Wednesday, October 27, 2021
Achieving successful programming in higher education and post-graduate programs that not only instills an understanding of agile governance, but also provides settings in which the practices of agile governance are essential to students preparing for careers in public service.


Two basic approaches exist to promote learning prior to entry into the workforce: (1) use existing program structures and educational protocols, and (2) reimagine how public affairs education is offered.

Common to each approach is the development of an Induction Phase of education required for all students. This blog is organized as follows:

  1. Induction Phase
  2. Modification of Existing Programs
  3. Re-Imagining Programs

Induction Phase

This phase is foundational to the success of either approach to public affairs education.  It demonstrates to students the complexities of public administration and the tools available to work in public service.  Perhaps most importantly, the phase requires that they actively engage in problem solving.

Before beginning course work designed for either traditional programs or the new framework, all students could be required to attend and successfully complete a formal induction. The induction would immerse students in the world of public problem solving, while developing an appreciation for the complexities of the public service environments. The production phase sets student expectations and offers a framework upon which to build subsequent courses and experiences.

During this phase the following takes place:

  • All students enrolled in pre-service career programs join a collaborative community of learners.
  • Consistent assessment of each individual’s grasp of agile competencies.
  • Immersing students into real problems that require solutions. These can involve formal cases prepared for instructional offerings, government projects tackling current problems, or a composite of real-life policy problems with no obvious solution.
  • Ensuring exposure to and understanding of basic policy tools by covering the following:
    • Rules/Regulation. Examining the dynamic process of rulemaking, both within regulatory policy and in the larger set of relationships between government agencies.  Many players in the policy process try to set the rules of the game. Congress passes laws—and constrains the power of administrators by delegating the authority to act. Administrators often exercise their power by writing and enforcing regulations.
    • Funding/Financing. Learning how policy actors navigate the uncertainties of budget and appropriation policies, and how these processes affect the world of public administration. Nothing works without having money to spend, and nothing is more disruptive than not knowing how much money is available to spend through a fiscal year. There is a very clear process by which agencies develop budgets, how Congress assesses them and appropriates money, and how agencies then spend money appropriated for them. But it’s been a long time since the policy world in Washington has actually operated this way.  Therefore, learning how to navigate through budgetary uncertainties is critical.
    • People. Examining how to think carefully about how to prevent skills mismatch that may sabotage policy implementation. An often-neglected part of the policy world involves getting the right people, in the right places, with the right skills, at the right time. Too often, the skills do not match the job—or the job requires unavailable skills.
    • Policy. Understanding the importance of policy analysis as a valuable tool. This can provide keen insights that would otherwise not emerge in rough-and-tumble political battles. But policy analysts are often keenly disappointed by analyses that fail to have impact.  Understanding what makes policy analysis effective—how to prepare concise summaries, aimed in the right places, are the  most likely to have the best impact.
    • Storytelling. Exploring the power of the narrative, and how to convey information and knowledge. Policy analysis may appear as the gold standard of policy work—only to make analysts very frustrated when policy decisionmakers latch onto their favorite stories and repeat them endlessly, often uninformed by  analysis. Story telling is an inescapable part of politics.
    • Seeing around corners. Developing skills and insights that result in keen insights into unanticipated consequences of policy issues. One of the most important, but most elusive, parts of the policy world leads to understanding the unexpected, anticipating the surprise, and thinking several steps down a winding, bumpy road.
    • “Using “Red Team” analysis. A useful way to combine all of these policy puzzles involves running a “red-team analysis” —to understand how someone tries to attack, deflate, counter, or sabotage government. This can be useful in seeing new patterns, and can be a powerful tool for honing skills in dealing with policy puzzles.
    • Integration of global and national public affairs. Exposure to tensions that exist when developing US interest in a field/situation in which global partners are essential for success.  This involves developing content for students using a blended set of methods, theories, and cases to achieve a basic understanding of the complexities of global policy making.

Modification of Existing Programs

Public affairs programs can commit to developing an induction phase, required for each entering student. Public affairs schools can collaborate on development and might consider sharing professors, content, and activities.

To build on the achievements of the induction phase, programs should assess each course offering and experiential learning opportunity against agile competencies, and ensure that each course specifically identifies competencies addressed. This should be communicated to the student.

Re-imagining Programs

The following features can define a new framework for public affairs education.

  • Integrating competencies into all learning experiences. Each course should demonstrate how it develops the competencies and assesses student progress in mastering these skills.
  • Clustering educational content into offerings that align with the student career goals/interests—these are further explained in the use of “portfolio” tracks described in the next blog.
  • Opening enrollment to nontraditional masters students: those already in professional careers who want to refresh or learn new skills, and those in other disciplines/career paths who simply may be exploring public affairs. Mixing heterogenous groups of students enriches the learning process.
  • Allowing students to enroll in courses outside their portfolio track—facilitating movement among portfolios.
  • Designing courses with the intention that they could serve across portfolios -- developing a political communications course that could populate all portfolios.
  • Conducting courses off-site in settings where learning occurs within the context of real work challenges (e.g., public finance classes can take place in city government offices).
  • Supporting full flexibility in course duration, which varies from days, to weeks to months. Time would match curriculum design.
  • Using and awarding a variety of credit hours, the time taken to earn the credits, and the source of the credits.
  • Enrolling in and successfully completing the induction phase. This would be required for students enrolled in portfolio tracks that award the traditional masters program, and encouraged - but discretionary - for those in other portfolio tracks.

Such new approaches to public affairs graduate education programs can help to successfully integrate these features into curriculum, pedagogies and instructional settings. The next blog will offer such an approach, entitled “The Portfolio Track Approach.”


Links to all posts in this series: