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Public Policy Lessons From Mat-Su to Mongolia

May 17, 2023
Dr. John Duffy Dr. John Duffy

A key lesson for students of public policy is the importance of developing relationships – at home, across the aisle, and even across the globe.

Dr. John Duffy, term professor of public policy at the College of Business and Public Policy, draws on his own local and international experiences to give UAA students real-world examples. He has taught in the public policy program since 2016, offering courses in public policy analysis, public budgeting, organizational behavior, and natural resources policy management.

Duffy worked for over 20 years with the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough, 10 of which were as Borough Manager. This background in local government, over 30 years, provides a reality check – and strategic tips – for students eager to enact rapid policy change. “I tell my students, if you want to accomplish anything of significance, it typically takes seven years.” As an example, he worked for five years on a comprehensive plan for a Mat-Su community before it gained traction. “There was all kinds of opposition at first. So we did surveys, talked to people, gave space, used local knowledge. Then all of a sudden, they were literally banging on my door to get it approved.”

While he’s proud of his accomplishments in the Mat-Su Borough, even more satisfying is the work he’s done overseas. Duffy has visited 35 countries, served as a consultant for the Okakarara local government in Namibia, and has worked extensively in Mongolia.

Duffy’s Mongolia experience began by volunteering with the Open Society Forum on strategic planning and civil society measures. Then he started lecturing and teaching at the National University of Mongolia (NUM), slowly building a relationship between NUM and UAA. He has also sponsored students from Mongolia to come to the University of Alaska Fairbanks for doctoral work.

His efforts have been acknowledged at the highest levels of Mongolian government. In 2021, President Khaltmaagiin Battulga awarded him the Nairamdal (Friendship) Medal. This medal is the highest honor bestowed upon a foreign national by the Mongolian government and is solely given to those individuals who have contributed greatly to strengthening the collaboration and friendship between their country and Mongolia and the contribution to the development of the country through their work.

Dr. John Duffy in Mongolia

Additionally, Duffy has been named a TOP Partner at the School of International Relations and Public Administration (SIRPA) of the National University of Mongolia due to his mentorship and sponsorship of the program. While other organizations have been named TOP Partners, Duffy is the only individual to have received this award. “We congratulate you on this award and express our sincere gratitude to your invaluable support,” wrote Dr. Baasanjav Ganbaatar, Head of the Public Administration Department for SIRPA.

From Mat-Su to Mongolia, Duffy has built relationships and gathered wisdom that directly benefits UAA students of public policy. He encourages others to visit other places too. “Some foreign travel should be a requirement for US citizenship so we can learn that everyone wants a roof over our heads, food to eat and a better life for our kids.”

We can also learn a lot about how we each approach challenges, he said. “We live in a global society and global economy. Everyone is dealing with the same kind of issues: how do you remove waste, where does our drinking water come from, what does urban design look like, how to solve poverty and deal with homelessness.”

When you interact with people in different areas of the world and see how they deal with these issues, you might find a novel approach. “A solution may have been in practice for hundreds of years, but if it’s new to you, it’s an innovation. You can find these innovations all over the world.”