As elite college basketball teams were vying for a national championship early this spring, the Worcester Regional Research Bureau put its own spin on March Madness: policy ideas competing against each other.

In the manner of basketball teams advancing toward a championship, proposals were grouped into four brackets: public safety, economic development, education and operations. The more than 60 people who participated in the exercise chose between competing policy proposals, such as establishing a “strong mayor” form of government versus creating a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program for the region’s major nonprofits.

Within the “Operations” bracket, the winning proposal (based on the number of people who chose it to advance to the next level or beyond) called for replacing the public pension system with a defined-contribution plan.

Timothy McGourthy, executive director of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, attributed the proposal’s popularity to concern about the cost to municipalities of “other post-employment benefits,” primarily retiree health insurance.

The final four also featured establishing exam schools for high-achieving students; expanding police gang and drug units; and, the overall winner, expanding incentives for new business and job creation.

“What the game did is create a lot of discussion,” McGourthy said.

“Everywhere I went people were talking about the concept, and liked the idea of seeing their priorities on the page competing against other.

“This was a high-level competition,” he added. “It involved people who pay close attention to municipal government.”

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