MPA 650 - Public Policy Process

Course Syllabus

Instructor Information | Course Information | Course Materials

Course Activities and Design | Grading and Evaluation | Course Policies

Instructor Information

Instructor: Jason Stilwell, Ph.D.

Contact Information:


Daytime Phone Number: (303) 902-3190 (for emergency use only)

Instructor Accessibility: Please do not hesitate to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I can also be reached at the phone number above if you are unable to access e-mail. If you ask me to call you back, please include days and times best to call you, along with your full name and a phone number.

E-mail will be responded to as promptly as possible, usually within twenty-four hours from Monday-Friday. Weekend response times may be longer. Please use the above e-mail address to contact me unless otherwise instructed. This helps keep me organized and responding to you as quickly as possible. Please put the appropriate subject of your message in the subject line (e.g., Exam question; discussion grading question).

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Course Information

Course Title: Public Policy Process

Course Description: Public policy often determines the core of our political and personal lives. This course examines the development of legislative and regulatory policies and the role of public administrators as active participants in the policy making process by studying problem identification, agenda setting, policy proposal, and adoption. Students develop the breadth, skill and knowledge, as well as the understanding of our diverse society, needed for comprehensive analyses of public programs.

Credit Hours: This course carries 3 semester credits. You can normally expect to put in 8-10 hours per week on this course.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course. It is strongly recommended that MPA 650 be taken prior to or concurrently with MPA 640.

Schedule: The course is organized into eight course meetings with three sessions per night. Each session will be approximately one hour in length. During Summer 2010, the class meets on both Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6:00 to 9:45 p.m. The final fifteen minutes of the course will be set aside for discussion of assignments.

My approach: I have much respect for graduate students in this program. Most of you are undertaking this program with a strong desire to increase your knowledge and better your self either in terms of your career, experience, or edification and are doing so while balancing many work and family pressures. I respect your efforts and encourage you to stick with it in those times you wonder why you should - you will be greatly rewarded at the end with a graduate degree and an education that you earned and will keep forever.

On the other hand, as graduate students I have high academic expectations of you. I believe graduate school, besides learning the substance of the course material, is designed to have the students become expert communicators (both orally and in writing) and qualified researchers. My focus is to help you achieve these high standards; I will provide constructive criticism and comments, will not "zing" you with pop-quizzes on micro-details and will focus on the theory and structure of the public policy process and your ability to discuss, research, and write about these theories and concepts.

Student Outcomes:

This course is an opportunity for students to combine the major theoretical perspectives on the policy process with a comprehensive understanding of the actors that influence policymaking and politics.

The student successfully completing this course should be able to:

  1. Understand contemporary theories and models of policy making and how the policy process operates.
  2. Gain an understanding of a variety of current public policy issues and controversies.
  3. Understand the role of policy makers and other political actors in shaping and influencing policy issues.
  4. Be able to understand actual public policy making in a wide variety of policy issues.
  5. Recall and critique the textbook theory of stages of public policy process.
  6. Discuss and critique competing theories within each stage of the policy process.
  7. Understand and be able to apply policy models to policy issues.
  8. Develop a strong understanding of policy actors.
  9. Develop a strong understanding of how policy issues emerge, gain traction, find a place on informal and formal agendas, and are adopted and implemented.
  10. Read academic and technical literature to gain an understanding of important themes and empirical findings.
  11. Critique and explain the implementation of a public policy.
  12. Identify the types, functions, and operations of interest groups in the American political system.
  13. Research and effectively communicate the history of a public policy.
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Course Materials

Required Textbook:

textbook image Introduction to the Policy Process, 2nd Edition, 2005. Thomas A. A. Birkland; ISBN: 0765 614 898, Sharpe M.E., Inc.

An Introduction to the Policy Process is intended for students in either academic or professional programs. The author's direct writing style and extensive use of examples will also appeal to practitioners. The book offers an extensive overview of the best current thinking on the policy process, with an emphasis on accessibility and synthesis rather than novelty or abstraction.

