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In addition to the general skills provided by the Public Policy core curriculum, students interested in social policy need a basic understanding of the causes and consequences of improvements in the overall welfare of society and of changes in the distribution of welfare within society. What policies promote an overall or general increase in social well being and to what extent do most vulnerable and at-risk groups share in the general improvement? To what extent do particular institutions—such as the education and health systems, the labor market, or the criminal justice system—increase or reduce inequality? How does the concentration of activity in cities affect the distribution of opportunity and well being among different groups? And what are the long and short term consequences of inequality for social, economic and political development?
Students should also be thoughtful about the peculiar political and managerial challenges posed by social policy and urban areas. Building political support for programs that have an element of redistribution or social insurance can be complicated since the beneficiaries often have little political influence. Social policy entrepreneurs thus often must create or manage coalitions that include service providers and others who interests are not completely aligned with those of the intended beneficiaries. Urban problems are particularly challenging because they often require cooperative action among independent cities in the same metropolitan area or among local, regional and national governments. Finally, the solution of social and urban problems is often beyond the skills or resources of any one sector—public, private or non-profit—but requires the different capabilities of all three. Effective policies often involve designing explicit or implicit partnerships between different levels of government and among the three sectors so that each plays a role for which it is well suited.
Finally, students of social and urban policy should have a more in-depth understanding of a particular policy domain such as education, health, labor, poverty, criminal justice, housing, urban land-use planning and urban economic development. While these areas share a common concern with the enhancement and protection of social well-being, each area also involves some important and unique policy analytic, political and managerial issues. An understanding of these unique issues is critical to the effective practice in each area.
The Social and Urban Policy concentration adds three courses to the current requirements for the Masters in Public Policy degree but offers a variety of options to meet those added requirements, some U.S. oriented and others comparative.
The requirements are listed below.
(1) Complete the MPP core, preferably selecting the section of API-102 (second semester micro-economics) that is tailored to social and urban policy. That section would cover the basics of public finance including the role of government in the economy, tax incidence and efficiency and fiscal federalism and the economics of programs to address poverty, inequality and economic insecurity.
(2) Three credits in social and urban policy area of the student's choice (e.g., education, health, poverty, urban planning, inequality, building political support for redistribution, statistical and qualititive methods). Note that the courses taken to satisfy this requirement do not have to have a "SUP" prefix and can be from other schools at Harvard or MIT.
(3) SUP-150Y and a Policy Analysis Exercise on a social and urban policy topic.
Social and urban policy concentrators are also strongly recommended, but not required, to take a course in qualitative research methods. The two quantitative analysis courses in the core curriculum (API-201 and API-202) cover quantitative techniques that are of great and growing importance in the assessment of social policies. But social policy analysis often relies on qualitative assessments as well, such as surveys, participant observation, interviews, and case studies. Students using qualitative techniques for their Policy Analysis Exercise are particularly urged to enroll in a qualitative analysis course before or concurrently. The suggested courses are:
• SUP-107, “Qualitative Methods in Policy Research”, Timothy Nelson
• API-214m, “Public Opinion, Polling, and Public Policy”, Robert Blendon
(Note that API-203, “Research Design and Methods for Field Work” by Kathy Edin is intended for doctoral students. Its counterpart at the master’s level is SUP-107.)