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Policy Analysis in Practice


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 that may need analysis;
  • determining when a problem exists and what is causing it;
  • defining and prioritizing the goals to be achieved in addressing the problem;
  • developing creative alternatives to address the problem;
  • analyzing the impacts of alternatives on different interests, both quantitatively and qualitatively;
  • assessing the uncertainties in impact estimates;
  • comparing alternatives in order to support decisions that can be successfully adopted and implemented in a political environment;
  • communicating the results of analyses and recommendations in ways that will successfully influence policy decisions; and
  • resolving ethical dilemmas in conflicting roles. 

The course is designed to teach you a number of principles and approaches that can help you in carrying out these tasks and to provide you with experience in applying those principles to realistic policy problems.  The course will improve your understanding of how public policies are actually developed, analyzed, and implemented, and it will explain the roles the policy analyst can play in improving this process.  You will gain experience in analyzing policy problems through both class discussions and assignments.  The examples used will primarily be based on real-world cases, with all the complexity that implies.

Learning Outcomes

If you successfully complete this course, you will:

  1. Have an in-depth understanding of several complex policy issues in diverse substantive areas.
  2. Understand the major steps in the policy analysis and development process, including (a) how and when policy issues become important, and (b) how initiatives to address those issues are developed, analyzed, presented, implemented, evaluated, and terminated.
  3. Understand a number of common pitfalls in policy analysis and how to avoid them;
  4. Improve your ability to think critically about policy issues, think creatively about alternatives for addressing the issues, think analytically about the advantages and disadvantages of alternatives, and think practically about successful implementation of recommended alternatives.
  5. Develop experience in analyzing different types of policy issues and different types of government programs.
  6. Improve your skills in effectively communicating policy analyses to decision-makers.
  7. Understand what it is like to work as a policy analyst in a government or civic agency and what techniques can be used to increase your effectiveness in that role.

Prerequisites Description

This course is designed for students in the Master of Science in Public Policy and Management program who have skills equivalent to what is taught in the School’s core courses in economic analysis, statistical methods, management science, financial analysis, organizational design, policy and politics, and professional writing.  In addition, an understanding of American government institutions and programs will be necessary in order for a student to participate effectively in the class discussions and to successfully complete the assignments.