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DPI-101: Political Institutions and Public Policy

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Harvard Kennedy School

DPI-101: Political Institutions and Public Policy

Description: This is a course about fundamental problems of participation, democratic governance, and conflict in contemporary political systems. It will provide students with an analytical toolkit for understanding and acting on the political dimensions of policy problems. The A and B sections consider these questions primarily through the prism of American political institutions and the context they create for policymaking. The C and D sections look at systematic variations across different sorts of political institutions in both advanced and developing democracies, as well as in countries that are not democracies. The class develops the skills for effective political analysis and advocacy, including memo- and op-ed writing, as well as the skills to brief actors who need to know everything about the politics of a situation in a short period of time.

Source: At (accessed 23 January 2013).

Additional course description from the syllabus: The Thomas Patterson syllabus (DPI-101A), which is almost identical to that of Matthew Baum, states that the aim of the courses is "to teach you to think politically." And that a second purpose of the course is "to strengthen your writing and speaking skills, which are tools of political action." To that end, each student participates in a team-based political briefing (which will include a group memo) and individually writes an op-ed piece and two political memos, one of which will serve as the final exam. Its textbook is

Thomas E. Patterson, We the People (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011)

The Tarek Masoud syllabus (DPI-101C) states that the course is designed "to help you understand the constraints faced by political leaders acting on the world." It is tailored to students enrolled in the International and Global Affairs concentration. The syllabus states that "Students interested in the policy domains of democratization and human rights will gain from this course a deeper understanding of the domestic processes that make regimes more respectful of the personal freedom and physical integrity of their citizens. And students interested in questions of international development will benefit from the course’s exploration of the interplay between political institutions and economic growth." The three required textbooks are:

Robert Bates, Markets and States in Tropical Africa, 2nd Edition, California, 2005

William Dobson, The Dictator’s Learning Curve, Doubleday, 2012

James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State, Yale 1997

The Candelaria Garay syllabus (DPI-101D) states that the course is "about the effects of major political factors on public policy. It addresses central debates in comparative politics to inquire about critical real-world questions. Why are some states able to implement growth-enhancing policies while others fail? Why do some countries provide universal health care while others do not? What institutional arrangements help negotiation and cooperation in deeply divided societies? We look at these questions through the lens of comparative politics in order to understand the conditions under which different political regimes, institutional designs (systems of government, electoral systems, power-sharing arrangements, economic and political pacts) and public policies (especially social policies) are adopted, and to learn about their political and distributive effects. We further analyze critical political actors involved in policy making (political parties, social movements, labor unions) in order to understand under what conditions they pursue different goals, adopt different strategies (i.e., form mass organizations, extend programmatic linkages to voters/members, etc.) and how they influence policy outcomes." There are no required textbooks.

Commentary by the Atlas editors: As implied by the different course descriptions and textbooks, the topics addressed in the domestic and international sections of DPI-101 are quite different.

The Patterson (DPI-101A) syllabus provides the following class titles:

The Constitution: Limited Government (using the case study, The War on Terrorism)

The Constitution: Federalism (using the case study, The 2010 Health Care Act)

Congress (using the case studies, Breakdown in Buget Negotiations; and Immigration Reform)

Congress and the Presidency (using the case study of the Pacific Rim Trade Agreement)

Presidential Powers (using the case study of War Powers and the Invasion of Iraq)

Bureaucracy (using the case studies of Reinventing Governement and Privatization)

Bureaucracy and Lobbies (of Defence Spending)

Judiciary (using the case study of the Supreme Court's Runing on Citizens United)

Civil Liberties (using the case studies of Wikileaks and the Diplomatic Cables; and Affirmative Action)

Public Opinion (using the case study of Global Warming)

Elections (using the case study of the Campagn Strategies of 2012)

Mass Politics (using the case study of Religion and Politics - Same-Sex Marriage)

Grassroots Politics (using the cases studies of Tea Party and of Occupy Wall Street)

Media and Politics

The Tarek Masoud syllabus (DPI-101C) has the following class titles:

The Demand Side of Public Polices

The State

Regime Types

Democracy and Development

Democracy and Inquality

Dictatorship and Resistance

The Economics of Democratization

The Shackles of Culture? (using the case study fo the Arab Spring)

Making Democracy Work: Constitution-writing

Parties and Representation

Legislatures and Executives

Local and Participatory Democracy

The Welfare State

Governing Across Divides

The Candelaria Garay syllabus (DPI-101D) has the following class titles:

Poltical Regime and Regime Change

Regime Type and Policy Making

Authoritarian Continuity

The State: Bureaucracy and State Capacity

Legislatures and Executives

Electoral Rules

Political Parties and Political Systems

Designing an Electoral System

Federalism, Decentralization and Participatory Governance

Governing Across Divides

Social Movements

Labor Unions and Public Policy

The Welfare State

Welfare in Developing Countries

Accountability and Corruption

Page created by: Ian Clark, last updated 24 February 2013. 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.


DPI-101B, Spring 2013, Matthew Baum.pdfDPI-101B, Spring 2013, Matthew Baum
DPI-101D, Spring 2013, Candelaria Garay.pdfDPI-101D, Spring 2013, Candelaria Garay
DPI-101C Syllabus Fall 2012, Terek Masoud.pdfDPI-101C Syllabus Fall 2012, Terek Masoud
DPI-101A Syllabus Fall 2012, Thomas Patterson. pdf.pdfDPI-101A Syllabus Fall 2012, Thomas Patterson. pdf

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© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance