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An Engineer’s Guide to Influencing Public Policy

J. Paul Guyer, P.E., R.A., Fellow ASCE, Fellow AEI

Course Outline

I.  An overview of legislative processes

            A.  A typical state legislative process
            B.  The federal legislative process

II.  Why public policymakers are different from you and me
            A.  Linear- and non-linear thinkers
            B.  The hierarchy of people
            C.  Logical and emotional arguments
            D.  The hierarchy of people
            E.  The two most important words in public policy

III.  Be issue-focused

            A.  Find issues and positions that can be winners
            B.  Establish alliances
            C.  Form single-issue entities to pursue objectives

IV.  Money is the root of all politics

            A.  How much money is needed to be a public policy player?

            B.  Where to get it

                        1.  Alliance partners
                        2.  Bargaining units?

            C.  Where to invest it

                        1.  Know who has the power
                        2.  Why your local legislator may not be a good investment

V.  The role of legislative staff

VI.  Committee hearings

            A.  Decisions are never made in public hearings
            B.  Nevertheless, a convincing presentation is important

                        1.  Attention span
                        2.  Presentations should be emotional, not logical
                        3.  The role of handouts

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

At the conclusion of this course, the students will:

Intended Audience

Anyone in the construction and infrastructure industries interested in influencing public policymakers will find this seminar valuable.  This includes….

            Civil, Structural, Mechanical and Electrical Engineers
            Local public works and infrastructure officials

Benefit for Attendee

You will learn the “rules” of the public policy game, and how to play within those rules….

The Rules of the Game

You will learn the fundamental difference between linear thinkers and non-linear thinkers and why it is critical to understand this when undertaking to influence public policy makers.  You will learn about the hierarchy of people so you will know who can and cannot help you to achieve your objectives.  And this understanding will lead you to learn the two words that must guide everything you do in the public policy arena.

How to Play the Game

You will learn the fundamentals of picking your issues and distinguishing between winners and losers.  You will learn the importance of single-issue entities and the importance of establishing alliances to pursue them cooperatively.  And you will learn why you need to focus your resources and efforts on those policy makers who have the power to help you achieve your objectives….and not waste them on policy makers who are not in a position to move your agenda forward.  You will also learn about techniques such as “emotional arguments” and “handouts” that will not win your case but will help you to win it.

Course Introduction

It is impossible to influence public policy without a realistic appreciation of the interpersonal dynamics of legislative and other government bodies.  This course will tell you how engineers need to approach public policy makers if they want to be effective and persuasive.  It is from the perspective of a professional engineer who spent nine years as a principal staff member for the California Legislature responsible for making recommendations to the Members on infrastructure issues.  In this capacity he prepared reports to the Membership, testified before legislative committees, and provided one-on-one information and recommendations to Members, committee staff and lobbyists.  In earlier years, he was also active in the governmental affairs programs of engineering organizations in California.  His experience runs contrary to some of the conventional wisdom in the engineering and construction community, and projects dim prospects for engineers to influence public policy unless the profession adopts a realistic approach to dealing with policymakers.  Although presented from the perspective of state government, the seminar is equally applicable to the profession’s interests at the local and federal levels.

About Course Author

Paul Guyer is a registered mechanical engineer, civil engineer, fire protection engineer and architect with over 35 years experience in the design of buildings and related infrastructure.  For an additional 9 years he was a senior-level advisor to the California Legislature on infrastructure and capital outlay issues.  He has designed and supervised the design of hundreds of construction projects requiring the preparation of detailed working drawings and specifications for federal, state and local public agencies and private companies.  He is a graduate of Stanford University and has held numerous national, state and local positions with the American Society of Civil Engineers and National Society of Professional Engineers.

Course Content

The course content is contained in the following PDF file:

An Engineer’s Guide to Influencing Public Policy

Please click on the above underlined hypertext to view, download or print the document for your study. Because of the large file size, we recommend that you first save the file to your computer by right clicking the mouse and choosing "Save Target As ...", and then open the file in Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you still experience any difficulty in downloading or opening this file, you may need to close some applications or reboot your computer to free up some memory.

Course Summary

This course will give you a realistic view of what engineers need to do if they want to be effective in influencing public policy makers at the local, state and federal level.  It will give you an understanding of what motivates public policy makers and where engineers need to focus their resources if they hope influence the course of public policy, whether related to your job or your personal interests.


Once you finish studying the above course content, you need to take a quiz to obtain the PDH credits.

Take a Quiz

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.