Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, February 28, 2014

Winig shapes built environment to create better health outcomes

Ben Winig

Ben Winig is partnering with communities around the United States so people can lead healthier lives by making the healthy choice the easy choice.

As a senior staff attorney and program director at ChangeLab Solutions, the La Follette School alum provides legal and policy technical assistance to state and local elected officials, government agencies and community-based organizations. "I work at the intersection between the built environment and health to address critical public health challenges," says Winig, who completed a dual degree in law and public affairs in 2004.

Based in Oakland, California, ChangeLab Solutions aims to promote the common good by developing laws and policies that link all aspects of community life — housing, education, jobs, the economy, the environment — to healthy outcomes, Winig says. Many of its projects are funded by grants from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The job gives Winig the opportunity to use his legal and policy analysis skills, and to apply his background of public law and land-use planning that he developed while practicing municipal law with a private firm in Oakland. At the firm, he served as general counsel and assistant city attorney to public agencies in and around the Bay Area, and he regularly advised local government officials and public agency staff on land-use and zoning regulations, development and regulatory fees, open government, and conflicts of interest.

Winig joined ChangeLab Solutions in 2011. "Our office is an interdisciplinary team of lawyers, policy analysts, urban planners, and public health experts, all under one roof," Winig says. "We highly value our interdisciplinary approach to solve the nation's most pressing public health issues."

In helping communities look at how they can shape land-use regulations to improve health outcomes, Winig uses the skills he gained at the La Follette School. "I rely on those policy analysis skills to understand how different policies impact people's lives and to find ways to develop legal and policy solutions to improve health outcomes," he says.

"For example, I worked with a community to do a 'gaps analysis' to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the community's legal and policy landscape as it related to healthy eating and active living," Winig adds. "The community wanted to ensure that it had sufficient bike-pedestrian infrastructure so residents could actively commute to work, and children could walk and bike to school. The city also wanted to ensure that schools remain open and accessible to the community outside of school hours and during weekends so people have a safe place for recreation."

Winig came to Wisconsin after completing a bachelor's degree in social anthropology at the University of Michigan. The opportunity to earn a dual degree in public affairs and law steered him toward Madison, as did a fellowship offer. While a student he spent his summers engaged in a legal clerkship as well as domestic and international policy internships.

Winig previously served as a Jewish vote deputy director in Pennsylvania for President Obama's 2008 campaign and is now on the national board of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, a faith-based organization that champions equality and justice for disenfranchised residents of our nation.

With the position at ChangeLab Solutions, Winig is fulfilling the career goals he set when he decided to pursue degrees in public policy and law. "I am where I always wanted to be, working as a lawyer in the policy realm."