Introduction to Policy Analysis
Political Science / Public Policy Administration 410

Instructor: Dave Robertson
347 SSB; Phone 314-516-5855, Fax 314-516-5268;

 1. Course Description.

 "Governments not only 'power' (or whatever the verb form of that approach might be), they also puzzle. Policy making is a form of collective puzzlement on society's behalf; it entails both deciding and knowing."
 - Hugh Heclo, Modern Social Politics in Britain and Sweden, p 305.

Anyone involved in the public policy process -- a president, a legislative staff member, a judge, an administrator -- analyzes public policy in some sense. Those who analyze public policy professionally, however, must use a variety of tools to do their job effectively. This course explores three different approaches to policy analysis: the behavioral, economic, and interpretive approaches. It surveys the topics central to the tasks of policy analysis: how problems are defined, how information is collected, how the relative costs and benefits of policy are assessed, how policy solutions are formulated and adopted, how government and the market succeed and fail, how analysis is utilized, and how ethics informs policy analysis. As we explore these topics, we will return over and over again to three challenges to those who would analyze public policy: the challenge of partisanship, the challenge of uncertainty, and the challenge of pragmatism.


2. Books (All are available at the UM-St. Louis bookstore)

 Richard E. Cohen, Washington at Work: Back Rooms and Clean Air, 2nd Ed. (Macmillan, 1995).

Frank Fischer, Evaluating Public Policy (Nelson-Hall, 1995).

Robert A. Heineman, William T. Bluhm, Steven A. Peterson, and Edward N. Kearney, The World of the Policy Analyst (Chatham House, 1990).

Richard Rose, Lesson-Drawing and Public Policy: A Guide to Learning across Time and Space (Chatham House, 1993).

David L. Weimer and Aidan R. Vining, Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice, 2nd Ed. (Prentice-Hall, 1991).


3. Grading

Grades will be allocated in the following way:

Short Assignments: 10 % each (30 % total) (Due: 9/30, 10/21, and 11/11)

Longer Exercise 1: 25% (Due 11/25)

Final Exercise 2: 35% (Due 11/9)

Class Participation: 10%


4. Participation

You are expected to attend all seminar sessions. You are expected to be prepared for class. You are expected to participate actively in class discussion, and to contribute thoughtful and informed questions and comments to the discussion (If you have to miss class for some unavoidable reason, let me know). If you do so you will receive an "A" for this part of the grade. Remember, this seminar will succeed only to the extent that you participate. Its success depends on you.


5. Papers

There will be five papers for the course. Each will be described in a separate handout. Since one of the purposes of these papers is to facilitate class discussion, I will impose a small penalty for papers handed in after the seminar meeting. This penalty will be one point per day. There will be no exceptions.


6. Other Stuff

If you do not understand something, please interrupt me and tell me so (you are permitted to throw soft objects to get my attention). If I begin to speak too quickly, please tell me to slow down.


7. Recommended

This is a very rich period in American policy discourse. I urge you to pay more attention to it. You should regularly try to watch the national network news or read the national news section of the St Louis Post-Dispatch. In addition, daily analysis is available in two newspapers available on campus, New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as the Macneil-Lehrer Report shown at 6 PM weeknights on Channel 9. C-SPAN I provides live coverage of the U.S. House of Representatives, C-SPAN II provides live coverage of the U.S. Senate; both offer coverage of important speeches as well as live call-in shows.

The Course in Brief

 August 26: Introduction

READ: Weimer & Vining, ch. 1; Heineman et al, ch. 1



September 9: The Big Picture: The Context of American Public Policy

                                      READ: Heineman et al, ch. 3-4; Weimer & Vining, ch. 10

 September 16: The Policy Process

                                      READ: Cohen, entire

 September 23: The Behavioral Perspective 1

READ: Putt and Springer, ch. 4, 6, 8; Fischer, ch. 1
                                      (Heineman et al, ch. 2, recommended, not required)

September 30: The Behavioral Perspective 2

                                      READ: Fischer, ch. 2-3
                                      Brief Assignment 1 Due

