Erica L. Van Steen (Private Sector)
Government, Social Impact, and Organizational Consultant
When people ask me “what do you do for a living?”, I often have a hard time answering. I began my career as a high school activist and volunteer for public health, homelessness, and community organizing efforts. During my undergraduate education at the University of Wisconsin, I founded a nonprofit coalition to build educational programs for health and gender equity. My sociology degree took me to Israel and the UK for research and an internship in Parliament. This was perhaps my first peak “behind the curtain” into public policy and administration. I loved working in our tiny Westminster office on casework, helping in-need individuals navigate services and access benefits to keep them in housing, in a job, or with their families. I went on to achieve my MS in Social Policy Research at the London School of Economics where my dissertation examined a cross-governmental policy in its 10th year of implementation. My research found that geographic areas with higher positive health and social outcomes had created public-private and citizen feedback loops in their implementation strategies; these loops were associated with improved services and program innovations.
These foundational experiences drove my career in DC when I relocated here in 2010. From studying innovation in the Federal government and learning good government management principles as a researcher with the Partnership for Public Service to my work on cross-governmental initiatives in cybersecurity and STEM education as a Booz Allen Hamilton consultant, I began to establish an understanding of the intersection between government, business, and social enterprises. For the past 3.5 years, I’ve had the privilege of working on a wide variety of Federal projects as a consultant with Herren Associates: developing Veteran economic opportunity programs, creating military health system improvements, and supporting the Performance Improvement Council in its mission to drive performance management government-wide.
This field is about creating “good.” We can act as a stabilizing force for individuals going through a difficult personal experience or for an organization going through a time of turmoil; we can be champions for improvement or guardians of dollars, processes, services, and better outcomes. My advice to those starting out in the field is to be fearless and hopeful. Be willing to learn and to work hard, but don’t let other people define your values or your boundaries. Use your values and your boundaries to help you stay focused and empower you in your career choices. I’d also suggest that anyone starting out should do their best to chase experiences, not dollars. The dollars will follow you as you gain unique experiences, a specialized perspective, and credibility for your contributions across meaningful work.
I find the challenge of working in emerging policy and cross-governmental contexts incredibly exciting. The future of public sector work will require an even broader toolkit and more multi-disciplinary voices from the field. We will need to grow creativity and strategic skills, incorporate advances in data and computational techniques, and develop stronger levers for collaboration across social enterprises and sectors. I welcome the opportunity to connect with fellow public administrators.
If you are interested in discussing social impact initiatives, the future of public administration, evidence-based policy making, or techniques for data-driven design, please reach out to me on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/