Policy cycle gears

For more than 30 years, Public Sector Consultants has provided services that help advance Michigan. While the nature of those services have evolved over time, two things remain constant: a commitment to objective research and a tireless pursuit of innovative solutions to policy questions. Today, PSC employs a full suite of tools that, when used together, are a powerful force for good on some of the toughest problems in our community. Research and analysis, program implementation, evaluation, and defining problems and solutions through facilitation, strategic counsel, and strategic planning are the methods by which PSC turns the gears on public policy innovation.

Putting research to action

When the Michigan Public Service Commission was ready to launch Michigan Saves, Michigan’s financing tool for energy efficiency projects, it needed two things: deep knowledge of Michigan’s market and policy landscape for energy efficiency, and a stellar reputation for professionalism and trustworthiness.

Having conducted the initial research to develop the financing tool for the program, Public Sector Consultants had the deep policy and market knowledge. And the trust factor was a no-brainer, says Conan Smith, executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance and president of Michigan Saves’ Board of Directors.

Conan Smith
Conan Smith

“The one thing that PSC brings to the table that nobody else does is that level of trust,” says Smith. “Everybody knew that by running the program through PSC, this program would be honestly, openly and collaboratively managed. PSC has a statewide reputation with folks like me in Southeast Michigan all the way to folks in Traverse City, Grand Rapids and Marquette. It was easy to get everybody to come on board with the program, once they understood an honest broker would be sitting in the middle.”

That reputation and expertise set PSC apart in Michigan, explains PSC Senior Vice President Julie Metty Bennett.

“PSC is unique because you can find research and implementation all in the same place,” she says. “We do research that informs policy, but sometimes you need to actually get your hands dirty and take responsibility for making the outcome of that research happen.”

Mary Templeton, staffer for PSC, serves as Michigan Saves’ executive director. She points to the primary strengths that made PSC the right choice for managing Michigan Saves: expertise in research design, policy development, stakeholder engagement and a highly pragmatic staff that loves to dig into policy issues to find solutions that are both innovative and practical.

“We are always looking forward as far as what is going on in the policy arena and in the marketplace,” says Templeton. “If you don’t have an understanding of what is going on in both places, then you’re really shortsighted and it’s a dangerous limitation to have when you are managing a business.”

Define the problem, research and facilitate the solution

To help clients understand what is going on in the marketplace, PSC deploys strong stakeholder engagement skills, as exemplified by the firm’s recent work with the Michigan Department of Community Health to help integrate care for people eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. As part of this work, PSC conducted four public forums across the state, conducted key stakeholder interviews and facilitated four work groups.

“One of the things that worked well with PSC was that the people who actually did the facilitation were able to provide content expertise so that they could function effectively,” says Richard Miles, director of  the Bureau of Medicaid Policy and Health System Innovation at  the MDCH. “That was combined with PSC’s ability to deal with and manage meetings that were, at times, fairly contentious.”

Not only was PSC able to gain deep insights to inform policy development through a stakeholder engagement process, but it was also able to develop consensus and engender a sense of enfranchisement among stakeholders, according to Amanda Menzies, senior consultant with PSC.

“Our understanding of health care in Michigan enabled us to obtain meaningful input from stakeholders,” says Menzies. “We knew what questions to ask, and we understood the points of view of the various stakeholders going into the process. We were able to identify where stakeholders agreed on certain concepts, and in some cases we were able to forge agreements. There were, of course, many places where opinions remained divided, but the process demonstrated to stakeholders that what they had to say matters to the MDCH.”

Evaluation for wise decision-making

Of course, policy does not end with implementation; programs must be continuously evaluated to make sure they are having their intended effects, and are doing so in a cost-efficient manner.

PSC drew upon its knowledge of policy research to help the Waterford Public Schools evaluate outcomes for a $5.7 million federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant. The purpose of the grant was to identify and implement programs to reduce the number of students interacting with the juvenile justice system by targeting risk behaviors such as school truancy, substance abuse and bullying.

Nadine Milostan
Nadine Milostan

“The federal government requires a robust evaluation of the effectiveness of such programs,” says Nadine Milostan, executive director for Student Support Services for the Waterford Public Schools. “That’s where PSC stepped in. They provided regular, timely feedback to us and directly to the federal government as to how these programs were functioning, enabling us to continually look at those results.”

Strong evaluation not only fulfilled the district’s grant reporting requirements, but enabled it to prioritize program funding once the grant had finished.

“As we were making budget reductions, we knew what we absolutely had to keep,” says Milostan. “Programs that didn’t get good results went away, and the ones that did have good results, like our intervention specialists, school safety coordinators, and the anti-bullying program were maintained.”

PSC’s depth, including both content knowledge and research design expertise, allowed it to provide both valid data (the what) and a policy perspective (the so-what), says Craig Wiles, senior consultant with Public Sector Consultants.

“One of the reasons PSC was such a great fit for the SS/HS initiative in Waterford was that they needed more than just traditional evaluation research services,” explains Wiles. “PSC built secure student-level data collection and reporting tools that helped link the programs and services being implemented through SS/HS to other existing data systems in the school district. The end result was that Waterford had a great perspective on the impact of their programs and services on individual student outcomes, such as behavioral referrals, academic achievement and attendance. With this kind of information, they were able to see patterns among subgroups, identify areas of need and leverage the impact of SS/HS programs by coordinating with other initiatives in the district.”

Having that picture and being able to communicate it to the school board were essential to the ability of the district to maintain critical programs, notes Milostan.

“Once the school board really understood the impact of how these programs were making a difference to the students, they were on board,” says Milostan. “Because they were regularly informed, those were the programs that were easy to keep.”