Policy Analysis in Practice


Units: 12


This course is designed to provide practical experience in analyzing the causes of important social and economic problems, in developing alternative policies and programs to address those problems, and in providing the information public officials need to choose which problems to address and which policies and programs to implement. 

The examples and assignments in the course are based on real-world examples of important policy problems for which there is no “right answer.”  Taking the course will give you a realistic sense of the kinds of work done by policy analysts, and it will prepare you for successfully working as a policy analyst in government, in an advocacy organization, or in a consulting firm.

The focus of the course is on how to analyze new policy problems and issues and how to develop more effective solutions to existing problems, rather than on evaluating existing programs or reviewing analyses conducted in the past.  Although the course will include discussions about some policies and programs that currently exist, the goal of these discussions will be to identify lessons that will help you in analyzing new issues and in developing more effective approaches to longstanding problems.

Learning Outcomes

If you successfully complete this course, you will:

  1. Understand the key steps needed to analyze complex policy problems and to help public officials make decisions about policies and programs to address those problems.
  2. Gain experience in carrying out each of those steps in order to analyze real-world problems in a wide range of different policy areas. 
  3. Understand how and when policy problems gain the attention of policy-makers.
  4. Understand many of the common pitfalls in policy analysis and how to avoid them.
  5. Improve your ability to think critically about policy problems, develop creative alternatives for addressing problems, identify the advantages and disadvantages of policy alternatives, and anticipate what is necessary for successful implementation of policies.
  6. Improve your skills in effectively communicating policy analyses to decision-makers.
  7. Understand what it is like to work as a policy analyst and what techniques can be used to increase your effectiveness in that role.

Prerequisites Description

This course is designed for students who have basic skills in economic analysis, statistical methods, financial analysis, and professional writing.  In addition, a basic understanding of American government institutions will be necessary in order for a student to participate effectively in the class discussions and to successfully complete the assignments. 

All of the examples and assignments in the course require analysis that is quantitative, e.g., estimating the costs of programs and the magnitude of their impacts, but none of the assignments require use of advanced methods such as econometrics, operations research, GIS, relational databases, etc.  You will need to use Microsoft Excel (or any spreadsheet software) to perform calculations in most analyses, but you will only need to know how to use the basic components of the software, not any of the advanced statistical functions or modeling capabilities.