October 7: The Economic Perspective 1

                                      READ: Weimer & Vining, ch. 3-5

October 14: The Economic Perspective 2    

                                      READ: Weimer & Vining, ch. 6-7

October 21: The Interpretive Approach 1

                                      READ: Fischer, ch. 4-5

                                      Brief Assignment 2 Due

October 28: The Interpretive Approach 2

                                      READ: Fischer, ch. 6-7; Weimer and Vining, ch. 2

November 4: Drawing Lessons 1

                                      READ: Rose, ch. 1-3

November 11: Drawing Lessons 2

                                      READ: Rose, ch. 4-7

                                      Brief Assignment 3 Due

November 18: CLASS DOES NOT MEET - Prepare final project

November 25: Assessing Benefits and Costs

                                      READ: Weimer & Vining, ch. 9; Fischer, ch. 8

                                      Longer Exercise 1 Due

December 2: Utilization / Cases

                                      READ: Weimer & Vining, ch. 8, 11-13; Fischer, ch. 9

December 9: Conclusions

                                      READ: Weimer & Vining, ch. 14; Fischer, ch. 10

                                      Longer Exercise 2 Due

Policy areas

 From time to time we will discuss topics in terms of policy areas that are of interest to you. Here are examples of policy areas.

          Air Pollution                                       Old Age (Social) Security Insurance

          Water Pollution                                  Supplemental Security Income

          Toxic Waste                                       Medicare

          Solid Waste                                       Medicaid

          Insurance                                           Aid to Families w/ Dependent Children

          Banking                                              Unemployment Insurance

          Savings and Loans                             Job Training

          Automobile Industry                           Food Stamps

          Steel Industry                                     Health Care

          Foreign Trade                                    Health Costs

          Monetary Policy                                 Public Housing

          Telecommunications                           Economic Development

          Airline Industry                                   Regional Development in (region)

          Liquor Industry                                  Education - Access (level)

          Cigarette Industry                               Education - Quality (level)

          Computer Industry                             Textbooks            

          Income Taxes                                    Defense (Region)           

          Sales Taxes                                        Land use

          Excise Taxes                                      Public jobs

          Property Taxes                                   Trade unions

          Crime                                                 Civil Rights                    

          Drug Abuse                                        - for Racial Minorities

          Music Lyrics                                      - for Women

          Defense Procurement                          - for the Disabled

          Criminal Rights                                   - for Homosexuals

          Right to Privacy                                 Foreign Relations (w/nation)

          Anti-trust                                            Fair Trade Practices

          Disaster Relief                                    Mining

          Railroads                                           Highways

          Agriculture (crop)                               Veterans' programs

          Nuclear Waste                                    Military Conversion


Critical Thinking Skills

This course aims to improve our critical thinking skills. When you evaluate course and related materials, and when you participate to discussion, read and listen actively.

 When you complete the course, you should be more skilled in your ability to:

 1. Distinguish Fact and Opinion.

 A fact is a statement that can be proven to be objectively accurate. An opinion is a statement of a person's feelings about something. When you read or listen in this course, actively distinguish fact and opinion by asking:

- What is the objective evidence that supports someone's assertion?

- How does the person differentiate between facts and her or his interpretation of the facts?

- Are some opinions more reliable than others? Why?

2. Recognize Bias and Rhetoric.

What do you think the person wants readers or listeners to think or do? How does the person use words or phrases to accomplish this? Does the author or speaker paint word pictures that are particularly attractive for the things she likes, or that are especially awful for the things that he doesn't like? How do the authors select examples to stir your emotions?

3. Determine Cause and Effect.

Does the person assert that one fact follows as the result of another? (Examples include such statements as "Increased auto exhaust causes global warming," or "Government regulations cause unemployment"). How sweeping are these assertions? What is the evidence for it? How persuasive is this evidence?

4. Compare and contrast different points of view.

5. Determine the accuracy and completeness of the information provided. When you read more than one point of view on an issue, you should think about the following:

- What facts and cause-effect relationships does everyone agree about?

- What facts and cause-effect relationships do authors or speakers disagree about?

- What important facts do some persons raise, while others ignore?

- What sources could be used to determine the accuracy of the information you hear?

6. Recognize poor logic and faulty reasoning. When you read more than one point of view on an issue, you should think about the following logical problems. Note that the examples often include more than one form of poor logic.

a. Incorrect cause-effect relationships ("The Clean Air Act of 1990 preceded the recent economic recession, therefore the CAA caused the recession" [Were other factors much more influential in bringing about the economic downturn?)

b. Inaccurate or distorted use of statistics ("Environmental laws of the 1970s cause a reduction in pollution;" think about whether, for example, population and economic growth offset environmental gains). Think about widely different assumptions and projections of the future; for example, environmentalists may project that the protection of the Northern spotted owl may cause little net loss of jobs in the Pacific Northwest because they assume that such restrictions will benefit fishing, tourism, and other industries; the logging companies and unions may project the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

c. Faulty analogies or comparisons ("Congress can't balance the federal budget, so how can it clean up the environment?" or "Auto companies have lied about safety, so how can they be trusted on emissions controls?" Such assertions tend to be matters of opinion rather than demonstrable facts).

