Advancing International Scholarship and Public Administration Practice

~By Eric Einspruch
Senior Fellow, Center for Public Service, Portland State University
Adjunct Professor, Division of Public Administration, Portland State University
Principal, ELE Consulting, LLC

The fourth International Conference on Government Performance Management and Leadership was held in Lanzhou, Gansu, China from October 9–11, 2015. The conference, held every other year since 2009, brings together scholars and practitioners from across the globe in the field of performance management and is sponsored in part by Portland State University’s Hatfield School of GoLanzhou 1vernment. The conference convenes participants to discuss contemporary topics in public administration, with the purpose of proposing creative solutions for administrative systems reform and the improvement of government performance. This year’s conference theme was Rule of Law and Government Performance, particularly as it relates to increasing government trust and legitimacy.

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A wide variety of topics were covered during the conference, including topics related to governance, administration, management, civic participation, leadership, evaluation, and innovation. Presentations by PSU participants provided both academic and applied perspectives.

  • Ron Tammen addressed conference attendees during the opening ceremony, and later spoke about political performance and the strength of nations.
  • Lanzhou2Doug Morgan spoke about the current state of performance-based management, governance, and leadership and discussed implications for the future.
  • Gary Larsen provided insights into wicked problems, rule of law, and public value-based leadership.
  • Phil Keisling spoke about voter turnout when government delivers ballots to citizens rather than requiring citizens to go to polling places.
  • I provided insights into building evaluation capacity to enhance performance.

Post-conference, the PSU group further experienced Chinese culture by visiting Qinghai Lake and Ta’er Si (Kumbum Monastery), both in Qinghai Province. The province is large, sparsely populated, and located on the Tibetan plateau. Qinghai Lake, a salt lake, is the largest lake in the country and lies at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. Ta’er Si was built in the year 1560, on the site of the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in China, with dozens of halls in which monks live and practice.

I appreciated three aspects of our trip in particular. First, I had not been in China for many Horseyears, and so I was very interested to see first-hand the country’s considerable development since my last trip. For example, we experienced very comfortable travel on a high speed train and enjoyed its modern stations. Second, as a student at the Confucius Institute at PSU, I was pleased with the opportunity to practice my language skills in China. Third, and most relevant to CPS’ vision and mission, it was gratifying to see the contributions that PSU is making to advance international scholarship in the field of public administration through its role as a conference organizer and sponsor and through the presentations made by members of the PSU delegation. In his talk, Doug Morgan called for education that prepares leaders with leadership approaches that cultivate judgment, rather than simply training systems managers. This is a call to action needed around the world, and the conference provided participants with opportunities to learn new ideas and to think about ways to fulfill this call.

Lanzhou Group Pic 2 (LAKE)

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The Student Connection at CPS

by Sara Kuehlhorn Friedman

Students and the Center for Public Service go hand-in-hand.

CPS strives to connect theory to practice, promote public good, and search for solutions, and the organization is uniquely situated to reach these goals through drawing on the skills, experience, and interests of students in academic programs at Portland State University (PSU). CPS provides clients with a breadth of talent not easily found in the consulting world, while providing students learning opportunities and experience not found when limited to a classroom.

Massage sign

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks via Foter.com

When Professor Masami Nishishiba agreed to complete a study for the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy (OBMT) that focused on “Examining Reasons for License Non-Compliance among Asian-Pacific Islander Community Members” in the state of Oregon, she knew that assistance would be necessary. Most significantly, Nishishiba, who speaks Japanese and English, would need research assistants who could communicate with the Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Lao speakers who were the focus of the study. Connecting with the university’s student body was the perfect solution.

Nishishiba recruited four graduate students from the Hatfield School of Government and the School of Social Work: Anh P Nguyen, Lu Pang, Sirisak (Paulo) Laochankham, and Thitisak (Tony) Duadsuntia. The students’ language backgrounds matched Nishishba’s needs, but each student’s specific interest in and dedication to public service and social policy also made the research team what it needed to be. At the end of the project, we asked these students to share what they learned, and the results provide worthwhile insight into the value of working with students on CPS projects.

teamwork

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As can be expected, experiencing the research process and working as part of a team were benefits that all four students found valuable. The OBMT study involved qualitative research, which few students typically have the opportunity to experience beyond classroom discussion. Furthermore, the students learned to navigate the IRB process together; they also developed the survey, analyzed data, generated outcomes, and stated recommendations with Nishishiba’s guidance.