Your primary resource is the text. Be sure you have the 2nd edition. I recommend you spend some time looking over the text to see how it is laid out. As you have undoubtedly noticed there is a lot of reading and much information to absorb in graduate school. My suggestion is to read the textbook thoroughly prior to the exam. As we work our way through the course, we will build on the concepts discussed in the text. If you have questions, please ask me about them. One recommendation on how to be successful in this course is to READ THE TEXT.

Textbook Web Site:

web site icon Birkland Textbook. The website features an overview of the text.  The text is also available as an E-text.

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Course Activities and Design

Course Outline:
The course is divided into 24 one-hour units (3 per evening) with the remainder of each evening's class being devoted to discussion of assignments. The goal of this session structure is to add variety and breadth to the discussion of the public policy process. There will generally be three types of sessions: 1) key concepts of the policy process 2) topics as they relate to the policy process, and 3) video discussion.

Student Responsibilities:

Participation in Discussions is Critical:
A significant portion of your course grade will be based on your participation in discussions each evening. You will be familiar with the text and grading, in part, will be based on your ability to relate the discussion topics back to the concepts discussed in the text and other course materials. An MPA program such as this with night and weekend scheduled classes tends to draw practitioners. As such the class greatly benefits from our collective insights and experiences into the practical side of the policy process.

Communications About Difficulties/Absences:
It is your responsibility to contact me in a timely manner if you become ill, or have scheduling or computer problems that would keep you from participating in the course.


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Grading and Evaluation

Summary of Grading: Evaluation includes a combination of discussion participation, an exam, and writing assignments.

There is an online exam based on the material in the Birkland textbook. The exam consists of 3 parts: Multiple Choice Questions, True False Questions, and Short Answer Questions. There is a 65 minute time limit for completing the exam. On the Multiple Choice questions, be sure to pick the best answer from those available. Also, be sure to answer the complete question on the Short Answer questions.

The exam requires you to demonstrate your understanding of the terms, concepts, and information presented in the textbook. Questions for the exam will come from information presented in the textbook.

Writing Assignments
There will be three types of writing assignments. There are video write-ups where you will be required to write a short one-page essay on an in-class video assignment and how the video relates to the policy process. There is also a research assignment. You will select a research topic at the beginning of the semester. The research assignment consists of weekly writing assignments on your selected topic and culminates in a completed research paper at the end of the semester.

The research and writing assignment consists of selecting one of three potential research topics (provided at the first class session) and writing a short paper bi-weekly applying policy process issues to the specific topic. These individual assignments will culminate in a final research paper due at the end of the term. These assignments are a multi-step process – every other week you will write a paper on the topic you select, you will write on the same topic for the length of the course, culminating in a final research paper at the end of the course.

I will grade these writing assignments for content and the proper use of grammar. It is important you provide content to support your assertions and that is be supported by research (for the research, not video, assignments) as thoroughly and completely as possible. As graduate students you should strive to have a strong grasp of English grammar and an ability to gather and synthesize research. Part of a complete education is improving your communication skills. Strong writing skills are a positive byproduct of a college education and something that distinguishes you from others.

Weekly research assignments will require you to research specific areas of your selected research topic and prepare written findings. I will grade these assignments in the following manner:

1. Length:  As needed to address the week's assignment (Bi-weekly essay with approximate length of 5 - 10 pages. [Font size 10 or 12; single spaced or space and a half; 1" margins]

2. Grammar: correct use of grammar, referencing, punctuation, and spelling. See the document entitled "Bare Basics of Writing" in this course's Resources section.

3. Format: at the top of the page put your name, date, MPA 650, the topic, and follow this with the research question you are responding to.

4. Content: relevance of answer, depth of answer, and clarity of answer.

Discussion is a required element of this course. It is both an opportunity to share your knowledge and understanding of the subject and to provide a more dynamic classroom environment. Both of these enhance the learning experience. I will seek to keep the discussion focused on the topic or concept at hand, respond to a particular point, or ask additional questions for clarification or further class response.

You will be graded on your level of participation as well as the content of your comments, including your responses to the question(s) posed, and use of textbook and course material to support your comments.

