Chicago Harris launches Center on Policy Entrepreneurship

The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy has created the Center on Policy Entrepreneurship, a unique initiative focusing on the politics of the policymaking process.

“The Center on Policy Entrepreneurship will show students how policy ideas must take into account political realities. It will help future policymakers gain a better understanding of what it really takes to change public policy,” said Prof. Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, deputy dean of Chicago Harris, who will also serve as the center’s academic director. Marc Farinella, Chicago Harris’s COO, will serve as the center’s initial executive director and COO.

“It’s not enough just to have a good policy idea,” added Bueno de Mesquita. “If you are really going to change things, you need to understand which ideas can gain political traction, how to develop support when a window of political opportunity is open, and how to deal with stakeholders and interest groups—both to implement policy change and to create a coalition that will sustain the policy over the long run.

“You need to know how to succeed within the political process, which involves both compromise and strategy,” he added. “Current public policy programs are doing a disservice to their students by not making policy entrepreneurship an educational priority along with the more traditional policy analysis.”

The standard training model at public policy schools currently focuses on three components: policy analysis and program evaluation, public administration and management, and substantive policy area specialties. However, the Center on Policy Entrepreneurship will help train the next generation of policy entrepreneurs by immersing students in the realities of the politics of the policymaking process. It will fill the gap in policy education through an innovative curriculum, a guest speaker series, a visiting fellows program and the funding of full-time summer internships in policymaking environments.

The center’s first teaching initiative will be a “course cluster,” to be launched in the fall of 2013. The cluster will be comprised of three highly coordinated courses: one taught by an academic scholar, one taught by a policy practitioner and one practicum that gives students real-world exposure to policy making. 

“Hopefully what students will get out of the course cluster is to draw together the entire experience from the classroom to the real world in warp-drive speed,” said Christopher Berry, associate professor at Chicago Harris, who will lead the center’s first course cluster, which will focus on urban policy.

“Ultimately, over the course of their careers, many policy practitioners do learn to successfully navigate the political realities of policymaking. But until now, it hasn’t been something for which future policymakers are trained. Our goal is to offer opportunities that get students to draw together the academic and the practical in an intense fashion.”

The center’s guest speaker series will kick off this spring with visits from distinguished policy practitioners including Evan Bayh, the former governor and U.S. senator from Indiana; Bev Perdue, former governor of North Carolina; and Mike Quigley, current U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 5th District.

The visiting fellows program will begin this fall. Visiting fellows will be scholars with expertise in the politics of policymaking. They will typically reside on campus for one to four weeks to work closely with Chicago Harris students and faculty. The first visiting fellow will be Prof. Nolan McCarty from Princeton University, a professor of politics and public affairs who focuses on U.S. politics, democratic political institutions and political game theory. During his visit to Chicago Harris in fall quarter 2013, he will lead a variety of events on the politics of the recent financial crisis.

“All policy proposals must survive in a political environment,” said Chicago Harris Dean Colm O’Muircheartaigh. “You will face opposition and obstacles. A successful policymaker needs to understand in advance the constraints imposed by the political reality. The Center on Policy Entrepreneurship will train our students to formulate a realistic policy change and move it from concept to execution.”