d. Oversimplifications that ignore important information ("Tougher environmental laws can create jobs in the long run, so the economy will be better off if stricter laws are enacted;" such a statement ignores the number of persons who may be displaced in the short run with a given environmental law).

e. Stereotyping ("all environmentalists are kooks; all conservatives are greedy crooks"). Modifiers such as "never" or "always" often tip off stereotyping.

f. Ignoring the question (when asked if auto emissions cause global warming, the person instead the cost of regulation or the potential seriousness of global warming).

g. Faulty generalization (the 1970 Clean Air Act's effort to force automobile companies to drastically reduce emissions failed to cause automobile companies to reach that goal within the original time limit; therefore all environmental legislation is a failure).

7. Develop inferences and draw logical conclusions. Ask yourself:

- What are the person's conclusions

- Do you agree or disagree with these conclusions?

- What other conclusions could you draw from this information?

- What other information is important to know before making a judgment about the value of this person's argument?

Detailed Outline of Readings and Assignments


August 26: Introduction

Required Readings

Weimer & Vining, ch. 1; Heineman et al, ch. 1

Discussion Questions

- How do you know good policy analysis when you see it?

- How does a "science" of policy differ from a science such as physics?

- What tools does a policy analyst need to have at her or his command?

- Can policy analysts be politically neutral?




September 9: What is policy analysis? Who, What, Where, When, & How

Required Readings

Heineman et al, ch. 3-4

Weimer & Vining, ch. 10

Discussion Questions

- What is American political culture and how does it affect policy analysis?

- How does disagreement over values affect public policy decisions?

- What are postmaterial values and how do they affect policy analysis?

- Do the results of the 1994 elections confirm or refute Heineman et al's observations about the effect of electoral change on policy analysis?

- What steps would you take to identify the political feasibility of policy alternatives?

- Under what circumstances would cooptation, compromise, heresthetics, and rhetoric be the most appropriate strategy for maximizing your chances of success in the policy process?


September 16: Elements of Policy Analysis: A Case Study

Required Readings

Cohen, entire

Discussion Questions

- Who’s the best policy analyst in the book? Why?

- Who’s the best policy leader in the book? Why?

- Who’s the best policy critic in the book?

- Did the Constitution affect the outcome? How?

- How did norms and values shape the Clean Air Act of 1990?

- How did organizational interests and resources shape the Clean Air Act of 1990?

- How did economics shape the information that policy makers utilize in the shaping the Clean Air Act?

- What kinds of biased information exist in the case? How does this bias affect policy making?

- How do time constraints affect the way that policy information is developed and used?

- Was it possible to predict the outcome of the Clean Air Act of 1990?

- How would you improve the information available for revising the Clean Air Act in the future?Lecture: Constitution, Government Structure


September 23: The Behavioral Perspective 1

Required Readings

Fischer, ch. 1

Putt and Springer, ch. 4, 6, 8 (Heineman et al, ch. 2 - recommended, not required)

Discussion Questions

- What is technocratic policy analysis?

- How important is technocratic policy analysis in the Clean Air Act of 1990?

- What is situational validation and who cares?

- What is societal-level vindication and who cares?

Here are seven projects. Choose one of them and then describe how you would go through the steps (in Putt and Springer, Chapter 4) to complete the project.

1. Needs Assessment: Your supervisor has asked you to assess needs for job training for the short-run, medium run, and long-run. She wants to know what jobs will increase, what kinds of skills will people need to fill them? What kinds of jobs will shrink, and what will happen to the people now working in them?

2. Description: A state representative wants to know how waste reduction and recycling efforts currently are working.

3. Causation: The City-County Task Force on gang-related crimes wants to know whether or not another gun buyback would make a difference in violent crime in the metropolitan area.

4. Estimation: Civic Progress has a new executive director who wants you to tell him whether or not airlines are likely to land more planes at Lambert Field (1) in five years and (2) in twenty-five years.

5. Choice: Should government continue to fund voluntary busing of students in the St. Louis area?


September 30: The Behavioral Perspective 2

Brief Assignment 1 Due

Required Readings

Fischer, ch. 2-3

Discussion Questions

- How does the Westinghouse case illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the behavioral approach?

