Faculty Member Maureen Berner Lectures in Slovenia
Faculty member Maureen Berner delivered two lectures at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, to graduate students in the Joint European Master in Comparative Local Development program (Master CoDe) on February 27 and 28. Topics included issues of intergovernmental and nonprofit relations, and the diversity and disparity in programs, politics, and the criminal justice system.
The students in the program came from Ethiopia, Canada, and Great Britain, among other countries, and the 2016 cohort was made up of more than 200 students from around the world. During the two-year program, organized by universities in Slovenia, Hungary, Germany, and Italy, the students spend semesters at the organizing institutions and one semester completing an internship in one of several locations—including UNC-Chapel Hill, the program’s only U.S. partner institution.
Master CoDe Program Coordinator Miro Haček and teacher-tutor Simona Kukovič, of the University of Ljubljana, (shown above, left, with Maureen Berner) visited UNC-Chapel Hill in late March to learn more about their areas of expertise—local government administration and leadership—and how The School of Government works with public officials on professional development.
On March 29, Haček and Kukovič presented “Working to Improve the Administrative Capacity of Municipalities: Developing a Gold Standard in Slovenia” the School. They also teach in the European Union version of the School’s Master of Public Administration program, which focuses on local and regional economic development.
On the other end of the exchange, Berner gave a lecture and participated in a discussion with Master CoDe students about local governance policies, programs, and capacity to address needs.
What struck her most when talking with students was the similarity of the issues they were exploring to the ones faced in North Carolina.
“Local economic development … increasing the role of women in government … improving government transparency—these are issues that cross borders,” she said.
And as much as the trip was an opportunity for the Master CoDe students to learn from Berner, she noted that the educational experience was mutually beneficial.
“I had as rich and engaging conversation there as I do with my students here,” Berner said. “And it really opened my eyes to understanding that governments around the world experience very similar issues and problems.”
One such issue that governments face is attracting better participation in benefits programs at the local level, a topic Berner conducts research on for the School.
Specifically, Berner looks into how local governments can partner with nonprofits to improve food assistance programs, such as providing meals to schoolchildren during the summer. To her surprise, Berner discovered on her trip that one of the Master CoDe students was working on a nearly identical program in her home country of Kyrgyzstan.
“We just sat and talked and exchanged ideas for hours,” Berner said. “And she’s even asked me to come and help consult on their food assistance program based on how it’s working here.”
This type of cultural and intellectual exchange has continued to engage and enlighten Berner.
“It opens the doors to thinking about learning and growing from places and people that we didn’t necessarily think we shared a commonality with,” she said.
As a result of the visit, a new grant proposal is being prepared for the Slovenian government to support a comparative study of administrative capacity in local governments in communities in both North Carolina and Slovenia.
And just as her trip to Slovenia taught her, Berner expects the study’s findings to help point to more efficient practices for local government, both at home and abroad.
“I’m hoping for a really great exchange of ideas that could flow back into good local government here,” Berner said. “The practices, procedures, and policies that make for good governance there, make for good governance everywhere.”