Fall 2016: Winning in the End Game with Ron Gibbs
Creating and implementing public policy is not a precise science. Ron Gibbs, Professor at Loyola University for the past five years and nationally recognized as an expert in public policy, knows this better than anyone. With decades of experience in the public and private sectors and a track record of implementing successful public affairs and public relations campaigns, Gibbs has learned that implementing any new public policy is a dynamic process. He has worked in high level executive public policy positions for Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, the Department of Health & Human Services, the National Association of Counties in D.C., and major non-profit organizations including Feeding America and UNICEF in New York. His experiences inspired him to develop a roadmap to help others navigate any political environment, meshing theory and practice to develop viable strategies and tactics to master the art of winning in the endgame.
“In dealing with many different policy initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels, I quickly learned that different strategies and tactics had to be utilized because the circumstances surrounding each policy issue was uniquely different.”
Gibbs successfully used this feasibility model in several major policy issues over the years, including the effort to pass legislation establishing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The model allowed Gibbs to track progress and model a path to win in the endgame. This required compromise, re-messaging, and a shift in strategy due to the changing political environment.
“At the time, Congress and public opinion were completely against any memorial because we had lost the war and the American people wanted to forget about the conflict. The objective for creating a memorial was to recognize with honor the more than 58,000 soldiers killed in Vietnam and restore dignity to military service. The strategy was to build a bi-partisan national coalition and change public opinion in order to gain passage of the bill through Congress.”
The feasibility model developed by Gibbs gave structure to an otherwise fluid and complicated process, allowing the coalition to overcome roadblocks put in place by the opposition. Today, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of the most visited memorials in the Nation’s Capital.
The opportunity arose again use his feasibility model, this time at the local level, while Gibbs worked for Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. This was during the era of radical federal cuts imposed by President Reagan on cities across the country, and the City of Chicago needed a viable plan in response to those cuts.
“Tracking through the feasibility model, we had to develop a national public awareness campaign, grassroots organize and mobilize key members of Congress to stave off substantial cuts to America’s cities.”
Gibbs worked with Mayor Washington to build a coalition with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, and many other national public interest groups. What resulted was a National Urban Agenda.
The successful implementation of the feasibility model created an opportunity for Gibbs to market and teach the model to those in the private and public sectors. Gibbs is now President of National and International Public Affairs Consulting (NIPAC) and provides strategic counsel to local governments, businesses and non-profits on public policy, legislative affairs, coalition building and crisis communications. He also conducts seminars for corporate and non-profit executives on developing successful public awareness and advocacy campaigns. Some of the organizations that have participated in the various seminars and education programs presented by Gibbs include: the Alzheimer’s Association, Red Cross, Abbott Labs, the AARP, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, MacArthur Foundation, and Chicago Public Schools.
In 2011 Gibbs became a Lecturer at Loyola University for the Masters in Public Policy Program, where he teaches Political Feasibility Analysis: Winning Strategies in Public Policy.
“A major challenge in teaching political feasibility analysis is getting individuals to become strategic thinkers in understanding that implementing public policy is not a precise science. It is an art form that requires being adept at changing strategies and tactics when the political environment shifts negatively, risks increase, the opportunity diminishes and your power begins to erode.”
According to Gibbs, teaching the feasibility model requires retrospective analysis of policies to determine why some policies succeed and others fail. He helps students learn lessons from historical precedents and then uses those insights to prospectively chart a strategic course using the feasibility model, and to develop a plan of action for implementing new policies at all levels of government.
Gibbs encourages his students to pursue government and advocacy work at the local and state levels as he believes this is where the most opportunities exist to have a real impact on program implementation and policy development.
“From my own experience, working at the City government level can be very rewarding and valuable work that impacts directly on people’s lives. As legislative affairs director for the City of Chicago, it was very gratifying for me to work with City departments to better educate members of Congress on how federal programs helped improve the quality of life for the people of Chicago. Working together, we were able to measure program outcomes with solid data and research. This enabled me to better inform and mobilize members of Congress on housing, education, economic development and other programs that demonstrated a real impact on the people of Chicago.”
Ron Gibbs received a Master's Degree from Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government and a BA in Political Science from Drake University. He has studied at The Hague Academy of International Law, London School of Economics and Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies.
Spring 2016: MUAPP Professor has a Unique Perspective on City's Finances
Public finance involves complex processes. As Professor Jill Mason Terzakis teaches in her Public Budgeting and Finance course, there are many different roles that influence the financial condition of governments. Terzakis understands this better than most- she has played nearly every role at some point in her career. This makes her uniquely qualified to understand the crisis facing our city and our state. Her conclusion: there is hope!
Terzakis prepared for a career in the public finance world in the only logical way- by studying English Literature with a specialty in Education at Lake Forest College. But, as fate would have it, she started her career at Nuveen Investments where she discovered that she had an interest in – and a knack for – financial analysis and public policy. At Nuveen, she worked as a Municipal Bond Analyst and has worked in finance ever since. Her career path led her to serve as Assistant Commissioner in the City of Chicago’s Department of Housing and then back into the private sector, first as a fiscal watchdog at the Civic Federation of Chicago, then as a financial analyst for Scott Balice Strategies and, most recently, as an independent financial consultant and an instructor.
Since serving at the City of Chicago, Terzakis has focused on policy at each step of her career. She explains that her role as a government official was in many ways very similar to her role as a financial advisor- the objective is to improve financial outcomes and advance public policy goals. In this process, she says, “the goals of the client should be the goals of the advisor. One critical difference, however, is that as a private consultant, I was able to dedicate greater attention to specific problems than when I served at the City, where I was pulled in many directions every day.”
Eventually, Terzakis reentered the academic realm and began pursuing her Ph.D. at University of Illinois Chicago. Here, her work on state and local budgeting and finance continues in a different form. The theoretical understanding that Terzakis has gained, she says, “truly does help to provide frameworks for understanding processes that may otherwise seem chaotic.”
In 2011 she used her considerable insight into the public budget to co-author an article entitled, "The Great Recession's Impact on the City of Chicago's Budget". This paper, published in the Municipal Financial Journal, took an in-depth, unbiased look at the effect of the Great Recession on Chicago and steps taken by the city to alleviate the hardship.
“While it is difficult to say whether the situation was avoidable,” Terzakis says about the current fiscal crisis, “it is safe to say that had the City been able to take some of the measures available [during the Great Recession], it may have been able to mitigate the current fiscal problems.”
Having investigated public finance from many viewpoints, Terzakis understands better than most that the dire situation facing our great city requires, as she says, “tough choices and difficult trade-offs.” This doesn’t mean, however, that a solution is impossible. In fact, Terzakis is full of hope for the future of our city. She has been teaching courses in finance and policy since 2005. Every year, she envisions a future shaped by her students and her outlook becomes more optimistic.
“Each time I teach the budget and finance course, students come up with creative – and often quite feasible – ideas about how to improve the financial condition of state and local government,” Terzakis says. “It reminds me that financial sustainability is within the realm of possibility."