Consulting practice: students gain experience working with policy clients

January 18, 2024

“Research and consulting projects rarely go as planned,” Professor Jefferey Morenoff reassured his PubPol578 students as they prepared to present a semester’s worth of findings. 

The Ford School’s Strategic Public Policy Consulting (SPPC) course offers master’s students with an opportunity to test out what it is like to be a consultant for public, private, or non-profit policy organizations. After being matched with organizations, small groups of master’s students scope out a project, develop research questions, and conduct analysis. Projects range widely by policy area, level of quantitative analysis required, and complexity. 

In fall 2023, students worked with: American Friends Service Committee, Avalon Housing, City of Detroit - Office of Mobility Innovation, Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America, Local Initiatives Support Corporation Detroit, and the Michigan Environmental Council. 

The students’ presentations showed they learned important lessons on how to define projects appropriately, set client expectations, communicate with each other and with the client, and leverage different strengths and skill sets on their teams. Groups also gained insight into data collection and availability, and what they can do to overcome barriers to accessing the necessary information for their projects.

Read the project summaries below.


American Friends Service Committee - Michigan Criminal Justice: "Second Look Legislation in Michigan"

People serving time in the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) serve, on average, longer prison sentences than people anywhere else in the world. In April 2023, several legislators introduced bills that would give judges in Michigan the authority to revisit sentences once a person has served ten years. Collectively, these bills are known as “Second Look” legislation. If passed, these bills would give judges discretion to reduce mandatory minimum sentences. 

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), specifically the Michigan Criminal Justice Committee (MCJC), is fighting to get these bills passed. AFSC asked students to review sentencing data from the Michigan Department of Corrections to model how much in correction costs would be saved annually, based on different sentence reduction levels. Students reviewed research on the economic and social costs of long-term sentences and analyzed models for reinvesting the money saved into community-based programs.


Avalon Housing: "The Impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on Affordable Housing"

Avalon Housing currently operates 29 affordable housing properties throughout Washtenaw County, with the mission of building safe and inclusive communities as a long-term solution to homelessness. In 2022, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which could supply funding for organizations such as Avalon Housing to work towards their goal of providing affordable housing to residents of Washtenaw County. 

Students identified aspects of the IRA that were applicable to Avalon Housing, including grants, rebates, and loans. Students developed a plan of action for the organization to secure the available funding for ongoing projects.


City of Detroit, Office of Mobility Innovation: "Promoting Electric Vehicle (EV) Adoption in Detroit"

The City of Detroit Office of Mobility Innovation (OMI) builds and delivers mobility solutions that improve the transportation experience for all Detroit road users. The automotive industry is currently experiencing a historical shift from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles and vehicles that use alternative energy sources. While the United States has already reached the tipping point of the transition in consumer behavior, the statistics do not transfer directly to consumer behavior in Detroit. As Detroit is a city that has a significant inventory of renter-occupied housing, as well as a strong density of residents that prefer multi-family housing, the Office of Mobility Innovation recognizes that housing preferences, and other socioeconomic factors, may play a role in the delayed adoption of electric vehicles by Detroiters.

The OMI asked students to identify the gaps in electric vehicle adoption for Detroit residents and propose solutions aimed at closing those gaps. The city hopes to implement best practices for expanding electric vehicle charging stations for Detroit residents, specifically focused on solutions for residents of multi-family housing. Students analyzed Detroit’s demographics including housing and vehicle preferences, and created a map identifying ideal areas for electric vehicle infrastructure.


Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America (FORA): "Students with Limited or Interrupted Education (SLIFE): Identifying Best Practices and Developing a Road Map to Advocate in Chicago Public Schools"

Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America (FORA) works with children from refugee families in and around Chicago who can be categorized as Students with Limited or Interrupted Education (SLIFE). The State of Illinois has no formal definition of SLIFE, nor does it make data on the academic progress of refugee students publicly available. Without such definitions and data, the challenges faced by SLIFE students are invisible to the school system and the wider community. The public is unable to see how well or poorly Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are meeting the needs of these students. If there is a systemic failure to meet the needs of this population, it is possible that CPS is unaware of the issue and therefore not able to improve.

Students met weekly with FORA staff to develop a report on the best practices for addressing the needs of SLIFE students in the CPS system. The report compiled the following research: a comparative analysis regarding state SLIFE definitions and current policies, as well as comparisons of large urban school district policies.


Local Initiatives Support Corporation Detroit: "Increasing Impact of Economic Development Opportunities for Detroit Neighborhoods"

For over 30 years, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has implemented collaborative and creative approaches to promote neighborhood revitalization in Detroit. The organization focuses both on community economic development and economic mobility initiatives. LISC connects job seekers to employment opportunities and wrap-around services. It also works to strengthen Detroit’s small businesses and commercial corridors, through capacity building, support of Detroit’s small business ecosystem, and investments in place-based economic development efforts.

Students analyzed current funding opportunities and recommended funding and programming that aligned with LISC’s Economic Development Strategy. Students also analyzed the historical context of state and federal programs that fund economic and workforce development initiatives. 


Michigan Environmental Council: "Landing Zone: Assessing Michigan's Environmental Risks as a Climate Haven"

Michigan Environmental Council is working to ensure that the state of Michigan has a policy framework that is prepared to ensure equity and sustainability in its response to climate migration.

Working with Michigan Environmental Council staff, students summarized the potential negative environmental consequences of unplanned-for climate migration–both from a lack of readiness and from new challenges brought by a new population–and recommended and prioritized potential policy responses.