Courses and Teaching Resources

DPI-312: Sparking Social Change

This course examines strategies and processes of contemporary social change in the United States, other developed countries, developing countries, and transnational contexts. This course is aimed at students who hope to produce social change but have not settled on the particular organizational “platform” from which they will try to make change. That is, individuals might try to make change from government organization, from social movements in civil society, as private sector social entrepreneurs, or even as unencumbered individuals. We hope that students with imagination, initiative, and social ambition will enroll in this course. Through an inductive examination of a large number of social change projects, students will gain a knowledge strategies of change that include activities centering on government, law, social movements, joint governance, philanthropy, and private markets.

The course is organized into three parts. The first introductory section examines several successful individuals who have catalyzed important positive social changes through very different organizational platforms — through social entrepreneurship in the market, through government, and through community organizing. The second section provides a framework for thinking about how to make important social change that focuses upon two general questions: What is the value proposition in a particular social change effort? What are the strategic considerations necessary to realize that proposition? The third section examines the dynamics of bringing “sparks” of change to scale through various institutions and sectors such as philanthropy, law and regulation, the private market of exchanges, political mobilization, and cross sector collaboration.

Download the Fall 2012 syllabus here.

DPI-201: Responsibilities of Public Action

Those who seek to govern well are continually and inescapably confronted in their political, professional, and personal decisions with questions of value. This course is designed to provoke critical thinking about the moral challenges of public policymaking and the moral responsibilities of public actors in a democracy.

The course examines two questions: (1) What should governments do? (2) What should public actors do? The first question requires us to consider public principles that guide good, just, and legitimate public policy. The second question requires us to consider the many and often competing obligations, commitments, and values that should guide public actors inside and outside government, particularly when there is disagreement about specifying and interpreting public principles, and disagreement about what is good, just, and legitimate public policy.

The conviction that guides both the course's content and its pedagogy is that moral and political views can and should be grounded in reasons, and that reasoned changes of view are possible. Moreover, the course is premised on the view that although there are a number of ways in which questions of value might be explored, one of those ways-the methods of analytic philosophical thought-provides an important tool for the critical and reflective thinking that is necessary for successful governance. The course therefore provides regular practice in developing the skills of analytic moral reasoning, and invites reflection about one's moral and political commitments through an ongoing engagement with classmates and authors (who may have different commitments).

Download the Fall 2009 syllabus here.

PAL-218: Putting the Public Back Into Public Policy

How much should ordinary people participate in modern, complex, large scale democracies? What should their participation look like? This course explores the proposition that there are myriad untapped opportunities for greater public participation in contemporary democracies, and that popular engagement can make governance more legitimate, fair, and effective.

We explore this proposition by examining many innovations in governance that range from neighborhood to national scale, in the United States, Latin America, Canada, and India. These real world cases of “deep democratic” reform range across many issues, including village governance and economic development, urban budgeting, public education and school governance, environmental management, health care, social services, election rules, sweatshops, and worker participation. In each session, we will analyze a different policy area and empirical case at a high level of contextual and institutional detail. We will explore mechanisms that generate effective participation and deliberation, its contributions to group capacity and equity, the pitfalls of these reforms, and the political strategies associated with them. We will explore the potential of such participatory innovations to address deep and persistent problems in representative government such as the lack of coherent public judgement, tyranny of powerful minorities, political polarization, and limits of the administrative state that arise when information and problem-solving resources are widely distributed in society.

The course is aimed at students who are interested in gaining (1) familiarity with the shape of direct and empowered democratic reforms across a variety of public policy areas, (2) knowledge of the political strategies, policies, and institutional mechanisms that determine the success and failure of these reforms, and (3) a range of skills and recipes for designing effective public engagement mechanisms and institutions.

The Fall 2008 syllabus is available here.

Teaching Democracy: Cases & Resources

I am developing a series of cases to teach about participatory and deliberative innovation in the classroom. These teaching materials are still very much in development (pre-beta versions), but feel free to use them if they are useful. Just drop me a line so that I can track their deployment.