- Under what circumstances should policy analysts use social experimentation?

- How does politics affect behavioral approaches to public policy?

- How would a behavioral policy analyst go about designing an analysis of the following question: How should St. Louis policy makers address the economic problems of St. Louis City?


A new Chancellor of the University of Missouri - St. Louis has been instructed that the Missouri state legislature is going to undertake a full scale assessment of each University of Missouri campus. The Chancellor has substantial freedom to assess performance on our campus, but he is certain that the legislature will demand the following information:

1. A needs assessment for public higher education in the metropolitan area and in Missouri. What needs does UMSL fill? How will UMSL fill the needs that are being created by a more international and information-based economy?

2. A description of the students and faculty, including graduate students, minorities, women and the disabled. Are students and their employers satisfied with UMSL?

3. How many students will can the campus expect to serve in the years 2000 and 2525? How will these students compare to the students today? What are the estimated capital needs of the campus in those years?

4. Why are UMSL’s graduation rates not higher?

5. How can we establish budget priorities for programs (for example, MPPA, the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, business, education, optometry and nursing, engineering, extension services, the honors college, and such overhead activities as recruiting, retention, library, sports, etc.). What programs should be enhanced? Maintained? Cut?

For our discussion, please prepare to explain how you would use the tools in Putt and Springer, Chapters 6 and 8, to collect and analyze the information that the Chancellor needs. These tools include interviews; observations; survey research. You can use other available data as needed. Be sure to justify your measures. Be prepared to critique (constructively) each others' proposals.


October 7:  The Economic Perspective 1

Required Readings

Weimer and Vining, chapters 3-5

How to read the chapters

Most of the students will find the material in these chapters difficult and frustrating. Chapter 3 in particular will be challenging to those who are not familiar with microeconomics. Do not read these chapters to master the techniques of economic analysis. Read the interpretations, the examples, and especially the chapter summaries. The point of these three chapters is to (1) begin to familiarize students with the economic approach to policy analysis and (2) to examine why government efforts would be necessary even if markets worked efficiently. Thus your reading and our discussion should not bog down in the precise measurement of the issues as much as the issues themselves. In chapter 3, ask the following:

 - What is Pareto efficiency? Why is price so important? Why is equilibrium so important? Why is Pareto efficiency important for society? Why is it important for policy analysis?

- What information is required to assess the failure of a market to achieve Pareto efficiency?

Then, your reading should focus on four questions about several "market failures." The questions are (1) what does concept mean (and illustrate); (2) why does it justify government intervention in markets; (3) what kinds of government intervention does it require (illustrate); what kinds of information does it require to make good policy decisions about this policy response.

Pure public goods / Search goods / Positive and negative externalities

Consumer, producer, and social surplus / Marketable public goods / Experience goods

Common property and free public goods / Natural monopoly / Information asymmetry     

Positive and negative externalities / Endogenous Preferences / Post-experience goods                

Markets with few sellers or few buyers / Utility interdependence / Legitimacy of preferences

Uncertainty / Intertemporal allocation / Adjustment costs /

Pareto principle versus the social welfare function (p 95) / Institutional-utilitarianism

Floors on consumption / Equality of outcomes / Institutional values

Political feasibility  / Social indicators / Interpreting distributional consequences


October 14:  The Economic Perspective 2

 Required Readings

Weimer and Vining, chapters 6-7

Discussion Questions

(All) The authors assert that "Some market failures are too costly to correct; some distributional goals are too costly to achieve" (p 113). Give examples from your policy area.

What would happen if there existed a federal initiative and referendum process? (Among other examples think of the 1990 Clean Air Act and the current debates on the federal budget). What information would be required, and how should it be provided?

Elections generally are seen as a way for citizens to control policy makers. But does their chief value lie in permitting policy makers to control citizens?

Would policy analysis performed for a city council elected "at-large" differ from policy analysis performed for a council elected by geographical districts?

"Rents can be realized directly from government as well as through the marketplace" (p 123). Explain. So what?

What is the "principal-agent" relationship and why is it a problem for policy analysis?

Why is it difficult to specify the value of public goods, and who cares?

What are "organizational public goods" and who cares?

(ALL) Give examples of each of the following in the policy area you’ve chosen:
- market freeing, facilitating, and simulating tools
- taxes and subsidies
- rules
- nonmarket mechanisms
- insurance and cushions

Is one of these mechanisms superior to others under all circumstances? Why?


