POLS 220: Introduction to Public Policy

M/W 2:00-315

Instructor: Casey LaFrance

Office: Du 476

Office Hours: Mon 10-12, Weds 11-12;   or  by appointment

Ph: 706-455-1023

E-mail: z129250@niu.edu



Course Description: 

                Welcome!  Despite the popular perception that the policy process is akin to that of making sausage, this course will, indeed, force us all to look at how policy is made and implemented.  In doing so, we will identify relevant actors, groups, and contextual factors that shape American public policy, especially at the federal level.  We will attempt to bridge the gap between theory and praxis by: (a) exploring the seminal writings of policy theorists and analysts, on the one hand, and (b) working in small groups to deal with actual policy problems.  In addition, we will discuss basic methods of policy analysis, program evaluation, and decision-making.  Finally, we will pay careful attention to the roles of rhetoric and argumentation that help us to debate public policy.


Course Objectives:


To become familiar with general theories of the policy process

To learn and understand the importance of key actors, groups, political climates, and other sources of influence in this process

To comprehend and consider normative policy imperatives, some of which we will heartily agree with and others of which we will vehemently despise

To acquire a rudimentary knowledge of the techniques involved in policy analysis

To work independently, and with group members, in fulfilling the aforementioned objectives

To create and maintain an open setting for crucial debates on a myriad of policy arenas

To have fun and to learn from one another!


My Obligations and Guarantees:

                I will be responsive to your questions during class, during office hours, and in between.  Do not hesitate to e-mail or call.  However, I may also address your question(s) during class time for the benefit of your classmates.  If you are struggling to “get” an idea, concept, etc., there is very good chance that others are as well.

                I will present the material in a variety of fashions in an attempt to accommodate different learning styles (e.g., some of us learn from hearing; others, from seeing; still others, from doing or discussing).  I am also happy to discuss course material and/or present it in a way that you might better understand during office hours.

                I will be prepared for class.  I expect you to be as well.  It is imperative that you complete the assigned readings prior to our class meetings.  Some of these readings may seem simple while others might require a second reading.  Some may challenge your ideological stances while others may reinforce your views.  Some may seem almost as fun as watching paint dry.  I assure you, however, that there is something to be gained from each reading.

                I will challenge you.  This does not mean that I agree or disagree with you; nor does it mean that I want you to feel embarrassed or angry.  It simply means that I want to help you sharpen your arguments and consider the perspectives offered by others.


Imperatives for Success In This Course (AKA earning an A or B):

Read the required selections and take note of each selection’s thesis and main ideas

Relate the readings to current issues in the media, in your local government, etc.

Show up for class, ask questions, and offer insightful comments.

Team up with your classmates to study and discuss.  You may find that your in-class groups make excellent study groups outside of class.

Ask.  If, at any point, you need clarification or you need me to slow down so you can take notes, etc.  don’t hesitate to raise your hand. 

Complete your assignments and turn them in on-time.

Take advantage of NIU’s resources for you.  For example, you might find that a visit to the writing center really helps you to convey your ideas or to fix grammatical errors.

Consider the long-term usefulness of this course.  Most of you won’t become professional policy analysts, but I guarantee that some of the ideas and assignments that you encounter in this course may help you to be a more effective citizen and to develop your critical thinking skills.


Grades and Assignments



Please purchase a three-ring binder for this course.  You should label the front cover of this binder “POLS 220 Journal” and type your name.


Journals will follow this format:

12 Point Times New Roman, Double Spaced, 1-inch Margins


First Page: Table of Contents


Section One: 30 Discussion Questions (5 Points)

In this section, you will list 30 discussion questions that have arisen from course readings.  Please number these 1-30.  These questions may serve as icebreakers for our class meetings.  They may also be helpful in preparing for the exams.  Pay attention to the review questions in the texts for some ideas, but please create original questions.  I strongly encourage you to develop and write these questions as you read rather than waiting until the night before all 30 are due.


Section Two: 2 Scholarly Articles and Analyses (2.5 points each = 5 Points )

In this section, you will summarize and review two scholarly articles from ACADEMIC JOURNALS.  Ideally, these articles will bring in authors and ideas outside of the required readings.  Explain how the piece (or the reviewed work) relates to the course readings with which it corresponds.  What argument(s) are being made?  What are the strengths/weaknesses of this piece (whether normative or empirical)?  How did you react to the piece?  These entries need to be written formally, with attention given to grammar and spelling.  You may write as many of these as you wish.  They might even come in handy when preparing for each exam.  Again, you will select two (2) entries for me to grade.  You may find these articles through J-Stor, ArticleFirst, and similar databases.  I will demonstrate the use of these databases during class.  Each summary should take up around 1-2 pages of double-spaced text.


