Partners in Policy Consulting
"Would you like some free consulting help? Do you have an important
policy question that you lack the staff resources to analyze? I have a
team of Duke graduate students who would love to tackle it."
way the letter begins, and each year Robert Behn, director of the
Sanford Institute's Governors Center, sends about 200 of the letters to
officials in state and local governments. The letter is how the spring
consulting project for first-year public policy graduate students
begins; how it ends is with a lengthy report and a lot of hard-won
experience under the students' belts.
"I think of myself as the senior
partner in a management consulting firm with 30 new associates," says
Behn, Professor of Public Policy. In the course of the spring semester,
those associates will apply their skills in analyzing policy issues to
serve the real, practical needs of their client. "This is not a
make-believe student paper; this is a real, professional consulting
report," Behn says.
For the workshop-style course, the students are
divided into teams of three based on their interests in the policy
problems of various clients. "We always have far more requests for
assistance than we have students, so they can select things that really
interest them," Behn explains.
The project is designed to foster the
professional skills of policy analysis and public management. It's also
one of the two extremely in-depth policy reports, along with the
Master's Memo, that the students prepare.
These consulting reports are
not meant to be tucked away in a file drawer as just a nice piece of
information, Behn says. The students are helping government agencies
handle critical problems. As a case in point, he cites a 1996 project
for the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement Agency. On the line was
$11 million in federal funding.
Another case involves the Youth Access
to Tobacco Project. With 3,000 teenagers becoming regular smokers every
day and an estimated 1.5 million youths under the age of 19 using
smokeless tobacco products, the pressure has mounted to stop illegal
sales of tobacco products to minors. However, North Carolina was failing
to comply with legislation prohibiting this sale.
Public Policy students
Valeria Balfour, Karen Guice and Tim Mitchell took an in-depth look at
the situation to determine where current state laws were faulty and what
could be done to make them more effective. Their recommendations ranged
from administrative adjustments--designating the Alcohol Law Enforcement
Agency as the lead law enforcement branch--to detailed concerns such as
"I believe that all our projects are taken
seriously," Behn says. "But the Youth Access to Tobacco project is a
good example of just how important they can be. The students delivered
several briefings on their report, including one to the N.C. Secretary
of Crime Control and Public Safety. And they got valuable experience
that will certainly be of use in their careers."