According to a recent report, on average, people spend 90,000 hours on the job during their lifetime. With such a commitment of energy and resources, it’s important that a person’s work syncs with their interests and personality. If you are considering a career in public policy, there are a number of professional organizations, academic journals, open access courseware and other freely available online resources out there that will help you to get a much better sense of the ins and outs of the field.
Student and Professional Organizations
Offering networking and educational opportunities, job boards, internships and discounts, student and professional associations help aspiring public policy professionals develop the skills and expertise they need to succeed in the field.
- American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) – The largest professional public administration organization in the world, ASPA is committed to “advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and nonprofit administration.” Members enjoy subscriptions to the ASPA’s Public Administration Review, PA Times, The Bridge and The Public Manager. Educational opportunities are provided through webinars and training seminars at local chapters. Networking is fostered in chapter socials and at the annual conference. ASPA members also have access to the online job board, Public Service Careers.
- Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM) – “Dedicated to improving public policy and management by fostering excellence in research, analysis, and education,” APPAM offers networking opportunities, sponsors a peer-reviewed journal and promotes multi-disciplinary research. Both student and professional memberships are available. Student members enjoy networking at APPAM sponsored-events and through a members-only colleague database, discounts on events and other resources, as well as a subscription to the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. APPAM also co-sponsors the job board PublicServiceCareers.org.
- Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) – Unlike other professional organizations, no membership is required for students to benefit from many services sponsored by the NASPAA. Internship and fellowship opportunities, other resources and Public Service Careers and an online job board, are accessible from NASPAA’s website. Links to loans, fellowships and other financial aid information is provided, as well. NASPAA hosts an online searchable database of schools that offer public policy, administration and service graduate degrees, courses and certificates.
- Pi Alpha Alpha (PAA) – The “global honor society for public affairs and administration,” PAA’s mission is to “encourage and recognize outstanding scholarship and accomplishment in public affairs and administration” through its 160 local chapters across the globe. Members enjoy networking opportunities, such as those found on the society’s Facebook group, and access to job seeking resources. Academic achievement is recognized through PAA; annual awards for the best master’s and doctoral level research papers are offered. Membership is limited and requirements include a sufficient amount of coursework in the field, as well as a high grade point average.
Some of the top universities in the country have made their course materials freely available online via open access. Aspiring public policy professionals who lack the time and money to commit to a full-time degree program access these resources to further their knowledge and develop expertise without breaking the bank.
- Food and Nutrition Policy – Offered by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), this course taught by Rolf Klemm and Keith West seeks to “familiarize and engage the student in the steps and dynamics of policy making processes.” Focusing on nutrition, particular areas of study include the political, cultural and economic contexts in which policies are created, the processes that lead to policy creation, the transition of policy into actual programs and evaluating the success and implementation of particular policies.
- Fundamentals of Public Policy – Offered through MIT’s Urban Studies and Planning department, Profs. Steve Meyer and David Laws teach this undergraduate level course. Introducing students to “policy-making as both a problem-solving process and a political process,” this class explores the perspectives of administrative agencies, legislators, the public, interest groups, courts and the media. Both normative and empirical models of policy-making are covered. Selected lecture notes and a list of suggested and required readings are provided.
- Introduction to Health Policy – Also from Johns Hopkins, Gerard Anderson teaches this course offered through the Department of Health Policy and Management. Main topic areas covered include economics, finance, and identifying need, ethical and legal issues. Lecture materials and a list of suggested readings are provided as well.
- Labor Economics and Public Policy – Taught by Prof. Joshua Angrist and offered through MIT’s Economics Department, this undergraduate course allows students to explore the interconnections between economics research and public policy. Both empirical analysis and microeconomic theory will be applied to specific topics including supply, demand, transfers, taxes, minimum wage, human capital, immigration, education, inequality, unions and discrimination and unemployment.
- Poverty, Public Policy and Controversy – Prof. Martin Rein of the Urban Studies and Planning department at MIT teaches this undergraduate level class. Students explore issues in poverty, including how it is defined and measured in the U.S. and abroad. Programs to alleviate the effects of poverty, as well as how theory, research and practice are used to combat it, are all covered. A list of required readings is provided.
