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How Ideas Become Policy


Units: 6


This course examines case studies of how ideas become policy in the United States across a number of administrations.  Case studies in class will mainly cover foreign policy topics but will include some discussion of domestic policy and politics.  (Students are free to write on any policy topic of their choosing.)  Classes include group discussions as well as engagement with former policymakers who worked inside government to make change happen and advocates who helped propel policy changes from outside government.     

In readings, writing assignments, and class discussions, we will analyze what works in getting ideas translated into policy as well as examples of failure.  The cases will cover proactive policies—what are we for?—as well as reactive ones—how best to respond to a crisis? How best to mitigate or reverse damaging policy?  The role of individuals and personalities emerge as important factors.  Paradigm-shifting events have an impact as well as do campaigns or specific strategies for messaging and building alliances.  While no secret sauce for policymaking exists, students will explore lessons learned and actively engage in creating a toolkit on how to “get stuff done” in Washington.         

Learning Outcomes

Goals/Takeaways of the Course by the End of the Semester:

  • Students will have gained practical knowledge through analysis and using a toolkit discussed in class about how ideas become policy;
  • Students should be able to identify lessons from successful cases of ideas becoming policies as well as from unsuccessful cases, analyzing what works and what does not;
  • Students should be able to write crisply articulated policy memos and deliver briefings that evaluate successful and unsuccessful efforts at turning ideas into policy.