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Sound policy decisions, real-world time constraints and pressures, the Integrated Policy Exercise

January 14, 2015

Prior to taking part in the Ford School’s annual Integrated Policy Exercise (IPE) last week, Andrew Floyd (MPP ‘16) had a relatively vague notion of the part lobbyists played in the legislative process. After being cast as a lobbyist during the three-day policy simulation, he came away with a deeper understanding of their role in policymaking, as well as a greater appreciation for the political process and its inherent challenges.

This is exactly the kind of outcome Professor Elisabeth Gerber, now in her sixth year of developing and facilitating the IPE, hopes for.

“Students did a great job putting themselves in the positions and perspectives of the roles that they were playing,” said Gerber, who developed this year’s exercise with the assistance of graduate student instructors Kim Rustem (MPP ’15) and John Lin (MPP/JD ’16).

“It was great to see students learning in real time and grappling with difficult trade-offs and complex considerations,” Gerber added.

For three days during the first week of January, MPP and MPA students take on the roles of stakeholders in a simulated negotiation of a timely policy issue. The exercise allows students to experience first-hand the complexity of policymaking, and tests their ability to make sound policy decisions given real-world time constraints and pressures.

Approximately 150 students took part in the IPE this year.

The basis for this year’s exercise was a request made by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan that the Obama Administration redirect 50,000 unclaimed immigrant visas over the next five years to bolster Detroit’s economic renewal. The Snyder-Duggan proposal, submitted in early 2014, calls for an Executive Order from the President to allocate the unused immigrant visas to Michigan, allowing the state to attract skilled workers and entrepreneurs.

While the White House has yet to respond to the proposal, for purposes of the simulation, students were asked to assume that the Executive Order was issued, awarding Michigan 25,000 visas. Students were tasked with amending and passing legislation that outlined provisions for visa distribution. Assuming the role of stakeholders and decision-makers, they engaged in a stylized state-level legislative policy-making process for the remainder of the exercise.

To assist students in the simulation, Gerber arranged for 40 real-world policy-makers and stakeholders to meet with students on the opening day of the simulation. This year’s group of experts was the largest Gerber had amassed in her time facilitating the IPE.

“I think the experts really helped students understand the nuances of the issues and the process,” Gerber said. “And I think it’s a real testament to the Ford School that we got such a strong response from as many as we did.”

Legislative experts in attendance included state Sen. Judy Emmons, and state Reps. Jim Townsend and Jeff Irwin, as well as former Michigan Senate Majority Leader Gretchen Whitmer.

Among the professionals who provided students with insight from a stakeholder perspective were: Valerie Brader, deputy legal counsel and senior policy advisor to Gov. Rick Snyder; Karen Majewski, mayor of the City of Hamtramck; Bob Ficano, former executive of Wayne County; Ruby Robinson, attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center; Stephen Henderson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the Detroit Free Press; and Bing Goei, director of the Michigan Office for New Americans.

Goei also provided the IPE keynote address.

After hearing from the experts, students began formulating their positions and strategies. Stakeholders formed coalitions to advocate for and protect their interests, and worked to amend the proposed bill. Decision-makers met with stakeholders and negotiated with each other in pursuit of an outcome that best served their constituents.

To supplement the simulation, Gerber arranged for students to spend much of the second day in Detroit, touring select areas and meeting with local stakeholders. “I’m a big proponent of place as an important factor in understanding policy,” said Gerber, “and to allow students to see and experience the places where policies play out on the ground is very important.”

Following the tour, students convened at the Detroit Institute of Arts where they were treated to a surprise address and Q&A session with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.


Duggan, a Michigan alumnus, spoke to the policy exercise and took questions from students pertaining to the IPE scenario. “The kind of person that has the initiative to uproot their lives, come to another country … is what rebuilds communities,” said Duggan, speaking to the rationale behind wanting to lure high-skilled immigrants to Detroit.

Duggan also mentioned that governors across the country were making similar pitches in hopes of bolstering their cities’ local economies. “To watch the debate in Washington, you would think this country is anti-immigration, yet there are many governors who are also asking for visa caps to be raised for their cities,” he said.

IPE, which is a required course for all MPP and MPA students, has become a staple of the Ford School experience since its inception.

Grace Evans (MPP ’16), who admitted she wasn’t exactly thrilled to have her winter break cut short on account of the IPE (which begins two days before most programs at the university hold their first classes of the new semester), recognized its value after completing the exercise.

“I think IPE served as a reminder to many of us who are engaged here at the Ford School in a very academic setting, about the challenges that are faced on the ground when attempting to create or advocate for effective policy,” Evans said.

Click here to view more photos from this year's IPE.

--Story by Paul Gully (MPP '16)