I will look for the following in our discussions:

Discussions are designed to create a dialog between students.

You will be graded on participation and the quality of your responses.

Discussion will be worth up to 100 total points and 49 additional points for referencing course material

Plagiarism Policies are adhered to in this course. Ask your instructor or click here if you do not know what is or is not plagiarism.

Grading Scale:

Grade Equivalent
724 - 804
643 - 723
563 - 642
482 - 562
481 or fewer
% Total
Exam 1 Exam @ 85 points
Video write-ups 6 write-ups @ 20 points each
Weekly Research Papers 3 papers @ 80 points each



20 @ 5 points per session
Discussion references 7 @ 7 points per day


Final research paper 1 @ 210 points


Total Points
804 points


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Course Policies

Mutual Respect in Communications: A very important aspect of learning is respectful communication. The classroom is based on the value of mutually respectful communication. Students assume responsibility for respectful communications with other students and with course instructors, including communications which do not disrupt the classroom environment.

Disruptive Communications

• communications which disrupt the learning environment
• use of profanity and/or insulting or harassing remarks in class, email, discussions, chat or telephone communications.

A student who participates in disruptive communications forfeits the right to further class participation and is subject to removal from the course for the given term.

Plagiarism and academic dishonesty: The CSUN catalog defines plagiarism as "intentionally or knowingly representing the words, ideas, or work of another as one's own in academic exercise." Any idea or words that you use whether from a book, an article, the internet, or elsewhere must be cited appropriately. I do not tolerate plagiarism or academic dishonesty of any kind and I will, at a minimum, give an F for the course to any student guilty of plagiarism or academic dishonesty. The CSUN catalog also authorizes me to refer the case to the appropriate University officials and seek expulsion of the student from the University. I will exercise that option if I feel it is warranted. Make sure all your work is properly cited and do not represent the work of others as your own.

Late Work: Late Assignments will not be accepted unless prior arrangements have been made with the instructor.

Incomplete Grades: The "Incomplete" grade is a temporary grade indicating that the student has a satisfactory record of work completed but, for exceptional reasons, was unable to complete the final assignments. If circumstances beyond your control prevent you from completing an assignment at the end of the term, consult your instructor, immediately. The instructor will determine whether you have a reasonable chance of satisfactorily completing the remaining activities without online access to course materials. Your instructor must work out a way for you to complete the course without benefit of the course Web site. The "Incomplete" grade is designed for students who, because of documented illness or circumstances beyond their control, are unable to complete their course work within the semester but have completed a majority of the course work (75-85% of the course assignments and tests) in a satisfactory manner. The student is responsible for initiating the request for an "Incomplete" grade from the instructor. In requesting an "Incomplete" grade, the student should email the instructor the following information for evaluation: Documentation of Circumstances: Evidence of completion of 75-85% of the semester course work.

A Work-Completion Plan Needs to Include the Following:

What and how assignments and tests will be submitted to complete the course.

The time period in which the work must be completed, not to exceed 15 weeks from the end of the on-line semester.

The grade to be assigned if the work is not completed.

Both the instructor and the student must acknowledge this written email and keep a copy of the acknowledgment as documentation.

NOTE: You are encouraged to let me know as soon as possible if you are having difficulties with any part of the course. At no time will the "Incomplete" grade be used as entrance into another current or future course section for completion of the work. In the unlikely event that you and I cannot reach some resolution, please contact the Vice President of Instruction.

Academic Integrity: Plagiarism is the act of using words and/or ideas from another person or source without acknowledgment of debt to that person or source and is a serious academic crime. Students are expected to do their own work. Students are expected to follow Academic/Plagiarism policies.

Special Services: If you have a learning or physical disability that will require special accommodation, please notify your instructor immediately upon enrollment.

Notice of Nondiscrimination: California State University at Northridge is an equal-opportunity educational institution and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. Reasonable accommodations will be provided upon request for persons with disabilities.

Disclaimer: With the exception of the stated competencies for this course, this syllabus may be altered during the semester by the instructor as the learning environment requires.

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