U-M launches a program in practical policy engagement with a gift from Power Foundation

April 25, 2018

A new program at the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy will encourage partnerships between U-M faculty and students and people and organizations outside the university who are actively working on—and have the capacity for changing—public policy.

The new Program in Practical Policy Engagement is made possible by a $1.5 million gift from the Power Foundation.

P3E is a university-wide resource housed at the Ford School, where it can leverage existing expertise and interdisciplinary approach to generate policy-relevant research, analysis and learning, as well as improvements in organizational practice. It has three goals:

  1. Create engaged learning opportunities for students by facilitating collaborations with organizations at the state, local, national and international levels. At its core, it hopes to provide students with a deeper understanding of how their work can add public value.
  2. Support efforts by faculty and students to conduct policy and operational research that is timely, practical and policy-relevant.
  3. Generate policy impact by developing and implementing cutting-edge techniques to translate research into practical policy action.

"The Program in Practical Policy Engagement is just that. It's practical, as distinguished from theoretical. It's about public policy, aimed at adding value, and it's about engagement, providing ways for U-M students, faculty and staff to engage directly in making things better," said Philip Power, former U-M Regent and longtime university donor. "It's a direct extension of the obligations of a public university to improve our society."

"One vitally important aspect of the program is its emphasis on helping students and organizations learn practical ways to get things done—something too often overlooked by purely theoretical approaches to learning."

Michael Barr, dean of the Ford School, said the gift increases opportunities for faculty and students to work on real-world problems with organizations in the state and elsewhere.

"Phil and Kathy Power's generosity will enable us to partner with outside organizations to create learning opportunities for our students and research opportunities for faculty that are relevant and impactful," he said. "By linking policy research and learning to the people and organizations in the state and beyond, we can help create value for the people of Michigan and the nation."

The program will build on existing engaged learning and mentoring programs at the Ford School that have been field-tested for three successive years.

Elisabeth Gerber, associate dean for research and policy engagement at the Ford School, will lead the program.

"Faculty and students across the university are thirsting for opportunities to apply their skills and make a difference in the world of public policy," she said. "At the same time, government or nonprofits often lack the research and analytic capacity required to solve challenging social problems. The program will support efforts to come together and collaborate to improve the quality of life for our communities."

Gerber has led students to collaborate on projects with organizations—public and private, nonprofits and philanthropic—for many years.

Last year, for example, a team of students worked with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. The department wanted to create a community engagement model for increasing racial equity, but they lacked the capacity. Students from the Ford School created a toolkit to help municipal governments develop action plans for racial equity.

"Department staff came to Ford for the final presentation, and they were blown away by the work the students did," Gerber said. "The toolkits gave local governments specific steps to take as front-line actors engaging citizens and enhancing racial equity."

Philip and Kathy Power are longtime donors to the university, supporting numerous programs such as the U-M Museum of Art, Student Publications, University Musical Society and the Center for the Education of Women. In 1971, the Power Center for the Performing Arts opened on the U-M campus, thanks to lead gifts from Philip and his parents.

In March, the Powers announced a $4.5 million gift to the U-M Museum of Art to establish a program in Inuit Art. Both Philip and Kathy have been active volunteers for U-M, and recently joined the Victors for Michigan National Campaign Leadership Board.

Philip Power, a 1960 U-M graduate, is a former newspaper publisher and served on the U-M Board of Regents from 1987 to 1999. In 1965, Power started the HomeTown Communications Network Inc., an award-winning group of 65 community newspapers in the Upper Midwest.

He founded the Center for Michigan in 2006, a "think and do" tank that encourages greater understanding and involvement in policy issues among the state's citizens. It publishes Bridge Magazine, which is read by more than 1 million online readers. Kathy Power is an active community volunteer with such organizations as Planned Parenthood and the Humane Society of Huron Valley.