Curriculum and Case Notes
MAKING PUBLIC POLICY PROGRAMS EFFECTIVE AND RELEVANT: THE ROLE OF
THE POLICY SCIENCES
Peter deLeon and Toddi A. Steelman
As we leave the 20th century, it seems appropriate to reflect on the discipline and
pedagogy of public affairs.
This essay addresses the question: Is public policy
education effective and relevant for the challenges of the 21st century? To answer
this question, we also need to ask two additional questions: Is it necessary to change?
And, if so, how might such change occur?
There are no “objective” indicators (e.g., wars or depressions) that portend crisis in
the American polity and its attendant public policies. Moreover, the state of public
policy programs in the United States seems quite robust. Graduates from public policy
programs are finding employment in the hearty economic boom of the late 1990s
and early 2000s, and public policy programs have grown markedly in the 50 years
since Harold D. Lasswell (1949, 1951) forecast them, and since the first public policy
programs were established in the 1970s (see deLeon, 1988). However, growth in
academic public policy programs and ready employment are not complete measures
of success or salience. While the discipline has experienced many undeniable triumphs
in terms of prominence, it has been less successful in providing effective long-term
solutions to some policy problems, such as poverty alleviation, homelessness,
sustainable development (i.e., balancing environmental and developmental concerns),
health care, education, and campaign finance, to name a few. Derek Bok (1997) has
offered a series of calibrations by which government and their policies might be
measured, in which the United States clearly has a mixed reading.
In addition to lack of effectiveness in some areas of public policy, the United
States and the world community in the 21st century will be a far different place
than it was in the 1950s or the 1970s, as Lasswell himself surely knew (see Lasswell,
1956). To wit: the
American public trusted federal and usually state governments;
devolution was not the phrase de jour; democracy and market-based
were not a global consensus, either as a development medium or even an agreed-
upon goal; technology was not as dominant nor as questioned; public, private,
nonprofit, and citizen sectors were more sharply defined and distinct in their mission
and goals. As these few examples indicate, changing contexts and new trends provide
adequate justification for appraising the status of public policy curricula and
anticipating its relevance for the future.
We are hardly alone in this endeavor. Ronald Brunner’s (1991) reflections on the status of the discipline
point to the policy movement as part of the problem. Michael Reisman (1987) provides an insightful
analysis of a meta-curricular theory for continuously making legal education more effective and relevant;
also see Brunner (1997a, 1997b).