Over the past several weeks, I’ve been reflecting on all we’ve learned this semester. We’ve had the opportunity to hear from a range of leaders in policy and technology. (Check out our syllabus) For my last post for Gov 3.0, I wanted to share some valuable insight from Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. When he joined our class via webcam, Tom outlined ten “attributes and tactics of a successful policy entrepreneur” which I share below with some reflections on my own personal experience.
- Personal commitment: Start with an issue you’re passionate about and personally committed to changing. Shaping and changing policy can be a long road, so you should work on issues that you care about deeply.
- Be specific: When seeking to create or change policy, be really specific about the who, what, why, when and how of the issue. Outline concrete public and private actions to move your policy ideas forward.
- Trust and mutual reciprocity: In order to advance new policies, you must have a wide range of relations based on trust and reciprocity, both with policymakers and the people responsible for executing programs.
- “Intellectual arbitrage”: Take an idea that works in one policy domain and introduce it in another context.
- Large tool kit: To get stuff done in government, you need to have a range of tools and techniques to advance your agenda. Your job as a policy entrepreneur is to use a variety of existing tools and to create new ones. Tom spoke about this in the context of working in the White House, but it applies to every level of government.
- Persistence: “Like water on stone.” Government deals with many complex issues and people have competing priorities. To make progress on policy, you must be committed and persistent.
- Share credit: You will get more done if you are willing to give away or share the credit. Don’t worry about whose name is on the memo. People are willing to help you and many want to be recognized for it.
- Identify talent: Find people committed to public service, who are entrepreneurial, hard workers, have great ideas. The ability to identify rock stars and recruit them to work for you or in other departments is incredibly valuable. If things are going well, you have the right person in the right job.
- Inside/outside support: Identify people inside and outside government that are willing to help you advance your agenda. Tom shared a Tom Sawyer analogy—recruit others to help paint your white picket fence and over time, you'll have a large percentage of the town doing the work.
- Effective communication to multiple audiences: If you want to get things done in government, you must be able to work with many different types of people and be willing to use different types of arguments and vocabulary depending on your audience.
As a soon-to-be-Wagner graduate, I’m still fairly new to the policy scene. Most of my policy-related experience has been as a parent advocate working to influence education policy at the local level. My recent blog post, New Haven Parents: A Case Study in the Promise of Open Government, will give you a sense of this work. Even from my limited experience, Tom’s advice rings true. I will carry his advice with me as I venture into the next phase of my work, aspiring to be a successful policy entrepreneur.