A Competition for Ideas in Public Policy

An event coming up in Philadelphia promises to go a long way toward matching the challenges government faces with ideas coming out of some of the top schools of public policy.
by | March 29, 2012 AT 11:00 AM

March Madness may be the competition on a lot of minds right now, but a tournament that really matters for people working to improve public outcomes happens next month in Philadelphia. The annual Public Policy Challenge, put on by the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, is the only event of its kind in the nation, and this year it is going national.

The April 22 event is an unparalleled opportunity for students of public administration and public policy. Modeled after MBA business-plan competitions, it challenges student teams to develop a policy proposal and civic campaign plan to achieve significant change in their community. The winning team will receive $15,000 to advance its policy.

While Penn is in its third year of the PPC, the first national edition of this event has attracted four more powerhouses from among the nation's schools of public policy and public administration: Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, and the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.

When I heard that Fels' executive director, David Thornburgh, and his colleagues intended to make the Public Policy Challenge a national event, I knew immediately that the Governing Institute should be involved. The competition could not be a better fit for the institute's mission of advancing better government through research, decision support and executive education.

The people at Fels told me that one of their challenges was to find judges with the policy experience, stature and broader geographic representation needed for an event that would be national in scope. The ranks of Governing's past Public Officials of the Year seemed to be the obvious answer, so I agreed to do the recruiting. It was a piece of cake. The Governing honorees I contacted saw immediately how important this event was in terms of encouraging and supporting young people who want to enter a career of public service. The judges for the inaugural event will be John Chichester, Bill Leighty, Wanda Gibson, Parris Glendening and Ron Sims.

I can't think of a more powerful means of contributing to effective governance than matching our understanding of the challenges facing public officials with good ideas coming out of some of the nation's top schools of public policy. The Public Policy Challenge is an ideal way to accomplish that, and I'm confident that the Governing Institute can help to strengthen this program.