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Rakesh Mohan and Maureen Brewer on Successfully Navigating Through the Political Maze

Greetings from beautiful Boise!  We are Rakesh Mohan and Maureen Brewer from the Idaho legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations. Our post complements previous posts by Dawn Smart (8-30-11) and Tessie Catsambas (9-18-11).

Last year, we were asked to evaluate the governance of EMS agencies in Idaho because there were concerns about the duplication of and gaps in emergency medical services and a lack of clarity about the jurisdiction of EMS agencies.  To address these concerns, we offered a framework for the legislature to begin a policy debate that will help establish an effective system of EMS governance that places patient care as the top priority.

This project challenged us to step out of our familiar state agency-level evaluation environment and try to understand the divergent needs and values of stakeholders at the local government level and how local interests aligned with state interests.  Stakeholders in the study included the legislative and executive branches of state government; associations of cities, counties, fire chiefs, hospitals, fire commissioners, volunteer fire, and professional firefighters; several county and city governments; and many local EMS agencies.

Lessons Learned: The saying “all politics is local” was truly evident in this study.  We had to devote considerable time—more than the time we usually spend on evaluations involving only state-level stakeholders—understanding the issues and associated politics specific to each stakeholder.  The local level is where the impact of a policy is directly felt by citizens who are not too far away from their city halls and county offices should they need to express their dissatisfaction.  The fact that the state’s role and authority are limited at the local level further added complexity to our study.  We had to clearly understand what the state can and cannot do and what would or would not be well received at the local level.

Hot Tips

  1. Evaluators competent in evaluation design and analytical methods will still need to get the cooperation and buy-in from all stakeholders to successfully manage politics without participating in it.
  2. Evaluators should remain transparent by apprising stakeholders of the evaluation plan and methods and assuring them that there will not be any surprises.
  3. Instead of making prescriptive recommendations that may get lost in a lengthy political turf battle, evaluators can sometimes add value to the public policy process by simply offering a framework for decision makers to begin a meaningful policy debate.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Want to learn more on this topic? Attend their session “Whom Does an Evaluation Serve? Aligning Divergent Evaluation Needs and Values” at Evaluation 2011.  aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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