- Quantitative Research in Political Science and Public Policy – Offered through MIT’s Political Science department and taught by Prof. Stephen Ansolabehere, this course “provides a rigorous introduction to statistics for political science.” Basic statistical tools will be introduced, including probability, estimation, inference, differences of means and regression. Selected lecture notes, exams with solutions and a list of required and recommended readings are all provided.
Open Access Journals
Reading academic journals helps public policy professionals stay current on the latest trends in the field. In the following journals, readers find academic research, analysis and commentary on the most crucial issues in public policy today.
- Central European Journal of Public Policy – Published twice a year, this peer-reviewed, open access and multi-disciplinary journal focuses primarily on Central European policy issues. Recent articles include “Public Sector Employment in the Czech Republic after 1989: Old Legacy in New Realities?”
- Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis – This double blind, peer-reviewed journal prides itself on being the “only explicitly comparative journal of policy analytic studies.” Articles from the fields of public affairs, management and administration, as well as comparative policy studies, can all be found in the publication. Although some of the scholarship in this journal requires a subscription to access, other papers are available free-of-charge via open access. Articles include “The Determinants of Policy Change: Advancing the Debate” and “The Europeanization of Public Policies: Introduction.”
- Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration Commons – Part of the Digital Commons Network, this site hosts open access articles published by public policy scholars and institutions from across the country. Representative scholarship found in Commons includes “The Impact of Post-Recession State Revenue Reductions on Maine’s Municipalities” and “Youth Employment and Unemployment in Developing Countries: Macro Challenges with Micro Perspectives.”
- Urbana: Urban Affairs and Public Policy – This multidisciplinary, peer-reviewed, and open access journal focuses on “urban issues at an international level.” Contributions come from a variety of academic fields including history, economics, politics, literature, urban planning and international relations. Recent articles of interest to public policy professionals include “California Urban Crisis and Fiscal Decline: Trends in High School Dropout Rates and Economic Implications” and “The Political Economy of Space: Spatial Structure and Identity Politics.”
The books on this list offer long reads that help public policy professionals develop skills, learn strategies for effective action and think more deeply about some of the biggest policy challenges of the 21st century.
- A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving – Writer Eugene Bardach brings 35 years of teaching experience to this bestselling handbook of policy analysis. With helpful tips, strategies and case studies, Bardach uses real world examples to explain how to develop accurate and persuasive policy analyses.
- Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making – Keeping the politics in policy analysis, this work by author Deborah Stone, is designed to help public administration professionals implement policies. Covering a wide range of policies and constituencies, Stone’s book helps public policy professionals cross the bridge from theory to practice.
- Public Administration: Understanding Management, Politics, and Law in the Public Sector – Written by Profs. David H. Rosenbloom, Robert S. Kravchuk and Richard M. Clerkin, this book covers the basics of public administration and helps public policy professionals reconcile the conflicts between legal, managerial and political agendas in public administration.
- The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, The Underclass, and Public Policy – Written by sociologist William Julius Wilson, this book focuses on the transformation of the urban poor during the second half of the 20th century. Exploring issues of race, education and employment, Wilson challenges preconceived notions and posits data-backed policy solutions to ameliorate some of the worst effects of urban poverty.
Online Industry Magazines and Newspapers
Shorter reads, but packed with information and analysis, online newspapers and magazines help public policy professionals keep up with the latest developments in the field.
- The Nation – Since 1865, The Nation has sought to “make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit.” Representative articles include “How the Rise of Women in Labor Could Save the Movement” and “Is Pot Growing Bad for the Environment?”
- The New Republic (TNR) – Taking the middle road, The New Republic “covers politics, culture and big ideas from an unbiased and thought-provoking perspective.” TNR has broad focus, yet readers looking for reporting and analysis in public policy find articles like “It’s Time to Declare Obama’s Syria Policy a Total Fiasco” and “Washington Has Not Defeated Wall Street. Yet.”
