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Nothing About Us Without Us: Bringing Diverse Perspectives to Public Policy Research

April 24, 2019 12:30 PM

By John Martinez, APPAM Vice-President

In my first APPAM Leadership Blog post, I could introduce an issue I care so much about by citing a string of peer-reviewed journal articles or presenting a slew of statistics (I am a researcher after all!). Instead, I wanted to offer my personal reflections on diversity in the field of public policy, and to highlight what APPAM and some APPAM member institutions are doing to increase the number of traditionally underrepresented people in the world of public policy and public management analysis and research.

The mantra “nothing about us without us” became a rallying cry for the disability rights movement in the 1990s as advocates successfully argued that public policy development should include the voices of those directly affected by the policy choices being made. Since then, this simple yet powerful statement has motivated a broad range of people who feel that policies that affect their communities must take into consideration their experiences and perspectives.

Many aspects of public policy development intersect with the lives of people and communities that are traditionally underrepresented in our field, including but certainly not limited to low-income communities of color. Informing the development and implementation of these policies is what many of us within APPAM engage in through our analysis and research. But what are we doing to ensure that our field includes these diverse voices and perspectives?

I am proud of the APPAM community for addressing diversity in the field of public policy head on. For example, the APPAM Policy Council supported the creation of the APPAM Equity and Inclusion Fellowship in 2016. This fellowship provides an opportunity for Master’s and PhD-level students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds to attend the Fall Research Conference. Our hope is to introduce recipients to the world of public policy and to APPAM, and to foster a lifelong affiliation and engagement with both. Thus far, we have supported three rounds of fellows — well over 100 students — and plan to offer another 40 fellowships to this fall’s conference. Head here to learn more — and, for our academic institutional members, please encourage your students to apply.

More recently, APPAM created a “camp” for undergraduates traditionally underrepresented in our field to get them excited about pursuing public policy as a career option. APPAM member institutions play an important role by hosting these one-day immersive experiences that show undergrads the many exciting ways that they could be involved in public policy. Our hope is that this program will increase the pipeline of diverse students into graduate public policy and public affairs schools. You can learn more about this program and how to host a camp here.

I am also proud of what APPAM institutional members are doing to encourage diversity in the field. My own organization, MDRC, sponsors the Judith Gueron Minority Scholars Program, which provides opportunities for underrepresented students — undergraduate, Masters and PhD — to experience what it is like to work at a policy research organization. The Urban Institute created and hosted The Academy for Public Policy Analysis and Research, an intense summer program targeting undergraduates from diverse backgrounds. Since then, Lynette Rawlings, who led this work at Urban Institute, has created The Policy Academies to expand and scale the program. And Mathematica Policy Research recently hosted a well-attended forum, Nothing About Us Without Us: How the Need for Cultural Responsiveness is Changing Research.

APPAM has also been a major sponsor of the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program, which has long sought to increase diversity in public service. Many APPAM member schools are part of the PPIA Graduate School Consortium, and APPAM institutional member the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, is PPIA’s national office host.
I could go on and on describing the great work that many APPAM member institutions are doing to focus on diversity and inclusion. While there is a lot more to do, I think that all of these efforts are a step in the right direction. I hope that we will soon see the day when “nothing about us without us” becomes less of a rallying cry and more the status quo.

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