Policy Analysis: A Tool for Evidence-Based Decision Making

Policy analysis is problem solving.  It involves making systematic comparisons across a set of alternatives to address a particular policy or planning problem, usually in the face of time and resource constraints.  Typically, policy analysis is done to provide advice to a client, organization, or another decision-maker in the face of a public problem or crisis.  It involves rapid response, quickly orienting yourself to new and changing topics that often are complex and controversial.  How to develop doable solutions that target the core problem at hand? How to weigh the many competing trade-offs among diverse stakeholders?  How to balance innovation with pragmatism?  In this class we will develop strategies to address these, and other, challenges. 

While the course will emphasize the development of a stage-based analytical approach, we will also discuss alternative models of policy analysis and consider critical perspectives from political science, behavioral science and design fields.

Based largely on case discussions, the class will explore the choices facing decision makers in the public and nonprofit sectors in the US and abroad with regard to a wide range of issues, including public health, environmental protection, urban development, transportation and infrastructure.  We will also have a unit on cost benefit analysis and how to incorporate it into this analytical toolbox.  We will approach CBA from a critical perspective and consider its limitations in the face of scarce information and equity concerns. 

This is a methods course: we will use a variety of cases to practice and become nimble in the logic and techniques behind policy analysis, rather than becoming an expert in any one subject area.  Students will develop their own analyses and learn how to communicate them in written memos, oral argument, and visual presentations. The course will culminate in a team project in which students conduct a simulated policy analysis exercise on a current issue.


Up to four seats will be held for MDes students.