Section Three: Interview with an Actor in the Policy Process (10 Points)

In this section, you will interview a person involved in some stage of the policy process.  This is intentionally a very loose definition, as I expect a variety of interviewees.  Some potential interviewees include: city councilpersons or other legislators; street-level bureaucrats such as police officers and teachers; government contractors; and interest group representatives.  The idea here is for you to attempt to ascertain how our class discussions of policy theory mesh with the real world experiences of these individuals.  Thus, you should ask around 5 substantive questions (e.g., move beyond the “What is your name?” What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” type questions).  We will discuss some potential questions during class time.  You should employ the Question/Answer/Analysis format of interviewing in which you list the question, the response, and your analysis of the response.  Also, please include an introductory paragraph telling me why you chose this person, what this person does, etc. and a conclusion that ties the answers and analyses together.  Shoot for 5-7 pages of double-spaced text.  Be prepared to discuss in class on October 17.




Participant Observation At a Local Government Meeting  (10 Points)

In this section, you will attend a local government meeting (e.g., city council, budget hearing, planning commission meeting, etc.) and write a reactionary essay.  First, tell me where you went and why you chose this venue.  Next, tell me the topics discussed.  Then, begin your analysis.  Take note of who else was in attendance: was the meeting relatively empty? Crowded?  Also, take not of who was NOT there.  For example, how many college students show up to DeKalb’s city council meetings?   Take note of formal and informal leadership:  Is there a dominant councilperson, even though his/her position accords no formal power?  Is there a citizen who has something to say about every topic?  Does attending such a meeting help you to better understand the policy process in your municipality?  How do the processes you observed relate to our class discussions and readings?  Shoot for 5-7 Pages of double-spaced text.  Be prepared to discuss in class on September 26.


Total Journal Grade: 20 Points

Completed Journals, with all assignments, are due November 14.  Late Journals will not be accepted.


Optional Research Paper: 11 Points*

 For this assignment, you will pick a piece of legislation (from any level of government, in any policy arena).  You will explain the development of this legislation, including: (1) how this policy reached the agenda (How did it initially garner attention?  Describe the context in which this policy developed.  Was there a triggering event or was did this policy reach the agenda more gradually?  Which key groups or actors fought for this policy?), (2) groups that are affected by this policy, (3) normative and empirical arguments for or against the policy, (4) how this policy was implemented (and by which agencies), (5) and how effective it has been in achieving the goals of those who passed it.  Consider the costs associated with this policy, in terms of monetary and opportunity costs.  Consider the societal benefits of this policy.  How might you change this policy?  As you write, consider and incorporate relevant literature and theory from this course to substantiate your claims.   Due December 3 at class time.  Late Papers will not be accepted.

*This assignment is optional in that you will not receive an incomplete in the course if you choose not to complete it. Please be advised, however, that it is impossible to earn an A in this course without writing the research paper.  Be advised, as well, that I expect the quality of these papers to be beyond average and to follow the format prescribed below.  If you have any questions about the research paper, feel free to ask me.


Research Paper Will Follow This Format:

Introduction (1-2 pages):

Specify the policy you are looking at

Relevant Theories

State your position

Policy Summary: 2-3 Pages

What is the purpose of this piece of legislation?

How much will it /did it cost?

Which actors/groups will be/ are affected?

Implementation Time Frame (How long? By whom?)

Method of Evaluation (How will we know it works); What criteria are written into the legislation?

Theoretical Context: 3-5 Pages

What theoretical perspective(s) fit this policy? Why? How?

How did it reach the agenda?

Pros and Cons (T-Chart)

Arguments For/Against

Analysis: 2-3 Pages

Has the policy been successful?  How do you know?  Is it premature to evaluate this policy?

How can this policy be improved?

Is it even necessary? Why or Why not?


Quizzes and In-Class Assignments:  20 points

Quizzes may or may not be announced.  Make-up quizzes will only be offered to those with a very compelling justification for missing class.  In order to perform well on these quizzes, read the required selections and ponder the discussion questions in the texts.  In-class assignments may be collected and graded as quizzes.


Mid-Term Exam: 24 Points

This exam will cover all material presented and discussed up to the mid-term of the semester.  We will review for this exam during the class session preceding the mid-term.  Expect Multiple Choice, Short Answer, and essay questions.


Final Exam: 25 Points

This exam will be cumulative, encompassing most of the topics that we have discussed in the course.  We will review for the final during the last week of classes.  Expect Multiple Choice, Short Answer, and essay questions. 

