Public Policy


The study of public policy takes the elements of politics that we often study separately—institutions, organizations, political economy, ideas—and puts them back together in order to ask why our political system ultimately generates the outcomes it does. Why do certain interests consistently get more from the policy process than others? Under what conditions do those outcomes change? Ultimately, who holds power and where does that power come from?

Power, as we will see, varies by issue area and time. Groups that have power in one domain, and in one historical period, do not always hold onto it in another. Power in one social domain does not always carry over to others—although, as we will see, it often does. Political institutions, from Congress and the federal bureaucracy all the way down to local town councils and planning boards, empower some citizens and systematically disadvantage others.

This class is designed to help students think in systems terms about where power comes from—to diagnose who holds power, what its source is, and how it might change. Significant focus will be placed on how to write about power and policy change in an actual public policy context, including memos (for a private audience) and a policy brief (for a public audience).


  • Three Memos (2 single-spaced pages): 20% Each
  • Policy Brief (4 single-spaced pages): 30%
  • Participation: 10%