Client Success Story

Bighorn Leadership Development Program

colorado state capital building in fall


Since 2001, the Bighorn Leadership Development Program has offered Coloradans opportunities to become involved in the issues that impact the state. The non-partisan program supplies participants with the tools necessary to develop public policy, run for public office, or engage in community activism. Offered in collaboration with Colorado State University, it is a hands-on, pragmatic program with a flexible eight-to 12-day schedule. It counts nearly 400 Colorado leaders as alumni, including school board members, county commissioners, city council members, state legislators and others. Supported in its first six years by the Bighorn Center for Public Policy, the program is managed by Engaged Public, and has been supported by such notable foundations as the Colorado Health Foundation and Colorado Trust.


To encourage a busy, cynical electorate to engage in the policymaking process and to ensure individuals elected into public leadership are prepared for office, no matter what their political party.

The program combines two key components. The first is shared decision making, a collaborative process that allows patients and providers to make decisions together based on the best scientific evidence and patients’ values and preferences. The second component is value-based insurance design, which prices high value treatments such as preventive and disease management care lower than low-value treatments that medical evidence shows to be less effective and costly.


The Bighorn Leadership Development Program delivers a curriculum that develops the knowledge and leadership skills of individuals who want to be effective in advocacy and policymaking. The curriculum covers:

  • meaning and purpose of public leadership;
  • creating change through public policy;
  • understanding public budgets and their influence on public policy;
  • serving the public: campaigns and elections, and governance and ethics.

Different from other leadership programs, Bighorn is built on the cornerstone of requiring each participant to personally engage in the policymaking process by bringing forth an idea to pitch to legislators. As a result, participants benefit from a program that delivers depth, breadth and hands-on experience in public leadership and policymaking.

Specifically, participants must select a topic of interest, gain support for the idea or be assigned to another group, explore the idea’s potential, and then present it to a group of policymakers.

At that hearing, the policymakers treat the proposed idea just like they would an ordinance or a bill. They ask questions and can accept, pass, or postpone action on the idea indefinitely. Participants get the most realistic feedback possible on their content and presentation, which leads to deeper learning.


Since its inception, the Bighorn Leadership Development Program has generated a pipeline of more than 400 people who can bring forth and articulate good ideas. At least two alumni currently serve in the State Legislature. In addition, at least six ideas generated by program participants have resulted in some kind of law on the state level.

More generally, these Coloradans from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests are better prepared to have greater impact in their work, civic service and personal lives. This benefits not just these individuals but also everyone they encounter.

Bighorn Leadership by the Numbers

  • 400: Approximate number of program alumni.
  • 2: Alumni now serving in the State Legislature.
  • 6: Ideas put forth from program participants that have generated some kind of law on the state level.
  • 12: Programs run to date.
  • 90: Approximate number of Guest Faculty throughout the years.
  • 66: Public policy proposals by program participants.

Engaged Public: Capabilities and Expertise

The Engaged Public team brings a specific and unique set of skills to the table that help make public engagement campaigns a success, including:

  • Comprehensive leadership
  • Impeccable understanding of the policy environment
  • Negotiation, consensus and relationship-building skills
  • Conversation architecture creation, logistics, and group facilitation
  • Transparency to ensure integrity of process
  • Research, report writing, policy analysis and content production
  • Public relations and media relations support
  • Innovative methodology utilizing technology tools, including:
  • Rapid response, flexibility and adaptability to change process to meet changing results
  • Synthesis of old tools (written analysis) with new tools (keypad polling, budget simulation)
  • Political "savvy" to develop implementable recommendations
  • Ability to facilitate ideologically diverse viewpoints and opinions for any organization, event or community
  • Responsiveness to parties whose views may or may not carry the day
  • Delivery of meaningful, actionable policy recommendations
  • Willingness to go the extra step and work harder, even outside original template