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Meet Our Fellows: Robert Durant

Fellow Spotlight

By: Robert Durant

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Who or what inspired you to work in public service?

I was inspired to study and do research on public service initially when I watched my father, who was a small business person, trying to deal with government regulations, meet payrolls, and make a profit. I wondered who was responsible for all those regulations, if they had any experience in the private sector they were regulating (other than in law firms), and what factors prompted agencies to do what they did. That interest led me in graduate school to study the political economy of public agencies, how well public agencies themselves complied with the regulations they issued, and the role of public servants in a democratic republic. I came away from a 35-year career in academia with a great respect and admiration for public service.

What is your favorite class you have ever taught or took and why?

My favorite class to teach was a graduate course--Public Administration and Democracy. I wanted MPA students to understand and embrace what an important role they would play in, what John Rohr called, helping to run a Constitution. My favorite graduate course was one on policy implementation. The emphasis the professor took was on elaborating what Eugene Bardach called a "dirty minded" perspective to policy making and implementation--i.e., on what, why, and how policy makers' proposals could go wrong. He also emphasized that all policy is a hypothesis to be tested (if we do x, y will result). So implementation was not about control, but on learning (i.e., on what to prefer as policy is refined over the years).

What advice can you give to folks beginning careers in public service?

Assuming your interested in eventually becoming leaders, I'd offer four things that you can't begin doing too early. First, have humility in the face of complex problems, policy, and organizational issues. The old adage that simple solutions are usually simply wrong holds true. Second, listen. Gather as much information as possible about the mission, political economy, and the organizational essence of your agency and the networks it operates in. Third, think in time. This means understanding how the history of your organization, its partners, and its networks affects their present and future possibilities. This also means having patience. Finally, network within professional organizations to share your knowledge with others and to tap into their knowledge.

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