Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, June 6, 2011

Lightbourn heads research institute

George Lightbourn

As president of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, alum George Lightbourn leads the nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization as it works to engage and energize Wisconsinites and others in discussions and timely action on key public policy issues critical to the state's future, growth and prosperity.

A former senior fellow and executive vice president of WPRI, Lightbourn became president in early 2009. After earning his master's degree in 1976 from the Center for the Study of Public Policy and Administration, a La Follette School predecessor, Lightbourn worked for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Department of Administration. He served as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration under two governors. "I began as a halftime analyst and have 22 years of state government service all together," he says.

In addition, Lightbourn has acted as a trustee for many nonprofit groups in the Midwest, including the Wisconsin Investment Board, the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority Board, and CMC Heartland Partners in Chicago. He chairs the Monona Community Development Authority and sits on the board of WCA Services Inc.

Lightbourn has shared his experience and insight with La Follette School students throughout his career, often through courses taught by Paul Soglin. "Serving as a mentor helps to attract the best possible students to careers in public service," Lightbourn says. "Those of us in public service have an obligation to give the students a look behind the curtain of government."

La Follette School student Nathaniel Inglis Steinfeld worked with Lightbourn in the summer of 2009 as an intern, researching Virginia's higher education governance as part of a WPRI study that promotes greater autonomy and accountability for the 150,000-student University of Wisconsin System. "Nate worked closely with a senior fellow in fleshing out an important issue — an alternative relationship between the UW System and state government," Lightbourn says, "that exemplifies the way that a little bit of creative thought and shoe leather can make a significant change in public policy."

That project exemplifies Lightbourn's goal for WPRI "to produce sound, nonpartisan, respected research that will influence the way in which government operates." The institute emphasizes that competitive free markets, limited government, private initiative and personal responsibility are essential to a democratic way of life. Its research and public education identify and promote public policies in Wisconsin that are fair, accountable and cost effective, Lightbourn says.

La School School graduates play an important role in evaluating these public policies, Lightbourn notes. "La Follette School alumni provide the intellectual and managerial backbone for state government," he says. "Further, the analytic approach learned at the school provides a background that is equally valued in the public and private sectors. Knowing how to assemble a working budget or implement a strategic plan is a valuable skill in any setting."

People can make an impact by working in public service, Lightbourn says. "While the world seems to relish a noisy partisan argument, thoughtful, often contrarian analysis is much more rewarding and will likely lead one to a better career path.  I have never accepted anything at face value."

Student contributes to university accountability study, January 6, 2011, La Follette School News

—article last updated June 6, 2011