Susan L. Marquis - “If You’re Going to Make Policy, Then That’s Only Half the Battle”

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Sep 27, 2013
by Oscar Tollast
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Susan L. Marquis - “If You’re Going to Make Policy, Then That’s Only Half the Battle”

Dean of Pardee RAND Graduate School highlights educational challenges Dean Marquis speaking at a panel discussion

“The world needs the United States to be effective and for its government to work well. But we can learn from other nations,” says Susan L. Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School and the vice-president of Emerging Policy Research and Methods for the RAND Corporation.

Speaking in the McGowan Room at the Schloss Leopoldskron last week, Dean Marquis’ words sit rather ominously following the partial shutdown of the US government in the past few days. Government offices have closed, whilst non-essential staff members have been told to stay at home without pay.

It’s been described as a political stalemate and a crisis of democracy. At the very least, it reaffirms The Volcker Alliance and Salzburg Seminar’s move to host the session on ‘Restoring the Public’s Trust: Delivering on Public Policy Goals’, which Dean Marquis was an attendee.

During the four-day workshop, Dean Marquis spoke on a panel highlighting the role of education and training in improving policy creation and execution. She suggested students were passionate about making the world a better place but didn’t understand the complexities to make that possible.

Dean Marquis says, “[Students] want to have a role in changing the world. As a result, they are often caught up in the policy issues, the big-think pieces, and the sexiness of public policy.

“If you’re going to make policy, then that’s only half the battle. You really have to implement policy as well, and to implement effectively and to make policy that’s actually relevant to the change you’re trying to effect, you have to understand the nitty-gritty.”

But how can the nitty-gritty aspect of public policy be made more attractive? Dean Marquis reveals Pardee RAND Graduate School provides a course on the organizational culture of government institutions, spending a lot of time looking at what motivates and inspires civil servants. “I think we’re trying to think more creatively about the classroom experience.”

Dean Marquis’ mother, a former teacher, advised her to get past being the sage on the stage and to become the guide on the side. Dean Marquis adds, “Well, those of us who are a little older, we were trained with the sage on the stage model. Learning how to be that guide on the side really helped the students work with each other, to learn from each other, and learn from their own experiences. I don’t know if we have that down yet, but we’re working on it.”

Dean Marquis explains whilst it’s easy to look at government as a monolith, each government agency has a different set of missions and a different organizational culture. “If you can understand that, it’s easier to develop a policy that actually takes advantage of that, recognizes it, and leverages it fully.

“You have to understand why governments behave the way they do, what they actually do, and what it takes to lead change, and that includes moving the money.

“If you don’t pay attention to those nuts and bolts, all you’ll have is a really nicely written policy memo.”

When asked what brought her to the Salzburg Global Seminar, Dean Marquis replies: “Paul Volcker called.” It’s a common answer among participants. His legacy and prestige as a former Chairman of the Federal Reserve was enough for some to be drawn to Salzburg Global.

But they haven’t come for a vacation or a catch-up. They’ve come to help find focus points for The Volcker Alliance to move forward with on an issue they care about. In light of what’s happened in the past few days, the session's relevance is evident.

Dean Marquis concludes, “The legacy [Paul Volcker’s] already established is extraordinary, but to be able to build on that legacy, to be able to build on his influence and reputation in a way that affects real and positive change in the public’s trust in government and the effectiveness of the US government, that’s why we are here.

“If we can achieve that, then victory is ours."