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Course Details

Course Number: 90-730

Methods Of Policy Analysis

Units: 12

Successful policy analysis in real-world settings is far more than being able to collect data, run regressions, use optimization models, or identify market failures. It involves: anticipating issues which will need analysis; determining whether problems are real and what is causing them; defining and prioritizing the goals to be achieved in addressing the problems; developing creative alternatives to address the problems; carrying out accurate and complete analyses of the impacts of alternatives, including consideration of qualitative and political considerations; developing recommendations that can be implemented effectively; presenting analyses and recommendations both orally and in writing in ways that will actually influence decisions; resolving ethical dilemmas in conflicting roles; and in general, confidently applying critical thinking skills.
Rather than defer the development of these skills to the "school of hard knocks" (i.e., a real policy analysis job), this course is designed to teach you some key principles which can provide guidance in carrying out policy analyses, and also to provide some practical experience in applying those principles to realistic policy problems. The course will provide an understanding of how public policies are actually developed, analyzed, and implemented, and of the role of the policy analyst at each of these stages. The examples used will primarily be real-world cases, with all the complexity that implies.
Although this is called a "methods" course, the primary ?methods? it will teach are strategies for thinking critically and creatively about public policy problems and solutions and ways for helping government leaders to make good decisions about public policies. Statistics, econometrics, operations research, financial analysis, and other sophisticated analytical tools are taught in depth in many other courses at the Heinz School and elsewhere at Carnegie Mellon; the Methods of Policy Analysis course is not intended to teach more of these types of methodologies. Instead, this course is focused on enabling students to successfully apply both simple and complex analytical tools to real-world problems within real-world constraints on data and time.
During the course, you will learn by doing analyses yourself and by discussing how to analyze problems in class, rather than (merely) reading books or articles or listening to lectures. You will examine several different complex policy problems in depth, and you will jointly (through class discussion) and individually (through assignments) assess the importance and causes of these policy problems, develop alternative approaches for addressing them, evaluate the impacts of those alternatives, and grapple with the complex and often conflicting considerations involved in making recommendations for action. The specific policy problems have been selected to expose you to a range of substantive areas (e.g., criminal justice, education,environmental protection, health, and human services) and to a range of generic program types (e.g., regulations, entitlement programs, incentives, etc.). One of the goals of the course is to demonstrate that the ideas, techniques, and experience in one substantive area can provide important lessons for tackling problems in other, seemingly very different substantive areas, and consequently that there is a benefit to learning about and doing policy analyses on issues in diverse areas. Moreover, even if you intend to focus your career on a particular set of policy issues, the job market may not cooperate during the early stages of your career; consequently, many students have found it valuable to develop some knowledge and experience in policy areas beyond those in which they are primarily interested.
The course will also examine in depth each of the stages in the policy analysis process, beginning with the factors that determine which policy problems will be dealt with by policy-makers, and continuing with some of the principles and pitfalls involved in analyzing problems, developing and analyzing alternatives, and implementing policies and programs in a political environment. These discussions will draw on a wide range of policy examples and detailed cases that demonstrate the principles being discussed.
The topics discussed in class are limited to U.S. domestic policy issues. Foreign policy and defense policy issues are not discussed, although the approaches to analyzing problems taught in the class will likely be applicable to many aspects of these issues, as well. Since the cases and assignments deal with U.S. domestic policy issues in some depth, you need to have a reasonable degree of familiarity with U.S. institutions and programs to understand the class discussions and successfully carry out the assignments. International students without this level of understanding will likely experience difficulty and will need to spend significant extra time doing background research on the topics.
Effective written and oral communications are essential skills for a policy analyst. The ability to clearly and convincingly convey the results of an analysis to a decision-maker can make the difference between whether an analysis has an impact on policy or is ignored. Similarly, poor grammar, confusing style, and typographical errors in written materials can do as much or more to reduce the credibility of an analysis as inaccuracies in calculation or improper use of quantitative methodologies. Consequently, in the assignments in the course, you will be expected to produce well-written memoranda and other materials. A significant portion of the grade for each assignment will be based on the quality of your writing and the thoroughness of your proofreading, and failing grades will be given to assignments that are difficult to understand or have been poorly proofread.


Terry F. Buss
Harold D. Miller