In the School of Public and International Affairs, the department expects students to engage in policy analysis, policy making and policy evaluation. Their aim is that students will perform these tasks across a range of disciplines and geographical regions, with the hope that they at the end of their undergraduate experience, students will be focused towards a specific issue or region. This document attempts to do two things: (1) breakdown how the department works in helping students achieve the intended goals and (2) lay down specific strategies that students can engage in to effectively navigate the department’s structure.
As mentioned above, and as displayed in the figure below, the first “layer” explicates what students are expected to achieve and the range of tasks they will engage in order to achieve those objectives. The second layer is divided into three subsections – analytical, communication and relatability. Each subsection represents the kinds of skills students need to develop in order to achieve the objectives mentioned in layer 1. We will discuss each skill one-by-one.
In order for students to effectively break down their “area of focus” or any policy matter they are studying, it is important to break down the issue according to various stakeholders. At the end of the day, policy recommendations are about balancing competing interests and collective thinking that solve pressing issues. While identifying stakeholders can be a relatively easy task, a somewhat more difficult task is situating the stakeholders and their interests with respect to the policy objective. A helpful way to do this is to look at each stakeholder through certain academic lenses (ethical, theoretical, empirical or social science). An ethical lens would mean to think about moral obligations and responsibilities/duties. Social science lens would mean to look at the situation in terms of independent/dependent variable. Try to isolate each of them and establish causal relationships. Theoretical would mean to apply existing theories to explain relationships or outcomes. The idea is that there are different ways to examining stakeholders and their interests in order to engage in effecting policy analysis, evaluation and making. The different lenses represent a list of options to choose from.
A lot of policy analysis and evaluation is the ability to convey your results/findings in a convincing and effective way, whether that is oral or written communication. Organization and writing can be crucial in written communication. One strategy is practice to excel in written communication. The other is to read several papers purely with the idea of how they organize ideas, findings and arguments. This is most helpful if students read papers relevant to their discipline. Another distinction in written communication is the difference between research papers and policy papers. The task force Junior Paper and the research seminar Junior Paper are significantly different in language style and organization. Papers can even be a combination of both, but recognizing the difference between the two, and knowing when to use or the other is very useful. Reading papers with the awareness that there are two different styles can achieve this Oral communication is another important part of SPIA classes. Class presentations, thesis defense and task force final presentations are a testament to the important the School places on oral communication. The best strategy to build this is to look at youtube videos when policy experts explain findings, talk to professors about how they present papers and practicing presenting styles in precept participation. One strategy is to always present the conclusion first. For example: my thesis explains that more job losses in the U.S. are caused by automation than they are by trade. The rest of this presentation will explain why this is the case.
In the policy word, it is important to be aware of the language used in that specific discipline. Students are expected to be well versed in the subject and know, for example, the different metrics used for evaluating policies, different laws in place that constrain policy and previous policies made etc. Keeping an eye out for terminologies and over time developing a glossary of such acronyms can be helpful. Sometimes, such expertise will develop over time, after taking several courses on the topic.
Overall, it is important to mention that the entire SPIA undergraduate experience is informed by prominent experiences such as the task force, research seminar, study abroad, public service requirement and the language requirement. Each experience is aimed to add another dimension to the student’s existing understanding of the policy issue they are interested in. However, each experience can also be used as an opportunity to practice the above mentioned skills in order to achieve the objectives set out by the department. For example: the study abroad experience can help students interact with people with widely different perspectives on the issue. This can add to the student’s analysis on the issue in an empirical, ethical or social science way. It can also allow students to improve their communication skills and be able to convey findings in multiple languages at times. Public service and fieldwork helps students inform their policy analysis with on the ground realities and perspectives of those directly affected by the implications of the policies.