Massive policy simulation explores regional cooperation, economic development, green energy

January 5, 2016

It’s hardly uncommon for University of Michigan faculty to invite in an outside expert or two to share their perspectives with students in a course. Still, it’s safe to say that Elisabeth Gerber, the Jack L. Walker Professor of Public Policy, has gone far beyond the norm with the Ford School’s Integrated Policy Exercise (IPE). For this year’s IPE, Gerber attracted 54 outside experts, including 8 state senators and representatives, 15 elected and appointed officials from southeastern Michigan communities, 7 business leaders, and 24 public and non-profit sector leaders. They gathered at Joan and Sanford Weill Hall, home of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, to share their perspectives with 140 participating master’s of public policy students on a snowy Monday afternoon.

A three-day policy simulation that has been offered by the Ford School since 1999, the Integrated Policy Exercise introduces policy students to a defined public sector challenge and tasks them with crafting a viable policy solution under time and political constraints. This year’s IPE, which runs January 4, 5, and 8, has students developing a regional economic growth authority that will augment southeast Michigan’s industrial manufacturing economy with business growth in the clean energy sector. The revenue generated through this type of authority could not only speed the region’s transition to clean energy, but could also help each city and township further its economic growth, which is expected to be an especially important source of income for the many southeast Michigan communities that have suffered long-term economic decline.

Follow the simulation on social media at #IPE2016. View photos on Flickr.  

To introduce students to the complexity of the real-world policy process, including the diverse perspectives held by stakeholders and government decision-makers across the political spectrum, Gerber assigns students real-world roles and has them research and write about their characters before the simulation begins. “Forget about the person you left in the coat room, and be the person on your nametag,” Gerber tells the students at the opening assembly. Erica is now Jim Ananich, (MI-27), Michigan State Senate Minority Leader; Tom is Pat Dillon, president of the Michigan State Utility Workers Council; Corey is Kevin Cotter (MI-99), speaker of the Michigan House; Michelle is Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council; and the list goes on.

“Very rarely are we able to really see the world through someone else’s lens, but it’s important when we address complex policy problems,” says Gerber. “If you’re a conservative Republican in real life and are playing a labor advocate, you’re going to see those positions differently--not only the perspective of the labor advocate, but your own as well.” Along the way, students acquire new knowledge about Michigan’s environmental challenges, about the growing business of clean energy solutions, about regional economic development, and about the challenges, and opportunities, of regional revenue sharing.

Conan Smith, a Washtenaw County commissioner and executive director of Metro Matters, gives the inaugural address. Gerber, who explains that Smith has been a key advisor throughout the simulation development, introduces him as an impressive “coalition-builder.” He talks with students about that process. “Most of the differences we encounter every day are fairly meaningless, but we create barriers to engagement,” he says. “When you can discover similarities, you open the door to powerful collaboration. And in the American political process, it’s always about negotiation and finding that common ground.”

Regional cooperation initiatives like the one this year’s Ford School students are exploring are important to communities across the nation, but have been particularly challenging in Michigan because of the state’s long history of home rule. While local governance has created strong and independent communities across the state, says Smith, it has also given those communities the freedom “to compete or collaborate, to ignore or embrace.” Smith believes that if southeast Michigan is to compete with other metro regions, especially in the areas of economic development and environmental quality, these fragmented communities—long separated by factors like race, economic success, culture, and geography—will need to collaborate.

Although this is a local policy initiative, he and Gerber emphasize that it’s anything but small. “You can do big things [in local government]. You can do great things. You can create transformational public policies that affect millions,” says Smith in his introductory remarks. “Think big.”

A special thank you to our experts

  • State legislators: Senator Patrick Colbeck (R-7); Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-6); Representative Jeff Irwin (D-53); Senator David Robertson (R-14); Representative Jim Townsend (MPP/MBA '97) (D-26); Senator Rebekah Warren (D-18); Representative Michael Webber (R-45); and Representative Adam Zemke (D-55).
  • Elected and appointed officials: Pete Auger, city manager, Novi; Ray Basham, former two-term Michigan State Senator, U.S. Air Force veteran, and member, Wayne County Board of Commissioners; Felicia Brabec, member, Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and Eastern Leaders Group leadership committee; Bryce Kelley, city administrator, City of Southgate; Andrew Kim (MPP '13), director of legislative affairs, Macomb County Board of Commissioners; Andy LaBarre, member, Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and executive director, A2Y Regional Chamber; Irv Lowenberg, treasurer, City of Southfield; Andy Meisner, treasurer, Oakland County and former member (D) Michigan State House of Representatives; John Naglick, finance director and interim treasurer, City of Detroit; Gerald Poisson, chief deputy county executive, Oakland County; Mark Schauer, politician and former congressman, U.S. House of Representatives (D-MI-7); Conan Smith, member, Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and executive director, Metro Matters; Christopher Taylor, mayor, City of Ann Arbor; Erik Tungate, city manager, Oak Park and former development officer, Wayne County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE); and Mark Vanderpool, city manager, Sterling Heights.
  • Private sector representatives: Irene Dimitry, vice president of business planning and development, DTE Energy; Liesl Eichler Clark, principal and co-founder, 5 Lakes Energy; Mark Ferda, renewable energy account manager, McNaughton-McKay; Nolan Finley, op-ed editor, The Detroit News; Brandon Hofmeister, executive director of policy, research, and public affairs, Consumers Energy and assistant professor of law, Wayne State University; Saulius Mikalonis, environmental law practitioner and attorney, Plunkett Cooney; and Carla Walker-Miller, president and CEO, Walker-Miller Strategies.
  • Public and non-profit sector representatives: Steve Bakkal, senior policy director, Michigan Economic Development Corporation; John Bebow, president and CEO, Center for Michigan; Rick Bunch, director, Michigan Street Lighting Coalition; Gina Cavaliere, chief business development officer, Business Improvement Zone; Matt Friedrichs, organizer, MOSES; Mark Gaffney, business representative, Teamsters Local 214; Benjamin Gielczyk, fiscal analyst, House Fiscal Agency; Charles Griffith, director, Climate and Energy Program, The Ecology Center; Lisa Katz (MPA '01), executive director, Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN); Chris Kolb, president, Michigan Environmental Council; Maureen Krauss (MPP '85), vice president, Detroit Regional Chamber and former economic director, Oakland County; Michael Langford, national president, Utility Workers Union of America; Kandia Milton, manager of advocacy strategies and mobilization, MOSES; Lisa Nuszkowski (MPP '03), executive director, Detroit Bike Share and director of strategic programs, Downtown Detroit Partnership; Bill O’Brien, executive director, Harriet Tubman Center; Elizabeth Pratt, analyst, Senate Fiscal Agency; Jean Redfield, president and CEO, NextEnergy; Rachel Richards, policy analyst, Michigan League for Public Policy; Melissa Roy, executive director, Advancing Macomb and former assistant county executive, Macomb County; Phil Santer, vice president of business development, Ann Arbor Spark; Thomas Sutton, director of wind and technical services, Kalamazoo Valley Community College; Michael Van Beek, director of research, Mackinac Center for Public Policy; Tony Vanderworp, executive director, Eastern Leaders Group of Washtenaw County; and Mark Wallace (MPP '04), president and CEO, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.