Three students from the Rockefeller Center Policy Research Shop presented their findings on performance management systems to Gov. John Lynch, D-N.H., on May 10.
Amy Couture '14, Mike Danaher '13 and Tina Meng '14 presented two terms' worth of research to Lynch after traveling to Concord to present their policy brief to the New Hampshire Department of Safety. The brief, titled "Performance Measurement for State Governmental Agencies: Comparative Case Studies," was the first Policy Research Shop project to reach the governor's desk, Danaher said. Ben Schifberg '13 also contributed to the project, though he could not be present during the presentation because he did not take part in the Policy Research Shop and was off-campus in the winter, Schifberg said.
Couture, Meng and Schifberg originally started work for the project during Fall term as a part of their "Introduction to Public Policy Research" class. Their research started with a "narrow scope" that focused specifically on performance-based budgeting in the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in the Department of Safety, Couture said.
Students who took part in the class were assigned projects to work on by Vermont or New Hampshire legislatures or executives, Schifberg said. At the end of the course, they presented their results to committees in these legislatures.
Students worked as "middlemen" between the legislature and political officials, and did "an extensive amount of research" about their respective topics, Schifberg said.
"The research we conducted included over 20 case studies of different performance assessment systems across many states, and we also conducted many interviews with those in departments that use performance assessment systems," Danaher, who joined the project during Winter term, said.
During Winter term, when Couture, Danaher and Meng took part in Policy Research Shop, the project broadened in scope as a result of potential new legislation in the New Hampshire state legislature that would require performance measurement in all departments.
"The reason why it went up to the governor's level is that there's legislation backing all of our research," Meng said.
As a result, the students "took a step back and looked more broadly at the project," Couture said. They continued to do research and work with case studies from other states to illustrate their arguments, though doing so was difficult for a state as "unique" as New Hampshire that has no income or sales tax, she said.
The students did three case studies for each of seven divisions in the Department of Safety, which was a "massive project," according to public policy professor Benjamin Cole, the faculty mentor for the project.
At the end of Winter term, the three students presented their work to the senior staff of the Department of Safety, who were so impressed with their results that they recommended that Lynch speak with them, according to Couture.
During the presentation, the students recommended a "component of executive leadership" to ensure "authority and uniformity" in the way departments developed performance measurement systems, Couture said. Because the law being passed requires individual departments to develop these systems on their own, a centralizing system would be valuable, she said.
Lynch was "receptive" to the advice, and the presentation was a success overall, according to Couture.
"It was a pretty amazing experience, especially seeing where the project came from and where it ended up," Couture said.
After a 20-minute formal presentation to Lynch, the students sat down with him and answered more specific questions, Meng said,
"[Lynch] just wanted to learn more about what we had looked into and had concluded from our research," she said.
The "candid discussion" with Lynch and the "sophisticated questions" he asked demonstrated his interest in the students' presentation, Cole said.
"We talked about many aspects of our research such as the practical limitations of performance assessment and how much interaction with the legislature is required," Danaher said. "I think Lynch was pretty impressed that undergraduates could do the level of research and analysis that we completed over the past two terms. Being able to hold a professional conversation with him on such an important topic that involves state and national government was surreal and awesome."
Although they are not sure what kind of an effect their presentation will have on the governor's actions moving forward, Couture and Meng said they are interested in seeing what will happen in the future.
At the very least, the presentation was "definitely the way they got the ball rolling" in terms of looking into the issue of performance management systems in New Hampshire, Meng said.
The Rockefeller Center Policy Research Shop allows students to contribute to local Vermont and New Hampshire public policy by presenting non-partisan research to legislators on a variety of issues, according to the Rockefeller Center's website.
Rockefeller Center Associate Director and government professor Ronald Shaiko, who directs the Policy Research Shop, could not be reached for comment by press time.
Staff writer Diana Ming contributed reporting to this article.