Course Readings
Related Links and Resources
Site Map/Index

Course Overview

Following a summer internship in a Washington DC public policy think tank, a student said this about a lesson she learned from the experience: “In public policy work, if you can’t write it or say it, you can’t do it.”


My experience as a communications consultant to government tells me that she is essentially correct.   As a teacher of writing, I know that communication skill combined with know-how can make a difference.   I developed this course to prepare students and others with know-how and skills needed to effect real change by writing (and talking) to 'do' democratic public policy making.


You will find the course useful if:

  • you are studying the social sciences or humanities to prepare for a career in professions of politics, government, public relations, law, public policy, journalism, communications, social work, public health
  • you are (or might in future be) an intern in government or in a think tank or a nongovernmental organization concerned with public affairs
  • you are preparing to enter (or already practicing in) a publicly regulated industry or business
  • you have (or seek) a job as a communications aide in government or a political action organization
  • you have (or seek) a job as a public policy/public relations director in a non-profit organization or as a public affairs liaison in a corporation, trade organization, professional association, or community service agency
  • you are a writer, and you write about public affairs

What is the course about?

Public policy making in a democracy is an institutional process of solving problems that affect human society or its environment.  Communication---both written and oral---is integral to the process.

A public policy process includes the following activities:

  • defining the problem
  • developing knowledge of prior action or inaction on the problem;
  • proposing policy alternatives
  • deliberating the alternatives
  • adopting policy
  • administering and implementing policy
  • changing policy 


Actual processes are not so linear as this list suggests, so the list should not be taken as a step-by-step description of what happens in every instance.   Rather, it represents generic activities in a logical order.  Real public policy making incorporates those activities, but they do not always occur in this order, or in a single pass, or in a simple way. Actual processes are messy.


Each activity relies on associated communication practices and their products.  For example, defining the problem might generate a set of notes for personal use on experiences with problematic conditions, an oral briefing for an elected official about the problematic conditions, a memo for a legislative committee chair summarizing analysis of policy options, all of those and more.  Public problem definition is conducted by composing, presenting, and exchanging such communications.


What will we do?

Course learning proceeds by three major projects with objectives and sub-tasks that offer practice in, and develop a discourse perspective on, public policy making.  Please refer to the course syllabus, now, for details on the projects.