Getting Your Arms Around the Problem: James Lewis shares advice from his distinguished public service career

Evaluation Lab News

Posted: Mar 12, 2021 - 12:00am

James Lewis, a member of the MPP’s Community Advisory Board, is a treasure trove of policy career information. He has worked in government for four decades and was the first African American elected to a statewide office in New Mexico. Some of the highlights from his distinguished career include serving as: State Treasurer for over 13 years, Chief of Staff for Governor Bruce King from 1990-1994, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy from 1999-2001, and, currently, Mayor Keller’s Senior Advisor for Public Safety.

Mr. Lewis discussed the intricacies of how federal, state and local governments impact ordinary people, and how policy is important at every level and in every issue government faces. Policy needs are constantly changing, and government needs people with expertise in all different areas, not only to draft and analyze the policies, but also to communicate to the public. Every issue, from paving roads in an area of town to early childhood education for the entire state to oil and gas policy, all require policy analysts that are willing to listen, understand and communicate the issues. Mr. Lewis explained that all the policy people in government need to be able to come up with strong arguments in order to convince not only the elected officials of a policies merits but the community as well.

Mr. Lewis also shared that along with understanding the process, you need to really “get your arms around the problem,” in order to develop effective policies. First you need to identify what all the issues are, including the history of how we have come to be where we are. Next, you need to know what the core values or main goal of the policy is. Then, and most importantly, you need to communicate to everyone involved and define all the terms, so everyone is on the same page. Mr. Lewis emphasized the importance of communicating with all stakeholders. “An effective policy process,” he said, “is a dialogue, not a monologue.”