Students flex policy muscles in Integrated Policy Exercise

January 15, 2013

Now in its 13th consecutive year, the Integrated Policy Exercise (IPE) has become a signature activity of the Ford School master's program. For three days during the first week of January, MPP and MPA students role play stakeholders in a large-scale, intensive, and continually evolving simulation of a real policy issue. The exercise allows students to experience first-hand the complexity of policymaking, hone much-need skills, and interact with real policy experts.

This year's IPE was particularly significant because the issue on which it centered—a new package of bills authorizing a regional transit system in southeastern Michigan—had only been signed into law by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder a few weeks before the exercise was set to begin.

"It's an extremely important and timely set of issues—the governance, implementation, and financing of southeast Michigan's new Regional Transit Authority (RTA)," said Elisabeth R. Gerber, Jack L. Walker, Jr. Professor of Public Policy, who organized this year's IPE. "These are precisely the challenges that real decision-makers and stakeholders are grappling with as the RTA moves forward."

In December Gerber and Richard Murphy, program director of Michigan Suburbs Alliance, were named the two Washtenaw County representatives for the RTA.

As in other years, a number of policy professionals were on hand to field questions on the first day. The group included legislators and county representatives, as well as stakeholders from transit, unions, business, and the media—several of whom were the very individuals or organizations students portrayed. Gov. Snyder provided videotaped comments.

"That was very exciting," said Ryne Peterson (MPP '14), whose IPE role entailed representing the AFL-CIO of Michigan. "It was a great way to do the project and get diverse viewpoints and opinions, especially from major stakeholders."

On the first day, students were divided into two tracks. One track focused on coming up with a funding mechanism for the RTA. Students on the other track grappled with a removal bill for Washtenaw County. Some considered, on one hand, how to remove the county from the transit authority that also includes Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland counties and others, proposed bills (complete with amendments) that might make it feasible for the county to remain a part of the system.

This track represented an actual—and potentially sticky—issue for the new transit authority, as Washtenaw County (home to the Ford School) has balked at participating in the regional transit system.

"This whole process and scenario is why students come to the Ford School," said Ben Curtiss-Lusher (MPP '13), who portrayed the chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. "It not only teaches us the importance of policy and analysis, but also how politics and personal relationships play into the process."

He was also glad that the IPE included a second-day bus tour to Detroit, where students were able to examine main sites and highways, consider current city and suburban bus systems (DDOT and SMART, respectively), and think seriously about the living, working, and commuting needs of citizens in this city where the public transportation system has been broken for decades.

A functioning RTA will potentially make a huge difference in the city's comeback. "Doing something that involves both the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit," Curtiss-Lusher added, "is a great opportunity for students to become connected—and help give back—to the local community."

[View Flickr album]