What do you do if your organization is faced with:

  • Major budget cuts
  • Significant personnel change
  • An issue that could use analytical skills

Consider Harvard Kennedy School’s Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE). You get solutions. Our Master in Public Policy students gain real-world experience.

Become a PAE client
Use the knowledge and skills of our MPP students to help solve your organization’s challenges.
The Value to our PAE Clients

Trained in economics, quantitative analysis, strategic and financial management, political advocacy, and leadership as well as in different policy areas, our second-year MPP students work with organizations like yours to address your stated challenges and find smart, actionable answers.

The PAE experience—the MPP capstone requirement—allows our students to work with your organization either independently or in a small team, from September to March, to examine a public or nonprofit sector policy or management issue, and gain real-world experience. Working under HKS faculty supervision, students produce a professional analysis and set of actionable recommendations for your organization that lend fresh perspective on a new or familiar challenge. Many PAE clients have carried out students’ recommendations and often point to the PAE as a smart move for their organization.

The PAE Process

Students work with client organizations, free of charge, to untangle the stated challenges. Using the technical skills and specialized knowledge they’ve accrued at HKS, students will:

  • Define the underlying issues
  • Gather and organize pertinent data
  • Identify and evaluate possible courses of action
  • Propose specific, actionable recommendations

Submit a proposal and use the knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm of our MPP students to help solve your organization’s challenges. Contact us for more information.

Commonly Asked Questions about Becoming a PAE Client

The PAE is the capstone experience to the Master in Public Policy curriculum, providing an opportunity to integrate the skills and knowledge MPP candidates have gained during their time at HKS. An applied thesis, the PAE is different from a traditional research paper in that students are required to engage with a client organization and to develop a series of recommendations to solve a policy or management problem or question for that organization.

The PAE can provide your organization with a fresh perspective on a familiar problem or with an opportunity to analyze new issues that you may not have had the time to address. You may also use the PAE to obtain policy recommendations from an objective, independent source.

Your organization is expected to cover the cost of all incidental expenses such as travel and supplies, as agreed between you and the student. As per HKS policy for PAEs, the student may not be paid for work on the project itself.

Students are free to work on a wide variety of projects in different policy fields. Some projects incorporate highly technical or quantitative techniques; others use organizational or management analysis. Many involve multiple analytical lenses. All projects, however, must be focused on an actual policy decision or problem. Background or library research is not an adequate project in itself. The topic must be limited enough in scope to be completed during the time frame (September to March), yet broad enough to be intellectually challenging for the student. Examples of recent projects can be found here.

Before deciding on a project, you must be prepared to give the student access to any information that is required for his, her, or their analysis, although you are encouraged to anonymize or pseudonymize sensitive data wherever applicable. It is important to understand that at the end of the year, all final PAEs are preserved in a Harvard Library system as well as catalogued and discoverable. While one must be [authenticated as an active] member of the Harvard community to access the full text of a catalogued PAE, basic information such as title, organization, faculty advisor, seminar leader, and student name is publicly available. Therefore, you should discuss with the student how best to handle concerns about sensitive information in the final paper, including a request for the use of pseudonyms to protect the identity of people and organizations.

If you have a specific concern about the use of confidential information, let the student know. If the project requires a high degree of confidentiality, it may not be an appropriate PAE topic.

You are expected to discuss the project with the student on a regular basis, review drafts and other interim products, and provide access to information. The initial problem definition stage is especially crucial to the success of the project. Time devoted at this early juncture will lead to more efficient, long-term management of the project for you and the student.

The student is asked to understand your position and to see the problem from your organization’s perspective. At the same time, independent thinking is crucial to the project’s success and, therefore, students are encouraged to look at the problem from alternative points of view and to bring those alternatives to your attention.

Each student is assigned to an HKS faculty member with expertise in the topic area to provide guidance on the PAE. The advisor’s task is to see to it that the analysis meets appropriate academic and professional standards. Note that the PAE is the work of the student, not the advisor.

PAE topic selection begins in August when PAE proposals are solicited from organizations. Throughout September, students discuss topics and organization needs and in early October, PAE topics are finalized. From this time through March, several interim products are developed by the student, including a detailed prospectus and several drafts. The final product is due at the end of March.

Per Harvard University policy and customary academic standards, your organization may not require approval or control of the final product or conclusions. Often the student will present the final product to the organization, per arrangements that may be made between you and the student.

See the previous question, "How should sensitive/confidential information be handled" for information on public availability.

Students are enrolled full time at HKS while they work on their PAE and are required to take at least six other courses during the year. Students are expected to spend approximately eight to 10 hours per week on the PAE. Exactly how much time is spent depends largely on the requirements of the project and the student's schedule. Many students choose to use the winter break from late December through January to travel and conduct intensive on-site research and writing. Usually the majority of the writing occurs during the spring term, especially between early February and late March when the final paper is due.

This varies enormously, from no on-site presence at all to a great deal. At the outset, it is prudent for you to meet face-to-face with the student to discuss the project. After this initial meeting, the student may make several other trips to interview relevant stakeholders, collect data, and gain insights into the problem being analyzed. If your organization is in the Boston area, you may arrange for the student to spend time on-site on a weekly basis. If you are not located in the Boston area, the student should remain in contact via telephone conversations and e-mail correspondence. Students are required to be in-residence on campus for the second year of the program and thus schedule PAE-related trips during vacation periods to avoid missed class time.

The copyright for the PAE is held by the student. Therefore, you will need the student’s consent to publish it. If the student agrees to publishing, the publication should state that the PAE was submitted in partial fulfillment of the degree requirements for the Master in Public Policy degree. It is important to note that Harvard logos may not be used.

As described above, the PAE is an academic exercise performed by HKS students as a requirement of the MPP degree. The PAE is not a service of HKS to your organization. HKS assigns the faculty advisor and provides other support to the students typical for an academic program, but HKS and its faculty members do not take any part in the substance of the PAE work. Consequently, HKS cannot take on any responsibilities to your organization in connection with the PAE such as confidentiality or warranty obligations.

Student PAE Stories

Shauna Theel and Andreas Westgaard MPP 2017 analyzed state energy efficiency policies.


Sophia Sadinsky MPP 2017 delved into the intricacies of the Colombian peace process.

Award-Winning Policy Analysis Exercises
Our MPP students have big ideas and the skills to find actionable solutions.