on national and global issues at the expense of local and state-level ones. It's not clear that the schools are preparing their graduates to fix all that needs fixing."

According to Wogan, the senior-level officials in state and local governments surveyed reported fairly consistently that the courses they took were also those most helpful.   The most helpful?   Public policy, management, and public finance.   As for skills, "respondents mostly listed soft skills as useful in their career, such as working on a team, speaking in public and managing projects."

Anne-Marie Slaughter, current president of New America Foundation and former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, has said "if she were starting a policy school today, it would offer only joint degrees, so that students could develop expertise in the various arenas they might encounter in the years ahead", according to the authors of The problem with public policy schools.

So back to the beginning, what can we, the community, learn from the Governing and other work?   Do we take away that we need more, better, or different skills to effectively participate in public policy discussions and solutions?   Or, do we take away that public sector workers need more and better training?   Or some combination or something totally different?

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