The 2013 GRA Policy Conference was a great success.  Thank you once again to the Public Policy Forum for hosting the conference, assembling good panels, bringing in the Governor, and a very good keynote speaker for the awards banquet (we just need on weather forecasting skills a bit).

PPF arranged to have WisconsinEYE, the Wisconsin version of CSPAN, film our sessions, the Governor’s lunch time talk, and the keynote address.  These videos are available to be viewed online.

Monday Sessions — On Monday morning we had a discussion about the efforts of Wisconsin and other states to control the cost of state and local government.  The lunch speaker was Governor Scott Walker who discussed the context and benefits of the controversial changes implemented at the outset of his administration.

Following lunch we had two sessions on education reform.  The first session discussed the financial aspects of education reform and highlighted the issues Milwaukee is dealing with in the context of school vouchers and charter schools.  The second session focused on the many efforts the school communities are trying to use standards and performance measurement to instill accountability for schools and teachers.

Tuesday Sessions — The first Tuesday morning session focused on the latest in developments in water resource management strategies and activities, highlighting Milwaukee’s progressive efforts to manage the sewer system and minimize sewer overflows because of major rains or snow melts.

The second Tuesday morning session was about local government service sharing and consolidation.  We heard about the recent consolidation into a united Princeton, NJ, progressive approaches to service sharing in the Milwaukee region, lessons from efforts to promote service sharing or consolidation in Michigan, and the national perspective from the U.S. Census Bureau.

I especially recommend that GRA members take the time to view the second video from the Tuesday sessions. Mordecai Lee, Professor of Governmental Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and author of Bureaus of Efficiency: Reforming Local Government in the Progressive Era discussed the early history of the governmental research movement, the struggles for GRA-type organizations to be relevant, and the eventual split in the organization that led to creation of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) and left the citizen research organizations struggling to remain strong as a volunteer association.

Wednesday Sessions — Wednesday morning was focused on members’ issues and successes.  The first session, titled Tools in the Toolbox: Using Research to Change Policy, was a very useful discussion of the varied lengths our member organizations go to in educating citizens and policymakers about public policy issues, suggesting alternatives and recommending changes to remedy those issues, and actively lobbying to promote implementation of those recommendations.  Although there was no video coverage, audio from the session can be heard in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. The session handout can be downloaded here.

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