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The Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) is the capstone experience of the MPP curriculum. The PAE is an analytic professional product, usually around 40 pages in length, in which MPP students examine and develop solutions for a public or nonprofit sector policy or management issue presented by a client organization. The PAE provides MPP students the opportunity to integrate the technical skills and specialized knowledge they have gained from the MPP curriculum. Many MPP graduates point to the PAE as one of the true highlights of their Harvard Kennedy School education.
In the fall semester of the second year, MPP students enroll in a year-long seminar in their Policy Area of Concentration (PAC) or Concentration. The PAC Seminars serve to familiarize students with key issues and policy debates in their particular area and guide students through the PAE-writing process. Once students declare their PAE topics, they are each assigned a faculty advisor whose expertise aligns with their topic.
In completing their PAEs students essentially serve as unpaid consultants to client organizations. They work with their clients to define specific issues, design research strategies, gather data, formulate and evaluate options, and finally, make actionable recommendations. It is not unusual for client organizations to implement the recommendations made by students in their PAE.
To see some of the work former students have completed, please refer to the sample PAEs.
Jay Walder MPP 1983, CEO of Motivate, talks about how his PAE experience influenced his career in transit.