The Final Exam will take place Mon. December 10, 2-3:50 p.m.


Extra Credit:

Extra credit opportunities will be limited to bonus questions on exams and, if I deem appropriate, additional assignments that each class member has an opportunity to complete (e.g., attending a lecture or event).  Beyond these, no individual extra credit is available.


Total: 100 points possible (100%)

Grading: A = 90-100 B= 80-89 C= 70-79 D= 60-69 F= <60


Undergraduate Writing Awards The department of political science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing. Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and $50.00. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by February 28th. All copies should have two cover pages – one with the student’s name and one without the student’s name. Only papers written in the previous calendar year can be considered for the award. However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following year’s competition even if the student has graduated.


Make Up Exams/Assignments: If you miss an exam, and have a VERY COMPELLING reason, I will consider offering a make-up exam. Late assignments will automatically receive a 10 percent deduction for each class session past the due date if they are accepted at all.   I will not consider make-up work for quizzes/group assignments missed due to unexcused absences. It is your responsibility to inquire about make up assignments.



Academic Integrity: Please refer to you undergraduate handbook (page 49) for NIU’s policy on Academic Integrity (for Plagiarism and other forms of cheating). It is impossible to learn from one another if any of us recycle the ideas of others. Please turn in your own original work, use quotation marks “ “ when quoting a source, and use a recognized citation style (preferably APA). Please do not speak to one another during the course of an exam. If I suspect that you may be cheating, I will contact the University Judicial Office. If your actions are judged as academically dishonest, you will receive an automatic zero on the assignment and a grade of F in the course.


 Accommodations For Students With Disabilities: Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester. Please feel free to discuss any disability issues with me in private, and I will make reasonable accommodations to ensure that you may fully participate in every aspect of this course. Please don’t hesitate to inform me of any needs you have. If I don’t know, I won’t be able to help you.



 Department of Political Science Web Site Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to <http://polisci.niu.edu>.



Decorum/Expectations of Proper Conduct: In order to ensure that each member of this class has an equal opportunity to learn from and participate in class discussions and activities, I ask that you please demonstrate the following forms of courtesy to one another and to me: Please make bathroom trips before class and minimize early departure from class (unless you have informed me of your need to leave early) Please turn off electronic devices (cell phones, ipods, pagers, pda’s, and similar devices) upon entering the classroom. Please leave these devices out of sight in a backpack, purse, or pocket. Please feel free to ask a question or make a comment at any point during the lecture and/or your group activities. Please do not interrupt another student while he/she is speaking. Briefly show your hand, and I will call on you in these situations. If you eat or drink in class, please clean up after yourself. Please do not bring distracting food items into the classroom (e.g., rustling chip bags, items that require silverware, alcoholic beverages, very pungent foods, etc.). Please treat your classmates and group partners with respect.   In short, be civil to one another. Some of the ideas in the field of Public Policy (and its subfields) are often controversial. I invite you to share your opinion of these ideas (e.g., Affirmative Action, Federalism, Gun Control, etc.), but please do not use “hate speech” in doing so. Remember, also, to keep your ears open to ideas that may vary greatly from your own. This is how learning takes place. Please back up your comments with empirical evidence/scholarship from this field or other social sciences when possible. Finally, I value debate, but I will not tolerate heated arguments in the classroom. Please refrain from “side conversations” during the lecture/group work. To better facilitate learning in this class, I ask that only registered members of the class be present (i.e., please do not bring guests, children, etc.) If you fall asleep in class, you may be asked to return to your domicile so that you may nap there and avoid distracting the rest of the class. On the day of a test, I ask that you use the restroom before class. You will not be permitted to finish an exam if you leave the room for any reason during the course of taking the exam. Leave backpacks/notebooks/textbooks and other materials beneath your seat during the course of an exam. When you finish an exam, bring your test paper up to me and turn it in face-up so that there will be no possibility of “losing” an exam. If I deem them necessary, additional “decorum/behavior” regulations may be imposed. If you violate these guidelines, you may be asked to leave class and you will not be considered present for the session.


 Schedule: Please Note that the scheduled contained in this syllabus is subject to change and/or revision at the discretion of the instructor. Please come to class so that you may keep up with the activities of this course.

Additional reading assignments (e.g., Journal Articles, etc.) will be announced as the course progresses. Please make sure that you complete ALL readings before the class session in which they will be discussed.


