Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, September 17, 2012

Chapman sees how sound analysis can help communities tackle problems

Anne Chapman


After graduating in May 2012, Anne Chapman joined the Public Policy Forum in Milwaukee as a researcher.

From Mali to Salt Lake City, Anne Chapman has seen the importance of well-informed, motivated community leadership — and the essential role a skilled analyst can play in sharing expertise about policy ramifications.

"Civic, business and political leaders are in a position to affect improvement and progress in their respective communities," says Chapman, a second-year student in the La Follette School's Master of Public Affairs degree program. "However, to address social problems and create positive change, a community and its leaders must have access to experts who can assess policy questions from multiple vantage points, distill the analysis, devise rational strategies, and communicate this understanding to policymakers and the public. I want to work for change in this expert capacity, and the La Follette School is giving me the tools to do so."

Chapman came to La Follette after working with the Peace Corps, the United Way in Salt Lake City and the Milwaukee County district attorney's office, experiences that influenced her decision to pursue an MPA at La Follette. "I applied to La Follette to gain a theoretical and practical understanding of how policy research and analysis influences our understanding of social problems, their root causes and their long-term solutions."

With interests that include criminal justice reform, economic well-being and income equality, and community-based responses to social problems, Chapman appreciates that the La Follette School's curriculum gives her flexibility to explore. "Because my policy interests range widely, my approach has been to use my La Follette training as a platform for building hard generalist skills such as statistics, policy analysis, benefit-cost analysis, program evaluation, and public finance and budgeting," she says.

Through the Peace Corps, Chapman developed skills in community mobilization and program capacity-building in a rural village in Mali, West Africa. She taught health and nutrition to women and basic literacy to girls, and she collaborated with village leaders to create a local health council. "I designed a culturally appropriate training program that integrated traditional channels for collective decision-making with more modern frameworks for villagers to learn how to build and motivate a team, conduct a community needs assessment, identify collective assets and set priorities for how to apply resources to enhance sanitation and village health," Chapman says. "The council took ownership of the process and outcomes, giving the entire village a renewed sense of power to improve their quality of life in a sustainable manner, independent of outside assistance."

Returning to the United States, Chapman joined the United Way of Salt Lake to build community partnerships around social welfare issues such as financial security and access to health care. She convened local leaders to define a community-owned agenda, implement collaborative programs and design systems for evaluating outcomes. "I was especially inspired by the opportunity to use survey data and academic research to highlight causes of social problems," Chapman says. "We brought together policymakers, local leaders and human service providers to use the analysis to respond to the community's most pressing needs."

While in Salt Lake City, Chapman earned a postgraduate certificate in conflict resolution that she put to use when she moved to Milwaukee and volunteered with the county district attorney's Community Conferencing Program as a victim-offender conference facilitator. The experience gave her new perspective on urban social problems, especially those related to poverty and inequality linked to race.

After she graduates in May, Chapman hopes to work as a policy analyst or program manager in a public-sector or non-profit agency. "Such a springboard, combined with my training at La Follette and experience in the nonprofit sector, will position me well to serve as a community leader in a variety of settings," she says.

Chapman has gotten a taste of analysis work through two internships. She spent the summer between her first and second years at La Follette with the Public Policy Forum in Milwaukee then joined the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau in the fall.

In both positions, Chapman has applied the technical skills and substantive knowledge she is gaining at La Follette. The internships also have given her insight into how practitioners tackle policy questions. "My writing must explore the tradeoffs of policies and programs among multiple goals in an extremely objective, nonpartisan tone. This requirement has sharpened my writing skills and allowed me to be a trusted, reliable resource across a wide political spectrum."

At the Public Policy Forum, a nonpartisan policy research organization that tracks government performance on issues affecting southeast Wisconsin, Chapman analyzed trend data on the performance, finances and enrollment of 50 public school districts. "The staff gave me broad discretion to expand the scope of this year's annual analysis to investigate sweeping changes in state education policy, including the hotly debated issue of using value-added statistical models of student performance to assess teacher effectiveness," Chapman says. "My La Follette training gave me the technical expertise to analyze value-added data and explain the policy implications of the statistical results. As a result of my work to deepen and expand the report's scope, the Public Policy Forum presented the findings to its membership of business and municipal leaders."

At the LAB, Chapman first reviewed economic development grants and loans that state agencies awarded. "I looked at state statutes, administrative rules and department policies to analyze whether state economic development funds really had the intended impact for Wisconsin taxpayers," Chapman says. "I also analyzed grant recipients and how state agencies held them accountable."

This spring, Chapman is working on the rehired annuitants audit. "This opportunity is exciting as the issues related to rehiring former public employees currently drawing pension benefits from the Wisconsin Retirement System have figured prominently in the press and the public eye recently," Chapman says. "This work is why I came to policy school, to provide evidence-based analysis for policymakers to use to enhance public accountability, make sound policy decisions, take appropriate legislative action and improve the overall way government serves its residents."

— article last updated September 17, 2012