How Ideas Become Policy


Units: 6


This course examines an array of public policy challenges facing the United States and the world.  In public Zoom sessions open to the entire CMU community, we will meet with former senior U.S. government officials to gather tools and tips for successfully turning ideas into policies while also acknowledging today’s multiple crises.  We, the DC Heinz group, will then meet (either all in person while wearing masks or all by Zoom) for deep dive discussions, and then split into small groups to trouble shoot on-going policy issues and devise policy positions to present back to the Heinz DC group. 

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 challenges and crises?  How best to mitigate or reverse damaging policy?)  The role of leadership and personalities emerge as important factors.  Paradigm-shifting events—what we are living through right now—also have impacts as well as advocacy campaigns and specific strategies for messaging and building alliances.  While no “secret sauce” exists for policy making, students will explore lessons and actively engage in creating a toolkit on how to “get stuff done” in Washington that is relevant to many different contexts, issues, and scenarios.   A common theme running through the course, and in anticipation of this academic year’s CMU Intersect Conference (February 2022) is how the Sustainable Development Goals provide relevant policy frames for many of today’s most pressing issues—from the climate crisis, the pandemic, gaps in social justice, and more.

Learning Outcomes

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

  • Students will have gained practical knowledge through analysis and practice using a toolkit discussed in class to generate actionable public 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.

Prerequisites Description

PPM DC students only