Fall 2020 - 58975 - PA 388K - Advanced Topics in Public Policy

Analytic Foundations for Public Policy

Course Objectives

This course covers analytic skills for policy analysis. Pursuant to LBJ School curriculum policy, enrollment is by invitation only. Its objective is to foster habits for analytic reading, conceptual thinking, quantitative reasoning, and visual information-processing in policy practice. Students successfully completing this course are expected to be ready for the methods/microeconomics courses in the core curriculum of MPAff and MGPS.

Course Structure

This course is organized into four modules:

Philosophy of knowledge and language for reasoning (2 sessions). We begin with a survey of the evolution of western philosophy of science: ways of knowing, methods for making arguments, use of numbers for communication as well as for “data analysis,” and the grammar of algebra in that communication/analytic process.
Analytic thinking in a deterministic world (5 to 6 sessions). Algebra is the basic language for analytic thinking, and Cartesian coordinate space is the framework for visual communication. We start with the behavior of two-dimensional linear equations before extending the language of equations and graphs to non-linear functions and in multi-dimensional contexts. We end this module with linear optimization, an example of a tool for addressing policy and management problems.
Analytic thinking in a world with uncertainty (5 to 6 sessions). To take uncertainty into account, we need to add probabilities to the language of algebra. In this module we introduce probability mathematics and methods of counting before we move to distributional thinking and descriptive statistics. We end with decision analysis, an example of a tool for decision-making without complete information.
Analytic thinking on additional topics (2 to 3 sessions). The final module of the course covers a set of miscellaneous topics. They include: thinking about time-value of money, adjusting currency value for inflation, use of quantitative indices to summarize information, and measuring rates of change in non-linear trends.

Learning Experiences

This course integrates current affairs into the learning process. Daily news-reading, global and local, is required. Course exercises are about meticulous reading, careful reasoning, and use of analytic logic. To the extent needed, mechanics of calculation are to be done manually or with calculator, not with computer software. Formal exercises include:

Group-based problem sets about once every three to four weeks
Two individual-based Friday Learning Experiences
Exit interview with the instructor, emulating analytic internship application process

Instruction Mode