Public Affairs 101: Introduction to the Analysis of Public Policy is designed to provide students with basic research, communication, and decision-making skills used in public policy analysis. In addition, students are required to read and analyze articles in The New York Times on local, state, and international public policy issues. The instructor determines which public policy issues are chosen for study throughout the semester.

The content coverage of the course, while important, is secondary to the development of a range of applied social science skills that will help the student make more informed choices as a citizen, worker, and consumer. These include the ability to define and identify the components of public policy issues; communicate ideas and findings with respect to public policy issues; collect information on public policy issues; use graphs, tables, and statistics to analyze public policy; examine the use of surveys and informal interviewing procedures; identify a social problem and come up with a proposed public policy to deal with it; list the benefits and costs of a proposed public policy; forecast the impact of the policy on societal conditions; analyze the political factors and develop strategies to implement a proposed public policy; identify essential features of major current public policy issues; apply skills to Syracuse University and outside the university; and work in teams effectively.

Course Outline

  1. Introduction to basic concepts required in the analysis of public policy
  2. Acquiring information: surveys, use of the library, use of experts
  3. Formulating public policy
  4. Evaluating public policy
  5. Implementing public policy

One paper will be due for each of the five modules above and should be about five pages in length. It consists of completing the required exercises, and each paper is worth 20% of the student’s grade.

Each module consists of a set of exercises which are introduced by the instructor in class. Students practice the exercises in small working groups and then complete the exercises on their own as part of homework assignments. Instructors provide substantive lectures, bring in outside speakers, and use supplementary material on public policy issues of their choice. The students use this information to practice the skills covered in the exercises. While 80% of the grade is determined on the basis of how well students complete the exercises, 20% is determined according to the instructor’s own methods of evaluation.

The primary instructional materials for the course, in addition to The New York Times, are Public Policy Skills by William Coplin and Michael O’Leary, Third Edition (Policy Studies Associates) and How You Can Help: An Easy Guide to Doing Good Deeds in Your Everyday Life by William Coplin (Routledge). Students complete their classroom activities and hand in their homework assignments based on the book.

The first three modules of the course constitute basic training in essential concepts, information gathering, and analysis tools. This basic work builds on existing skills which students may already have begun to develop by requiring their application to a variety of articles in The New York Times. Usually, students complete these three modules before mid-term.

The last two modules require students to be conversant on a public policy issue of their choice. They complete several steps that include policy evaluation and implementation. In module four, they develop a basis for evaluating their policy by first identifying costs and benefits of the policy and then building a forecasting model of social conditions with which they estimate the effects of their policy. In module five, students analyze the political factors that will determine the feasibility of the policy they have proposed. Students also propose strategies to increase the chances that the policy will be adopted.

During this latter portion of the course, classroom activities help students acquire the skills required to formulate, evaluate, and implement public policies. In addition to the individual student assignment, instructors might have the entire class examine a small number of issues, or they might divide the class into small groups for analyzing issues. Students also make individual presentations so that the entire class can learn about a large number of contemporary public policy issues.

Two formal classroom activities also are included. One is a collective decision-making exercise on a public policy of interest to all students—the grading policy for the course, for instance. The other is a process—called “Community Link”—in which teams in small groups create a product for a client in the school or local community.