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PPHA-31920: Decisons and Organizations

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University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy (Harris)

PPHA-31920: Decisions and Organizations

Description: The core course on management for public policy will cover two main topics: managerial decision making and incentives.

Managerial decision making: We'll start with a comparison of the normative framework that economists use to think about rational choice and the experimental evidence that psychologists use to argue that real-world decision makers do not satisfy those normative criteria. This unit is useful both for guidance about ways to improve the students own decision making as practitioners, and as background for thinking about the currently fashionable "nudging" or "libertarian paternalism" approach to social policy.

Incentives: In any organization, control over actions will be at least partly decentralized. And that immediately implies that the managers must design incentives so that theses private decisions are made in ways that advance, rather than retard, the organizations goals. We will address this general theme in the context of designing incentives for agents who must work on several tasks, who work in teams, and who are concerned with pleasing outside audiences. Applications will be drawn from education, law enforcement, and agency level rule-making.

Readings: Itzhak Gilboa, Making Better Decisions: Decision Theory in Practice. 2011. Wiley-Blackwell.

Other readings will be made available on the course website. Many of the readings, especially the journal articles, are highly technical. You are responsible for understanding the details only insofar as they are covered in the lectures. However, it is important to understand the basic arguments made in each piece. For each article, it will be helpful to have ready answers to the following questions prior to the relevant lecture: What is the authors point? How does s/he make it: i.e., what is the model?

Faculty: Scott Ashworth

Source: Syllabus downloaded from, 3 April 2014.

Teaching Topics Addressed in this Course, Organized by Public Management Subject


Commentary by the Atlas editors: The class titles in the Syllabus suggest a number of the potential topics to be developed for the Atlas:

  • Bias and Heuristic Choice under Certainty 
  • Bias and Heuristic in Judgment 
  • Choice with Risk and Uncertainty 
  • Expected Utility as a Normative Tool 
  • Information Aggregation 
  • Conformity and Groupthink 
  • Coordination and Managing Error 
  • Delegation and Loss of Control 
  • Incentives and Moral Hazard 
  • How Powerful Should Incentives Be?
  • Screening and Selection
  • Relationships and Mission
  • The Civil Service System
  • Oversight and Monitoring
  • Interest Group Influence 
  • Privatization and NGOs

Page created by: Ian Clark on 3 April 2014. The content presented on this page, except in the Commentary, is drawn directly from the source(s) cited above, and consists of direct quotations or close paraphrases.


Chicago, Decisions and Organizations, 319020 Spring 2011.pdfChicago, Decisions and Organizations, 319020 Spring 2011

Important Notices
© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance