Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hartung develops analytical skills, methods

Adam Hartung


After graduating from the La Follette School in 2011, Adam Hartung joined the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families as a budget and policy analyst.

Curiosity about statistical methods brought Adam Hartung to the La Follette School. "I wanted to have a better understanding of how public policies are created and evaluated at a level higher than when I'm talking about a news story with friends," says the second-year Master of Public Affairs student.

"I want to understand the methods of policy analysis and how the data are used," he says. "

Advocacy is one way agencies use information and analysis, Hartung has found through working for Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, a nonprofit child and family advocacy organization. He started as an unpaid summer intern doing legwork and policy research. He also input some of the data for the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT national data collection. WCCF hired Hartung in the fall as a policy associate to research the barriers immigrants experience in getting health care. "It's been interesting to be inside an organization that is focused on a message and putting that message out," Hartung says. "It's not like a policy analysis or cost-benefit analysis course in which we look at a range of options."

Hartung further connected WCCF and the La Follette School when the deputy director asked Hartung about his cost-benefit analysis class taught by professor David Weimer. This fall, Hartung and his class are estimating the net benefits of making treatment within the juvenile justice system the default for Wisconsin's 17-year-olds who are convicted of a crime. In Wisconsin, 17-year-olds are considered adults for purposes of the prosecution of crime, so the default is prosecution and punishment within the adult system, not treatment within the juvenile justice system.

Hartung serves with the La Follette School Student Association as the student liaison to the faculty, which means he gets to attend faculty meetings. "It's sort of a behind-the-curtain view of the school," Hartung says, adding that he enjoys the insight into how the people who teach run the school. Hartung says that it has given him a new appreciation for the work that the faculty and staff do to maintain the quality of education that he receives at La Follette.

Prior to enrolling at La Follette, Hartung worked for a company that owns a 398-apartment complex on Madison's south side. "That experience gave me a grounding in reality of how people who are immigrants or day laborers live. I could see their issues, and now I have more insight into how public policy can affect certain groups."

The tenants, from whom he collected rent and sometimes evicted, keep coming to mind in his courses. "In program evaluation, we discussed the effect of a policy to take away people's drivers licenses if they don't pay their fines," Hartung says. "For people who live month to month, if they can't get to work because they lost their license, then they are going to take other actions, such as selling drugs or moving in with other people. They are going to get evicted. If the goal is to get people to pay their fines, then maybe taking away their drivers' licenses and making them unable to work is not the best policy."

Hartung's experience at La Follette has widened his understanding of the intricacies involved in the development of public policy. "The two statistics courses and program evaluation have opened up a new dimension for me," Hartung says. "I didn't know I would like it, and now I'm turning into a stats person. I've been pleasantly surprised."

Hartung graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science in 2008 from the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire then came to Madison when his wife was accepted into the physical therapy program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. They hope to stay in town once they graduate.

Hartung likes advocacy and social policy, yet he also can see himself working in a job that focuses on straight analysis. "I'm open to seeing what is available once I graduate in May," he says. "My goal is that, whatever job I'm in, I'll be able to understand the material someone hands me about a program evaluation, for example, to look at the research and judge its value."