• Faculty Spotlight: Brenda Bond


The Faculty Spotlight feature is designed to introduce prospective students to the teaching and research interests of the Sawyer Business School Faculty. Each week a new faculty member will be profiled.

In May, 2006, after days of unusually heavy rain, the Merrimack River spilled over its banks and gave the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, its worst flooding in 70 years. Every branch of city government was involved in the response to the emergency. Overall, the response was excellent, with little loss of life or lasting humanitarian problems. But only a few months had passed since the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and Lowell’s leaders realized that the outcome could have been much worse.

When the crisis was over, the city convened an after-action assessment, with Brenda Bond as facilitator. Led by Bond, city leaders and community members examined the role of police, fire and other emergency services, other city departments, the Council on Aging, and the city schools. The two-day process resulted in a series of conclusions about what went right, what went wrong, and how to organize and mobilize for future events.

Brenda Bond likes to ask questions and wants her students to do the same, both in class and in their professional lives. Bond teaches a method she calls “Management by Inquiry,” the use of carefully framed questions to find, develop and share information. She stresses the best ways to ask questions so they elicit answers, not defensiveness. Bond teaches similar techniques for interviewing job applicants, an important part of a human resource professional’s skill-set, and for other personal interactions on the job, including supervision and negotiation.

Public administration can be difficult, with hard work and looming burn-out a common problem. Bond encourages her students to take a wider view of their jobs, and to get the training and credentials that will lift them above the most exhausting direct service jobs and into management. She encourages students to bring their on-the-job experience to bear on issues covered in class.

Trained in criminology, social psychology and social policy, Bond believes that communities are complex organisms that must be studied closely to be understood. She also stresses the need to maintain and refresh the human relationships that keep communities connected. She recalls a proposal she crafted in the 1990s in support of a community law enforcement initiative. The proposal process took nearly a year of community meetings, coalition building, self-examination and drafting, and it was successful, yielding $750,000 over three years.

Was all that work necessary? Apparently so…because when, only a few years later, a similar opportunity arose, a less thorough proposal failed completely. “It was a total flop,” Bond remembers. “We tried to short-circuit the process. You have to trust the process.”

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Brenda J. Bond
Assistant Professor of Public Management