Rethinking Policy Design with Professor Quinton Mayne

January 15, 2013
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

Quinton Mayne recently joined Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center as an assistant professor of public policy. Previously, he had served as the Center’s inaugural Democracy Fellow. We sat down with Professor Mayne for a conversation on his upcoming spring course DPI 130 “Rethinking Policy Design,” which meets both SUP and DPI concentration requirements for MPP candidates.

Why did you create DPI 130 “Rethinking Policy Design”?
In creating DPI-130, I wanted to help students think critically and imaginatively about differences between key policy tools being used to tackle today’s pressing problems. Some politicians, for example, believe handing over powers to charities and community organizations is the solution; for others, private firms should play a greater role in solving the problems our societies face. In some instances policymakers think that problems would go away if citizens were better informed; in other cases, involving ordinary people in the policymaking process seems like a solution. In recent years, politicians have even sought to address thorny public problems by inconspicuously “nudging” people into behaving and thinking differently. By taking this course, students will have the chance to reflect not only on why certain tools are chosen over others, but also on the far-reaching effects of tool choice on ideals of citizenship, the vibrancy of community life, the power of private capital, and the size and visibility of the state.

Why should a student take this course?
Depending on where they come from or the issue areas they are most familiar with, certain policy tools will seem very natural to some students but alien or faddish to others. My hope is that by taking this course, students will be able to step back from what seems normal in order to think afresh about what policy tools might be right for the job. So, whether crafting policy with government or from within government or even if advocating from without, this course should give students the knowledge and analytic tools to weigh the value and limits of sticking with tried-and-test policy tools versus the risks and potential pay-offs of turning to new ones.

What kinds of cases and materials will you be teaching to illustrate how to craft public policy?
I have designed the course to be fundamentally comparative in scope, not just in terms of a conversation between political science and public policy but also, crucially, in terms of the countries and policy areas that the readings cover. The course draws on real-world examples from the United States and Europe as well as middle-income and developing countries, taking in a range of policy fields and issue areas, including education, health care, social services, policing, unemployment, and environmental protection.

Learn more about "Rethinking Policy Design"

Quinton Mayne

Quinton Mayne, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, HKS