McCourt’s Foundational Skill Set
In 2018, McCourt organized a Curriculum Innovation Committee to review and modernize the core curricula of our Masters degree programs. The committee worked toward a number of goals, including developing a set of core competencies for all McCourt degree programs.
After reviewing the core curriculum, benchmarking other policy schools, and speaking with employers, and alumni, the committee developed a set of core competencies which were discussed, voted on, and approved by the McCourt School faculty.
All McCourt students graduate with the following foundational skills:
Policy formulation and execution are collective endeavors. Policy professionals must address complex challenges through strategic partnerships, networks, contractual relationships, alliances, committees, and coalitions. Working in collaboration with others requires teamwork, building trust, negotiating differences, and accommodating diverse perspectives and interests.
- Teamwork and management
- Conflict management/consensus building
- Convening/coalition building
- Managing polarities—compromising
Inquiry with an open mind is fundamental to good policy making. Critical thinking means asking tough questions, seeking good evidence to answer them, continually testing alternative explanations (along with assumptions and biases), and incorporating new perspectives as analysis proceeds. It is a process of doubt, self-doubt, and the search for good evidence.
- Logical reasoning
- Gathering evidence
- Use of decision-making tools and problem-solving frameworks
- Open-minded inquiry
Public policy aims to address market failures. The ability to apply economic concepts to a variety of policy challenges is integral to effective policy making. Economics helps us understand the world around us — not just in terms of how private markets work, but also with regard to the impacts of government programs and the behavior of individuals. Understanding how policies affect incentives and how policies create unintended consequences is critical for effective policy making.
- Understanding supply and demand, opportunity costs, and consumer and firm behavior
- Recognizing and addressing market failures
- Use of tools like cost/benefit analysis and distributional analysis
Engaging with Bias
Public policy reflects the distribution of power which has historically disadvantaged and marginalized certain groups. As a result, our institutions, policies, and behavior reflect structural biases. Understanding these biases and creating strategies to address them are critical to making good policy and research. Engaging with bias means having the ability to relate to and learn from people with different backgrounds and perspectives and being open to evidence that may challenge prior conceptions. By examining our own and others’ assumptions, position, and decisions, we can be more transparent about how they affect the research and policy process.
- Understanding the contributors to and implications of structural and individual biases in current policy and research
- Ability to recognize and engage with these biases at the group, interpersonal, and individual levels including, prejudice, implicit bias, sampling bias, non-response bias, confirmation bias.
- Equity/distributional analysis
- Difficult conversations
- Empathy and understanding
Ethical Leadership and Management
Effective leaders and managers think critically about the moral responsibilities and ethical dilemmas they face. The competing demands on leaders trying to accommodate politics, institutional constraints, and the multiple agendas of interested parties make ethical leadership even more complicated in the public arena. Being an ethical leader and manager means examining one’s own capacity and discovering new ways of understanding management and exercising leadership with integrity and accountability for the public good.
- Cultural awareness
Public resources are limited. To use them well, public programs need to be continually assessed, improved, and refined based on a clear understanding of policy goals. However, designing analytic frameworks, establishing causality, and quantifying effects can be challenging. Policy professionals must be able to choose the appropriate evaluation methods to assess whether programs and policies meet their intended goals.
- Defining policy problems
- Making causal inferences, including use of experimental and quasi-experimental designs
- Identifying causal mechanisms and theories of change
- Application and development of measurement standards
- Knowledge of qualitative methods
Making policy means making choices. Policy professionals need the skills to identify problems, develop and weigh various options to address them, consider the pros and cons based on a clear set of criteria, and make recommendations, using quantitative and qualitative evidence.
- Accounting for the influence of context
- Implementation analysis
- Assessing scalability and sustainability
Every step of the policy making process is a contest of values, goals, interests, and influence. In short, politics shapes policy– and policy, in turn, shapes politics. Political systems will vary. But in all systems, the challenge for policy leaders is to get issues on the agenda, frame policy problems to attract public attention, identify winning solutions, mobilize support, and address conflicting interests.
- Issue framing
- Stakeholder analysis
- Distributional analysis
- Coalition building
- Agenda setting
Evidence is at the heart of effective policy making. Policy professionals must be able to critically evaluate and review evidence to inform policy recommendations. That requires an understanding of causal mechanisms versus correlation and the ability to think critically about uncertainty. To use evidence effectively, policy professionals must understand the data and their limitations. The ability to use, manage, and present data is critical to that end.
- Probability theory
- Causation versus correlation
- Statistical inference
- Regression analysis
- Data management
- Descriptive Statistics and Data Visualization
- Quantitative research methods
Successful policy researchers, policymakers, and politicians must master the art of persuasion. This is obvious when it comes to getting elected, but it’s just as true when the goal is reporting research findings, defining a policy problem, or achieving the adoption and implementation of a particular solution. Strategic communication rests not just on clear writing and speaking, but also knowing your audience, making your evidence readily accessible, and designing your arguments to help others understand what you think matters and why.
- Inquiry and listening skills
- Public speaking and presentations
- Written communication
- Dissemination strategies
- Framing and messaging