In addition to gaining a more developed sense of the research process and working as a team member in the research context, the students each expressed more direct—and more personal—effects that participating in the project had on them, including a fuller understanding of the value and importance of research more generally, a better understanding of equity and equality in the policy world, and a stronger awareness of strategies employed by individual immigrant groups in the Portland area.

Pang Quote

In describing her realization of the meaning and value of research, Nguyen states “I have learnt that research involves restraint.” Explaining further, Nguyen describes her new awareness of the importance of questioning assumptions and hypotheses. She knows now that there is no question too small because while working on a project, one really cannot tell where the process will lead. In the end, the students were surprised by the outcomes of the study, so learning to ‘stand back’ and allow the data to speak for itself was significant.

Students highlighted a second significant gain from working on the OBMT project, which is a deeper understanding of the challenges of equity and equality. Pang states “there is no such thing as small issues through the lens of social justice and equity.” This study revealed a number of challenges to licensing which are endemic to speakers of other languages in the Portland area, and students had the opportunity to ask the question: “In a just society, is equality enough?”

The benefit of facing tough questions about society in the context of a research project like the OBMT while continuing to consider similar questions in the classroom provides an excellent opportunity for students to explore topics significant to public service on a deeper level. Nguyen now believes that equal treatment erases our differences and promotes privilege, and that it does not really help everybody in society achieve success and their goals in life. With a more defined understanding of her values relating to equality, and with experience to support her point of view, Nguyen will enter the professional world with a level of confidence she wouldn’t have had without this research experience.

hand shake

Photo credit: nist6ss via Foter.com

Finally, all of the students emphasized that working with the South East Asian population in the Portland area was a unique and valuable experience on multiple levels. Laochankham pointed out that the team strategy required that they build personal relationships with interviewees. The team did this first by approaching the participants through their customers, but the research team found that the population was happy to share their experiences with massage licensing in Oregon.

As a result of their outreach, Duadsuntia said, students working on this project learned that different members of the South East Asian population employ different strategies to live in and adapt to the U.S. culture when migrating to the country. Furthermore, the team worked together so closely that they learned more about one another’s cultures as well.

The OBMT project exemplifies the ways in which students assist in achieving project goals otherwise very challenging without their unique backgrounds and skills. This example of connecting projects to students and students to projects is not unique at CPS. Indeed, most projects that come through the Center are completed with the assistance of students, which makes CPS an integral player in the education and training of future public servants.

~Symbolizing Core Values~

By Dan Vizzini, CPS Senior Fellow and Core Team Member

A few years ago, I retired from my position at the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services.  For 26 years, I had the great pleasure of serving the city and its citizens as a financial analyst, program supervisor, policy development specialist, assistant to a City Council member, and legislative and regulatory specialist.  My experiences at the City had a profound impact on my views about citizenship, public service, and the relationship between public policy goals and the interests and goals of Portland’s businesses and neighborhoods.  Much of that learning formed the basis of the work I do now at the Center for Public Service and JaLoGoMa (a training program for municipal government officers from all over Japan), where I focus on building a bridge between the theory and practice of public service and citizen engagement.

Vizzini 1

The story of the journey of discovery.

Late in 2011, when it came time to replace my old business card from the City of Portland with a personal business card, I thought deeply about my former public life and the core values that I wanted to carry forward into my private life.  One image was particularly powerful. It’s a graphic I developed to depict the journey that one takes from the discovery of a new idea, to planning and acting on the idea, and finally to sharing the idea and personal experience with others.  This image and the story of the journey of discovery became a powerful metaphor for my work on sustainable
development and green infrastructure.

My original sketch was inspired by the graphic representation of the Fibonacci Sequence, a sequence of numbers that was originally developed around 200 BC to help interpret the meter of Sanskrit poetry.  The Indian number series was eventually discovered and introduced into Europe in 1202 by the Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa (popularly referred to as Fibonacci).

Vizzini 2

The Fibonacci spiral.

At the heart of the Indian mathematics and Fibonacci’s Sequence is the notion of the Golden Ratio, or the proportions that repeatedly appear in the natural world: from the shape of the nautilus in sea life, to the spacing of adjacent leaves in plants, to the relationship between the length of the human forearm and the length of the human hand.    The Gold Ratio (1:1.618) represents the aesthetic balance in living things; a balance that has been emulated and reflected in the highest forms of human art and architecture.