- Politico – Striving to provide “tough, fair and fun coverage of politics and government,” public policy professionals can find the latest developments in the field at the online news source Politico. Under its Policy tab, readers delve deep into specific topics, including technology, health care, finance and education.
- The Weekly Standard – Covering the news with a conservative bent, The Weekly Standard provides in-depth news and analysis on a variety of public policy issues. Recent posts include “The Obamacare Bailout” and “Privacy or Security: A False Choice.”
Independent and institutional blogs provide public policy professionals with resources that address the very latest issues in the field.
- Change.org – A wide range of topics of interest to policy wonks can be found on this site, including animals, criminal and economic justice, gay rights, sustainable food and human rights.
- Dot Earth – Sponsored by The New York Times Opinion page, Dot Earth “examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits.” Recent posts include “A Chat with Greenpeace’s Departing U.S. Chief on Old and New Environmentalism” and “Flaws in Chemical Laws in the Context of the West Virginia Spill.”
- Drudge Report – Policy reporting from the right, the Drudge Report is daily reading for conservative policy makers hoping to keep up with its latest news. Recent posts include “Obama to Address ‘Global Warming’ – in Coldest SoTU in History” and “San Francisco ‘Exploring’ Idea of Giving Out Free Crack Pipes to Slow Spread of HIV.”
- Drug War Rant – The host of this site, Pete Guither, “Encourages a healthy and enthusiastic debate” about the United States’ War on Drugs. Readers interested in drug policy will enjoy news, analysis and “the occasional rant,” and recent posts include “You can bank on it (updated – maybe you can’t)” and “You have to go to the underground market.”
- Environmental and Urban Economics – Hosted by Matthew Kahn and Cong Sun, this blog explores “thoughts on environmental and urban issues from an economics perspective.” Recent posts include “Does China’s Production of Export Goods Cause Serious Pigouvian Damage to the Western United States?” and “The Urban Economics of Sports Talent Scouts.”
- The Health Care Blog – Called by some “Wired meets the Journal of the American Medical Association,” THCB posts articles, commentary and analysis from professionals across the healthcare industry, including policy wonks. Representative articles include “Why the SGR Fix Won’t Work and Could Actually Make Things Worse” and “The ACA: When Insurance Isn’t Insurance.”
- Poverty & Policy – Policy research and communication consultant Kathryn Baer hosts this blog that claims “it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Recent posts include “Low-Income Mean in Prime Years Face Multiple Barriers” and “Senate Votes to Debate Long-Term Unemployment Benefits, But Renewal Far From Certain.”
Who to Follow Twitter
The latest developments in public policy, brought to you in 140 characters or less, Twitter is an invaluable resource for policy professionals as well as the simply curious.
- @CivilEats – This feed strives to be “a daily news source for critical thought about the American food system.” Tweets frequently have links to longer reads on other sites including the blog of the same name and include “Farm to School Legislation on the Rise” and “What’s Missing in the Debate about #GMOs.”
- @NYTimeskrugman – Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman tweets links to his blog for The New York Times, The Conscience of a Liberal. Recent posts include “None So Blind, Macroeconomics Division” and “The Bubble Canard.”
- @dailykos – Tweets to links from the blog of the same name, The Daily Kos covers American politics and public policy from a decidedly progressive perspective. Recent posts include “Obama has a message: ‘Real men don’t hurt women'”‘ and “No congressional agreement reported on renewing federally funded unemployment compensation program.”
- @Wonkblog – Self-described “policy entrepreneurs” provide coverage of the latest subject in American politics frequently with links to their corresponding Washington Post blog. Recent tweets include “No, Obamacare isn’t a ‘bailout’ for insurers” and “There’s a war over R&D tax credits. And companies keep winning.”
- @Wonkette – Tweeting “lies from the Pit of Hell,” on this feed the Wonkette frequently includes links to her blog as well as other sites, all focused on Washington politics and policy. Recent tweets include “Tech Bazillionaire Tom Perkins Warns of New Holocaust: People Complaining about Google Buses” and “Jamie Dimon Gets Well-Deserved Raise.”