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A University of Wisconsin Oshkosh initiative hopes to improve local governments by focusing on the people who work for them.

Leaders at the Whitburn Center for Governance and Policy Research at UWO were informed this summer that the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership will fund its $65,000 project, Modernizing the Local Government Workforce: A Next Generation Initiative.

Michael Ford

Michael Ford, associate professor of public administration and director of the Whitburn Center, noted that human capital is both the most important and most expensive resource in Wisconsin local government. Ford is the principal investigator on the project.

The 2020 U.S. Census showed there were 183,066 fulltime state and local government employees serving throughout the state—ranging from the administrators overseeing operations of incorporated municipalities to frontline workers responsible for public safety, sanitation and public works.

“The quality of our local governments is directly related to the quality of the public servants working within each agency,” the project summary said. “Yet, there remains limited study of how best to train, recruit and lead local government employees in a changing political and economic landscape in Wisconsin.”

The Whitburn Center research is intended to provide a “roadmap” for recruiting, training and managing a modern public sector workforce. Samantha Larson, assistant professor of public administration and deputy director of the Whitburn Center, will serve as a co-principal investigator on the project.


Ford said three major changes will be explored that impact human capital in Wisconsin: the state’s 2011 Act 10 that fundamentally changed the relationship between employees and management, the turnover and staffing shortages in positions throughout Wisconsin, and the increasing demands to make equity an actionable concept in local government by diversifying the workforce.

“Our team will engage with each of Wisconsin’s 677 municipalities to explore all three of these challenges and offer practical solutions that can be immediately applied,” he said, adding they will distribute the roadmap and recommendations through presentations available to statewide leaders in rural, suburban and urban contexts. “The goal is to foster a workforce that increases the effectiveness of local governments across Wisconsin.”

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