Part I:

The Context, Methods, and Epistemology of Public Policy


Week One:

Aug 27: Introduction to Course Themes, Meet and Greet, Presentation of Syllabus


Aug 29:  Basic American Government Review; Discussion of Federalism



           Classics, Chap 1

(Pay Attention to Review Questions at the end of each assigned Classics Chapter)

Suggested: K&L Chaps 1-2



Week Two:   The Legislature

Sept 3: No Class---Labor Day


Sept 5: The Role of the Legislature

Group Activity:  Legislative Committee Exercise

Classics, Chapter 6


Week Three: The Judiciary and The Presidency

Sept 10: The Role of the Judiciary

Classics, Chapter 8


Sept 12: The Modern Presidency and Public Policy

Classics, Chapter 7


Week Four:  The Bureaucracy, Implementation, Evaluation

Sept 17:  The Bureaucracy

Required:  Classics, Chapter 2, readings 4-6

Suggested: W. Wilson (1887). The Study of Administration.  Political Science Quarterly. (J-Stor)


Sept 19:  Implementation and Evaluation

K&L, Chaps 5-6



Week 5:  Interest Groups, Pluralism, Citizen Participation

Required:  Classics, Chapter 3



      Putnam, RD (1995).  Tuning In, Tuning Out:  The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America. PS: Political Science and Politics > Vol. 28, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 664-683.  Jstor


      Bobo, L. & Gilliam, F. (1990).  Race, Sociopolitical Participation, and Black Empowerment.  APSR, 84(2), pp. 377-393.  Jstor


      Verba, S., Burns, N., and K.L. Schlozman (1997).  Knowing and Caring about Politics:  Gender and Political Engagement.  JOP, 59(4), pp. 1051-1072.  Jstor.


Sept 24 IGs


Sept 26 CP


Group Activity:  IG/Regulatory Artifacts



Week 6:  Agenda Setting

Classics, Chapter 4


Oct 1  AS


Oct 3  AS


Week 7: Theories of the Policy Process and the Role of Rhetoric


Classics, Chapter 10

K&L, Chapter 3


Oct 8    Theories/Rhetoric


Oct 10   Theories/Rhetoric



Week 8:  Public Policy Analysis


Classics, Chapter 11

(Revisit Classics, Chapter 2)


K&L Chaps 4-6


Oct 15 PP Analysis


Oct 17  Midterm Review



Part II:  Substantive Policy Arenas


Week 9:  Mid-Term Exam and Education Policy


Oct 22  Midterm Exam


Oct 24  Education Policy


--K&L Chapter 10

--No Child Left Behind in Issues for Debate


--20/20 Documentary on School Choice and Discussion (in class, time-permitting)



Week 10: Economic Policy and Public Budgeting


Oct 29 EP/PB


Oct 31 EP/PB

Required:  Classics, Chapter 5 (All)

                    Issues, Chapters 12-13

Suggested: K& L Chapter  7


Group Activity: Engaging Citizens in Public Budgeting



Week 11:  Environmental Policy


Nov 5


Nov 7


Re-read Downs (1972) “Up and Down with Ecology:  The Issue-Attention Cycle”

K&L Chapter 11

Issues, Chapter 9

“An Inconvenient Truth” and Discussion (Time Permitting)



Week 12:  Healthcare Policy


Nov 12


Nov 14


Supersize Me” and Discussion (Time Permitting)

Group Activity:  Debate on Obesity

K&L, Chapter 8



Week 13:  Policy Debates


Nov 19


---Gun Control


---Abortion Policy


---Same-sex Marriage


--Illegal Immigration


--National Healthcare


---And others


You will draw a topic from a hat during the preceding week’s classes.  Then, you will research this topic from either a Pro, Con, or Somewhere in-between perspective.  Details to follow.


Nov 21: No Class: Thanksgiving Break


Week 14:  A Cursory Glimpse of Foreign Policy and Global Governance, Fragmentation, and Diminished Nation-State Sovereignty



Classics,  Chapter 9



H. Wagenaar (2007). Governance, Complexity, and Democratic Participation 
The American Review of Public Administration 37, no. 1 (2007): 17-50


Mathur, N. & Skelcher, C. (2007).  Evaluating Democratic Performance: Methodologies for Assessing the Relationship between Network Governance and Citizens.  Public Administration Review 67, no. 2 (2007): 228-237


Callahan, R. (2007).Governance: The Collision of Politics and Cooperation 
Public Administration Review 67, no. 2 (2007): 290-301



Nov 26  FP


Nov 28  GG



Week 15: Review For Final Exam (Bring your discussion questions) and Loose ends to be tied

Dec 3


Dec 5      

 Final Exam: December 10, 2-350