From Theory to Practice: PBPL 85 Global Policy Leadership

Experiential learning is central to the pedagogical vision of President Hanlon ’77. Public Policy 85: Global Policy Leadership (PBPL 85) perfectly translates that vision into reality for our public policy students every year.

The course begins in the classroom during the fall term, where a select group of students study the history and context of a public policy challenge in a particular country or region. Students are introduced to the process of assessing problems and developing solutions to the challenge, practices important to cultivating civically engaged, global leaders.

The class then travels to the country or region during Dartmouth’s winter interim to conduct field research. Students meet with local policy leaders: politicians, academics, civil society leaders, journalists, business leaders, diplomats, and other in-country experts who help inform their analyses.

“The importance of travel is twofold,” explains Professor Charles Wheelan ’88, who taught the first three iterations of the course. “First is this marriage of learning in the classroom and talking to people on the ground. The second is testing your hypotheses and listening to people who have very conflicting points of view.”

As a 2013 course participant, Don Casler ’14 found the true value of the course was the “before and after effect” the trip had on his perspective about the topic. “To learn about all the issues for ten weeks, to fully grapple with them and to think you understand them,” he explains, “and then travel to that country and find out that some things are exactly as you expected them to be, and some things are not what you expected them to be at all.”

By the end of the course, students are completely invested in the topic—it is now personal, nuanced, and tangible.

For a final project, the students jointly write and distribute a detailed memo with specific policy recommendations, as targeted and actionable as possible. This requirement helps to synthesize the lessons learned from ten weeks of study on campus with their field work.

The final project also gives students the chance to learn and practice transferable workplace skills such as conducting interviews, project management, teamwork, negotiation, and problem solving.

The topics undertaken during the first three years of the course include: economic reform in India (2013), the peace process in Northern Ireland (2014), and the U.S. role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (2015). The 2016 class conducted an evaluation of civil society in Ukraine utilizing USAID assessment methodologies with Professor Ronald Shaiko.