October 21: The Interpretive Perspective 1

Brief Assignment 2 Due

Required Readings

Fischer, chapters 4-5

Discussion Questions

Provide the "logic of the situation" for the following actors in an inner city school:

 (1) a math teacher

(2) the principal

(3) an average student

Validate (situationally) the following:

(1) a program for suspending property taxes for ten years for a new factory built in your city.

(2) capital punishment

(3) job training for welfare recipients

How would you go about using qualitative research to study a the problem of drug use in a medium sized suburb?

What lessons can be drawn from the Times Square case about urban redevelopment in St. Louis?


October 28: The Interpretive Perspective  2

READ: Fischer, ch. 6-7; Weimer and Vining, ch. 2

Discussion Questions

Provide proof for the claim that vindication requires historical knowlege.


(1) the North American Free Trade Agreement

(2) mandatory imprisonment for a third felony

(3) term limits for legislators

(4) Social Security (as presently constituted)

Give the best case possible in favor of disabilty rights. Give the best case possible for balancing disabilty rights against the costs to society.

Imagine that you work for a mayor who instructs you to analyze the best way to expand an urban development program to additional neighborhoods. You discover that the primary effect of the program is to provide 50 additional patronage workers for the mayor, and that these workers have absolutely no value to the city in any other way. What are your options?

How can we minimize disagreement over values in public decisions?


November 4: Drawing Lessons 1

READ: Rose, ch. 1-3

Discussion Questions

What nations or states should we look to for policy lessons? Why?

If you wanted to draw lessons from another country's policy in your area, and you could interview its primary administrator, what would you ask?

What would a policy analyst using the economic approach ask that administrator?

What would a policy analyst using the behavioral approach ask that administrator?

What programs in your policy area are likely to be totally fungible? What are the general characteristics of such programs?


November 11: Drawing Lessons

Required Readings:

Rose, 4-7

Discussion Questions

What programs in your policy area are likely to be characterized by total blockage? What are the general characteristics of such programs?

Should someone in your policy area be familiar with its history? How familiar? Why?

Evaluate this proposition: The more controversial the policy, the less politicians care about implementing what they enact.

Should we equalize fiscal resources across the U.S. states? Across U.S. school districts? What would the good and bad consequences be?

Use the hypotheses in Chapter 6 (Hypotheses 1-7) to assess the transferability of other nations' health care policy to the United States.

Will the U.S. engage in more or less lesson drawing in the future? Defend your position.


November 18                 CLASS DOES NOT MEET


November 25                 Assessing Benefits and Costs

Longer Exercise 1 Due

Required Readings

Weimer and Vining, chapter 9; Fischer, chapter 8

Discussion Questions

As was the case in Weimer and Vining, chapter 3, some of the material in chapter 9 is difficult and you should not read the chapters to master the techniques of economic analysis. The point of the chapter is to specify what policy analysts must consider when they assess the benefits and costs of a particular decision.

Answer the following questions about your policy area:

- How do you go about identifying relevant impacts? (Note: this does not ask what those impacts are.

- How do you go about "monetizing" impacts?

- How would you discount policy options for time and risk?

- How should (and how do) physical and budgetary constraints and distributional consequences enter into policy choices informed by benefit-cost analysis?


Of the following, ask (1) what does concept mean (and illustrate); (2) why do analysts have to taking it into account when they recommend policy options; and (3) what kinds of information does it require to make good policy decisions about this policy response.

Opportunity costs / Secondary Markets / Present Value

Expected value / Hedonic price models / Shadow prices


Question from Fischer:

Are we living in the riskiest times in human history, or the safest?

What rule should we use to balance risk against cost?


December 2: Utilization / Cases

Required Readings

Weimer and Vining, chapters 8, 11-13; Fischer, chapter 9

Discussion Questions

Apply the process in Figure 8.2 to

(1) Lambert airport expansion

(2) Metrolink expansion

(3) public housing

(4) the minimum wage

(5) the burning of toxic waste at Times Beach

What could you do to prevent the communication of your policy analysis (assuming the contract requires 25 copies of a 100 page report)?

Choose one of the three cases. Assess the applicability of course concepts to the case. In particular, use Fischer’s critique and Weimer and Vining’s likely defense.


December 9: Conclusions

Required Readings

Weimer and Vining, chapter 14; Fischer, chapter 10

Discussion Questions

Specify one reform that could effectively democratize policy analysis in the St. Louis area.

Specify one example of policy analysis that could build community in the St. Louis metropolitan area.



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Last Updated September 18, 1999