Meet Liz O’Haney: IAP 2019 Fellow


“I’m a second-year Masters student in DUSP, and I have an internship with MassInc.,” says Liz O’Haney, who spent IAP 2019 starting a PKG-funded internship with a nonpartisan think tank that conducts research and polling to create community-focused legislation. O’Haney, who works under research director, Ben Foreman, says it’s a really good opportunity to see how things actually get done and how community issues can be addressed using research and thoughtful legislation. “I really wanted to get involved in things outside of my thesis,” O’Haney explains of her involvement with and interest in working with MassInc. And having heard of MassInc. During a summer internship, O’Haney felt it would be a good fit to expand her scope.

“They are a nonpartisan think tank, so they do research on different policy areas,” she says. “The research I’m working on is part of their gateway city initiative.” Gateway cities, O’Haney explains, are cities in Massachusetts that are post-industrial, many of which are old mill towns. “Right now, they’re focused on researching, if the state decides to increase transit service via the commuter rail, what strategies can be done to increase development and housing in those [gateway] areas.” This is a big part of what draws O’Haney to MassInc in the first place, the idea that when presented with a problem, an organization can use research and polling to substantiate accurate and helpful solutions to that problem. It is a way of seeing how things more concretely get done in legislating and navigating complex socio-economic issues.    

“Just getting to know how legislation happens and how research can work with advocacy groups to really pull stuff together has been really enlightening,” O’Haney says of her experience with MassInc. “I’ve been involved in some local advocacy in Somerville where I live,” she explains, “and a lot of the time it feels like the community is just shouting ‘we want a thing!’ At MassInc, it feels like they have more of a formula of like how to actually reach the things the community wants.” O’Haney has gotten to see how MassInc harnesses research and community engagement to propel their proposed legislation, a peak behind the curtain of what it actually takes to get this kind of work done and to have community wants and wishes really come to fruition in more tangible, legislative terms.

Moving forward, while O’Haney sees herself leaning more towards an early career in development, she says her time at MassInc has been a true learning experience in how organizations can approach real-world complexities with the communities they serve. “I see myself bouncing around a bunch of different related sectors,” she says. “But I’m interested in working on these issues, and so if that manifest in more advocacy, that’s fine by me. I am looking to go into development after this program, but I also think you need to have that perspective to do better legislative work.” O’Haney says that legislative foundation from MassInc, regardless of where she goes next, has helped round out her perspective on community issues and has given her valuable exposure to such a multifaceted field.

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