So when I was searching for a symbol to add to my personal business card, I found myself returning, again and again to Fibonacci and the symbolism of the spiral.  The shape is meaningful on multiple levels.  It represents the human search for balance, order, and beauty, and a need to harmonize our lives with the natural world on which our lives depend.  It represents a journey of discovery that begins with “discovery,” leads to a process of inquiry and learning followed by planning and action, and concludes with sharing the experience with others in a way that drives new opportunities for discovery.  And finally, the expanding nature of the spiral from a single point represents an expansion of human knowledge, understanding, and experiences that result from a human journey of discovery.

Vizzini 3With all of these ideas in mind, I began a search for an image that I could use on my personal business card.  A number of attractive images were readily available on the Internet.  But in the end I settled on a photograph I took in a shop full of fossils and rocks in Seattle, Washington.  There, in the middle of the shop, was an Ammonite fossil, roughly 1.2 meters tall and .8 meters wide.  The fossil perfectly illustrated the Golden Ratio, and the nautilus shape reflected my spiral representation of the journey of discovery.

A few years after I incorporated the spiral image into my business card, I found myself returning to the image to use as a symbol or totem for JaLoGoMa.  It seemed only natural to do so since I had begun to use the image to illustrate many of JaLoGoMa’s foundational principles of civic engagement and the co-production of public goods.  Highly stylized, the image I chose presents a modern abstraction of the natural nautilus form.  The rounded shape and bold red color intentionally mimic the Japanese rising sun.  And to the form, I added a personal admonition for public servants and citizens to act with courage, perseverance and passion on behalf of humanity and the well being of all living things.

Vizzini 4

JaLoGoMa Symbol

I have no doubt that what has evolved into a strong and meaningful symbol for public service work will continue to provide me and those I work with a reminder of our core values. Identifying and working with a symbol has only strengthened my understanding of the importance of the work we do in public service, as it serves as a constant reminder. If you haven’t taken the time to explore your own values in this way, consider doing so!

~ Promoting Sustainability and Energy Conservation in Smaller Cities and Counties in Oregon~

By David Rouse & Ed Gallagher, Senior Fellows, Center for Public Service

CPS Senior Fellows, David Rouse and Ed Gallagher, along with two MPA students, led a project through PSU’s Center for Public Service to assist small cities and counties in lowering their carbon foot print and reducing their energy consumption through the use of sustainability practices.

energy2Funded by NW Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), the project looked at best practices in sustainability nationwide and then narrowed the focus to smaller communities and jurisdictions that might otherwise not engage in developing a sustainability plan. Smaller cities and counties typically do not have the staff expertise or budget to undertake a comprehensive approach to energy conservation.

Through a selection process, two Oregon cities (Independence and Albany) and one county (Yamhill County) were chosen for the project. To facilitate the process, a CPS team traveled to each jurisdiction for the purpose of developing an internal staff team to work in conjunction with CPS.  Four key areas were identified to focus efforts: facilities, operations, purchasing, and fleet.

Lessons Learned

  1. Each jurisdiction is unique in how they consume energy therefore a one size fits all does not work.

While there are commonalities among public agencies, each jurisdiction provided unique services. For example, Albany had responsibilities for running a public swimming pool with an antiquated boiler system, increasing their energy use. Yamhill County was responsible for jail services and had high energy use (water/heat) related to inmate use. While high energy use is common in these two examples, the solutions to each of the problems are very different.

  1. If you can’t measure it, you can’t reduce it.

Step one: consolidate your energy bill. Surprisingly, when asked, most agencies cannot state what their total energy usage is. This is because monthly billings come to multiple departments within the jurisdiction; energy costs are not typically quantified in one bill. Energy1Each department is responsible for paying their own portion of the total bill, and when looked at in total, most agencies are shocked at how much they pay out in total. However, without awareness of the total usage, there is little an organization can do to reduce usage.

  1. Energy usage should be looked at as a manageable expense.

Most agencies assume their energy costs will go up each year and budget accordingly.  When looking at expense from a sustainability and conservation standpoint, it is important to identify where your agency consumes energy—from lowest to highest—and develop a plan to reduce use where it is most cost effective. In most cases, energy usage can be reduced, not increased; hence, saving precious budget resources.

Rouse, Gallagher, and the rest of the CPS team developed comprehensive sustainability and energy conservation plans for each jurisdiction. The plans identified short term and long term projects for each agency that had potential for reducing energy usage. Also included in the plans were financing alternatives that identified potential grant funding and/or low interest loans for projects that focused on energy conservation.

Final reports are available at https://www.pdx.edu/cps/profile/sustainable-municipal-operations-final-report-albany-independence-and-yamhill.

For more information contact David Rouse at, drouse@pdx.edu, or Ed Gallagher at mpgnorthwest@gmail.com.