The next generation of government problem solvers

March 18

Henry Brady is the dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a keen observer of government and politics. He spoke about the role of the younger generation in government with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

Q. What do you see as the defining characteristics of the next generation of public policy leaders?

Credit: Peg Skorpinski
Credit: Peg Skorpinski

A. Our students in the public policy school have a good sense of the big problems facing the world. Their generation wants to work together to solve these problems. For instance in the energy field, our Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students have formed an organization which has been pushing for us to find ways to work across departments to help address problems like energy independence and climate change. This includes everyone from engineers and scientists to people in the arts and humanities.

They say, “Let’s look more broadly; let’s make sure that we’re doing things that can help solve the big problems.” They’ve also pushed us to create a Berkeley Food Institute that is concerned with the problems of sustainable and equitable provision of food.

Q. How do you hope your students will use their public policy education?

A. Our goal when educating public policy students is to give them the tools to innovate in government, and to make the government work even better than it does now. I think government in some arenas does an exceptional job, and there are arenas we’re not doing as well in as we should. We need to do better, and we really have to help our students figure out how to do better. We don’t want to be churning out people who can’t solve problems. I think all public policy schools are really concerned about improving the performance of government and proving to the American public that government really can do the job.

Q. What do you believe are the top challenges facing our federal government?

A. We obviously need to have a political system that’s more functional than the one that we have right now, so that’s really a problem and a concern. Going beyond that, we should start thinking about how we reform the civil service to provide a way to get people into government who want to be innovators. That means rethinking how we classify jobs so that we can pay market rates to people who have certain skills.

Q. Do you think that the younger generation should move between the public and private sectors during their careers?

A. Yes, and I think that we’re increasingly seeing this. We’ve done some work here at Berkeley and we’ve found that a very large number of people in the public, private and nonprofit sectors have moved from one place to another. This is increasingly what young people are doing, and it’s an important way in which the various sectors learn about and help one another. Expertise and knowledge is brought in from one sector to another sector, and that is very valuable. I think one of the most valuable leadership characteristics that a person can have is the ability to apply knowledge across sectors.

Q. How do you apply this concept on campus?

A. At Cal we have our public policy students take classes at the business school, and business school students come to take classes at the public policy school. The business people learn that, yes, government can be a nuisance at times, but on the other hand, government’s ground rules are essential for allowing the private sector to actually perform well. And government students come to understand that the private sector has tremendous innovation potential and tremendous capabilities to solve problems.

Read also:

Here’s how to reform civil service in America

Talking leadership with Georgetown’s president

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