The La Follette Forum 2023 centered around the idea that “all policy is implementation,” and leaders, public officials and other participants met to discuss the policy process as well as the administration behind said policy. The free and public event, hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs, brought panelists and experts together for keynote speeches and panels on inclusive implementation, substance abuse and COVID-19 response.
“Legislators pass laws and executives issue orders, judges make decisions and diplomats negotiate, but in some sense, all of their actions are hypotheses. They’re guesses about what we think a public policy will do,” Manny Teodoro, public affairs professor at the La Follette School, said as he opened the forum. “We make it law, we make it rule, and then we see what happens. Well, where it happens or doesn’t happen is not in any of those venues but rather in administration.”
Teodoro notes how successful policy is a miracle considering the immense amount of administration it requires. However, policy isn’t always successful. Teodoro used the consequences of failed drinking water systems as an example, explaining how they lead to public distrust, less support for drinking water infrastructure and failure.
“Sound implementation builds public trust, and in so doing, it strengthens the legitimacy of democracy itself,” Teodoro said. “To that end, today’s forum takes up real-world implementation. It builds effective strategies and collaboration across sectors at every level of government and every corner of Wisconsin.”
Former Chief of Staff Andrew Card on the policy process
The first keynote speaker was Andrew Card, former White House chief of staff under President George W. Bush. Card described his experience in the policy process as the chief of staff, or “the big one,” as Bush referred to the chief of staff position, Card said.
“Policy is probably the easiest thing to make up in politics,” Card said. “I suspect most of you wake up in the morning, and you’ve got some solution to some problem that you just don’t understand why somebody else doesn’t recognize.”
Card explained how the chief of staff’s job is not to make the policy but to make sure the process of making the policy is all-inclusive. He shared how he used a discipline of the “Ps” to make the policy process work.
The first “P” is process — the president drives policy formulation, while the chief of staff ensures the policy process meets the president’s expectations, Card explained.
Next is personalities. Implementing policy involves many experts and their personalities, which the chief of staff must manage. Despite the relationship between policy and the many personalities involved, the decision is ultimately the president’s, and the president carries the burden of the decision, he said.
While the White House creates policy, the implementation of the policy makes it or prevents it from being successful. Bad implementation can ruin a good policy, Card explained. It is essential to pause and take time to recognize the people implementing the policy and plan as well as the consequences and results of the policy, Card said.
The third “P” is the politics of the process. “Whose turf are you challenging?” Card said. “Is the responsibility federal? Is it state? Is it local?”
The president’s time is his most valuable resource, so the chief of staff must determine whether the issue is worthy of being a presidential decision, Card emphasized.
Finally, there is performance. Policy begins with an idea, but implementation is critical for successful policy, he said. The worst case scenario is when the failure of policy defines the policy, Card added.
“[The policy process] starts with ‘We.’. It flows to every elected official, state, local and federal,” Card said. “It flows to our governors, it flows to our presidents, but we are the people who give permission, attitude, confidence and support.”
Panel 1: Inclusive Implementation
Considering user experience in policy
The first panel on inclusive implementation followed Card’s keynote speech. Moderator Benoy Jacob, director of the Community Development Institute at UW-Madison’s Division of Extension, led a conversation about how policy administration forms the impacts of policy.
The Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration office decided on 10 big ideas for their climate equity plan, said Erick Shambarger, a La Follette graduate, and leader of the Environmental Collaboration Office and director of Environmental Sustainability, both with the City of Milwaukee.
Narrowing down Milwaukee’s sustainability goals to 10 ideas took two to three years, and implementation will be an extensive process, Shambarger said.
Inclusive policy implementation requires listening to the people they intend to help, but also considering governmental departments to understand how their current processes can reflect new policy, he said.
“The last point is constantly reevaluating what you’re doing - to make sure that the people trying to use your program don’t have frustrations and providing that good customer service and constantly trying to reach how we’ll be better,” Shambarger said.
Diversity in the Marquette Interchange Project
Dr. Ruben Anthony, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, spoke about his time working on the Marquette Interchange Project as deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
The project involved reconstruction of the interchange in downtown Milwaukee where three different highways meet. Many thought the project would be destructive, Anthony said.
“[The Marquette Interchange Project] would disrupt the downtown businesses and people who were pissed off with government,” Anthony said. “It would be disruptive again because there’s this historical memory of how bad highways work for Black communities in Milwaukee particularly.”
Including minority workers in the construction of this project was essential, Anthony said. Considering the $810 million going into the project, the community should be involved by working on it and getting paid for it, Anthony said.
To achieve this goal, the Department of Transportation created the Transportation Alliance for New Solutions to train minority construction workers in order to work on the Marquette Project, Anthony explained. The project set historic records by having minority individuals account for 25% of construction workers, and 20% of the businesses involved with the project were disadvantaged businesses, or businesses owned by people of color or women, Anthony said.
Community trust in Green Bay’s equal rights ordinance
In 2020, Mayor of Green Bay Eric Genrich enacted an equal rights ordinance and created an equal rights commission focused on policy promoting diversity in the City of Green Bay. However, the city council voted to take away the commission’s ability to enforce the ordinance, said Tara Yang, chairwoman of the Green Bay Equal Rights Commission.
In January 2023, the commission published a report outlining how marginalized communities struggle to find quality, affordable housing in Green Bay. In this report, the commission reviewed findings from their public hearings and made recommendations for Genrich and the city council.
To implement the ordinance, Yang and the commission approached marginalized and underserved communities the ordinance intended to protect. Collaboration with these communities required the commission to build trust with the government, she said.
“We worked with these community members, and we gained their trust, and they were there through all the steps from giving us testimonies about their experiences through the housing crisis, providing us with feedback on the full report and policy recommendations,” Yang said. “We allowed them to be there every step of the way, and we built that trust.”
Although the commission didn’t have the authority to implement housing regulations, the commission used the community to create public pressure around the Green Bay housing crisis, she said. When the city council decided to take action, the equal rights commission was the first organization invited to share their recommendations for implementing policy, Yang said.
“It shouldn’t really take that much effort and time to ask for the bare minimum from governments,” Yang said. “I think that we need to really make sure that we are paying attention to the marginalized communities and amplifying their voices because in this instance, for our mission with housing, [our mission is] housing is not a privilege. It’s a basic human right.”