Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part VI: Finding Resources to Support Implementation or Learning from Defeat

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Our post-election public policy process journey concludes today with a piece on finding resources to support implementation or learning from defeat.

This series began by making the case for engaging students in the public policy process. Then, students are asked to define the problem they are seeking to address and explore possible policy alternatives that address both symptoms and root causes. Next, who in government can help solve the identified problem? These decision-makers must be persuaded and work within institutions with established calendars, a civics lesson in its own right. The media must be engaged throughout and viewed as a potential ally in student advocacy efforts.

Assuming success, it’s important to note that public policy wins are equivalent to battles, not the entire war. More than anything, they represent opportunities to get it right, as implementation is everything.

We live in a world of limited resources, and governments are more fiscally constrained than ever before in our lifetimes. This challenge is particularly pronounced in Illinois as we operate in a second year without a full budget, billions of unpaid bills (see below), not to mention an underfunded pension to the tune of twelve figures.

Source: Civic Federation

Both the Civic Federation and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability provide excellent analysis of Illinois’ dire fiscal straits paired with potential paths forward. Their work and this issue must serve as a backdrop for policy advocacy in Illinois, as there’s a reasonable allergy to unfunded mandates hoisted upon local government, schools, and residents.

Yet it takes financial resources to support policy implementation, necessitating creativity in crafting plans to “preserve victory.” For example, our #CivicsIsBack campaign constitutes a public-private partnership, with funds derived from Chicago-based foundations and corporations supporting our institutional partners, civic education organizations, and teacher mentors in a combination to deliver high-quality professional development opportunities and classroom resources to teachers, schools, and districts statewide.

Shifting gears, it’s quite possible that students’ advocacy efforts end in defeat in spite of them sticking to the script we’ve provided. Defeat represents a teachable moment and hopefully a chance to redouble efforts, accounting for lessons learned, in a later policy campaign.
  • Are there small victories that can be extracted like raising visibility or an issue or establishing key legislative contacts?
  • What allies must be cultivated in order to build a winning coalition?
  • And how critical is timing to success?
It’s important not to allow students’ frustration to stymie future engagement. Encourage them to keep their heads held high, and remind them that politics is a “long game.”

This constitutes our final post for 2016. Thanks for reading the IllinoisCivics blog, sharing it on social media, and for the hard work you do in the trenches to ensure that #CivicsIsBack now and forever. Wishing you and yours the very best during this holiday season and we look forward to seeing you back here in January as we renew our collective commitments to students’ civic development.

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