Course Guide

This guide identifies Harvard Kennedy School courses relevant to the study of the Ash Center's three pillars: democratic governance, innovation in government, and Asia public policy. We hope that interested students will find this guide useful to familiarize themselves with the opportunities most of interest to them. 

Course Guide 2020-21

Courses related to Democratic Governance (Fall)

Religion, Values, and the Future of Democracy   

E.J. Dionne

G. K. Chesterton described the United States as “a nation with the soul of a church,” but America’s religious institutions have increasingly taken on the souls of political parties. At the same time, liberal democracy finds itself under stress and the core values of liberalism are being challenged by nationalism, authoritarian forms of populism, and a backlash against rising economic inequality. And embedded racism has come under vigorous challenge – in the US especially, but throughout the democracies. This course will explore the religious and secular values that under-gird democracy. It will examine both political and religious institutions, and explore the thinking of theologians and philosophers on the challenge of self-rule.

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Elections and the Practice of Democracy in the United States 

Alex Keyssar

This course will focus on problems and shortcomings in the practice of democracy in the United States. Among them are: the narrowing of voting rights through the erection of procedural obstacles to voting (and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act); the undermining of effective representation through partisan and racial gerrymandering; persistently low turnout in elections; the presence of problematic institutional structures, such as the Electoral College and the Senate; and the impact of money on political campaigns and policy-making. The approach to these issues will be both historical (how the problems evolved) and forward-looking (how they can be solved). Although focused on the United States, some attention will be given to international comparisons. Inescapably, one eye will be kept on the November 2020 election and the particular challenges of conducting elections in the midst of a pandemic.

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Getting and Keeping Democracy

Tarek Masoud

This is a course about how democracy comes into being and how it breaks down, and about what citizens, activists, and policymakers around the world can do to make the former more likely and the latter less so. Around the world, there is an increasing sense that democracy is under threat. In established democracies such as the United States and France, nativist and populist political leaders question liberal, democratic arrangements that had long been taken for granted. In new democracies such as Tunisia and Indonesia, political leaders capitalize on instability and disorder that invariably attend democratic transition to call for a return to the old, authoritarian order. And in authoritarian regimes, leaders point to models of economic success offered by such countries as China and Singapore to portray undemocratic, non-consensual politics as more capable of delivering the prosperity that citizens desire. The legitimacy that democracy once enjoyed is now no more.
In order to understand what we can do to erect democracy where it doesn’t exist, to make it work better where it is does exist, and to shore it up where it is fragile, this course draws on a variety of literatures to distill key lessons for citizens, activists, and policymakers. The readings will also cover a variety of regions, from Europe to Latin America to the Middle East to Southeast Asia, and will bring into dialogue the work of scholars and practitioners. Exercises will be writing intensive, and intended to help students develop their own intellectually coherent visions for how democracy can be built, deepened, and defended. This course is designed for students who seek careers in development and in international affairs. In addition to emerging with tools and insights useful for supporting democracy in their home countries and around the world, students will gain groundings in some of the principal social scientific approaches to the analysis of democracy and authoritarianism.

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Race, Inequality, and American Democracy

Khalil Muhammad

The United States’ global dominance has long been the envy of the world. But the role of race to native born and newcomer alike has been treated often as aberrational, an unfortunate artifact of the nation’s past. This course examines the nature of race at the heart of the American project through the lens of wealth creation, labor markets, political culture, social institutions, immigration and civic life. Although race often attaches to people of color, racial identity and ideology have been inescapable constructs for all who reside in this country. Drawing on critical race theory, whiteness studies and African American history, students will gain historical knowledge required for leadership in a 21st century, multi-racial democracy. Students who plan to work in non-profits, government agencies and policy circles will also gain new analytical tools to help lead and transform institutions for a browner America and world.


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Comparative Politics and Policy

Pippa Norris 

This course provides the analytical knowledge and practical skills to understand comparative politics and policy worldwide. It addresses a range of foundational topics: (i) Concepts, theories, evidence, and methods in comparative politics; (ii) Classifying varieties of democratic and autocratic regimes, and processes of regime transition consolidation and backsliding; (iii) Institutional designs, including electoral systems, party systems, types of executives, and federalism; (iv) Channels of mass mobilization including through voting, protest activism, civil society organizations, media, civil disobedience, terrorism, and revolutionary upheavals; and (v) The performance of governance and public policies. The course covers these issues by utilizing the methods and techniques of comparative politics. You will learn about polities worldwide – as well as thereby enriching and deepening your understanding of your own nation. The orientation is problem and reform focused. Evaluation involves group exercises and individual papers. An understanding of comparative politics is invaluable for a wide range of potential careers, whether working for international agencies, multilateral organizations, non-profit NGOs, international corporations, national governments, or NGOs.


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The Rise of Authoritarian Populism

Pippa Norris

The rise of authoritarian populist forces in recent years has generated new challenges in many affluent societies and long-established democracies, such as the US, UK, Germany, Italy, Greece, and France, as well as destabilizing states worldwide, such as in Venezuela, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines, Thailand, and India. What explains the rise of these forces? What are the consequences? And what can be done to mitigate the risks? This course analyzes these issues from a comparative perspective, to understand America in a broader context. The course covers: (i) the core concepts and meanings of populism and the classification of authoritarian and libertarian forms of populist parties and leaders; (ii) explanations focused on cultural value change, economic grievances, patterns of race and immigration, electoral rules, and party competition; (iii) the impact on the civic culture and the policy agenda; and (iv) alternative strategic policy responses. The course is assessed through group exercises and papers.

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Global Governance

Kathryn Sikkink 

This course focuses on the interplay among states, international organizations, multinational corporations, civil society organizations, and activist networks in global governance. Global governance refers to the capacity within the international system to provide services and public goods. But to get to that point, global governance also must involve framing new issues, setting agendas, creating norms, building capacity, setting standards, and resolving disputes. Our cases are drawn from a broad range of issue areas, including health challenges such as COVID-19, economic relations, human rights, peace and security, and the environment. The objective is to better understand the dynamics and evolution of formal and informal global governance arrangements and what difference they make. In a major case in the class, for example, we will try to understand why there wasn’t better or more global governance in response to the Coronavirus? The course uses cases, role-playing, and simulations to help students learn how to work with international law to promote global justice.


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Civil Resistance: How It Works

Erica Chenoweth

Civil resistance is the application of unarmed civilian power using nonviolent methods such as protests, strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, without using or threatening physical harm against the opponent. The use of civil resistance has been increasing around the world in recent decades in places as diverse as Sudan, Algeria, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Egypt, Iran, Maldives, the Niger Delta, the West Bank, Thailand, Myanmar, and the United States, among others. Because civil resistance can have profound effects, it is essential to understand the causes, dynamics, outcomes, and consequences of civil resistance campaigns. Such questions also have clear practical implications for those seeking to use, support, or assist such movements – as well as those who would seek to undermine them.
This course serves as a primer on the topic of civil resistance, introducing students to the primary explanations for how and why civil resistance works, as well as the practical implications of empirical research on the topic for observers, activists, and policymakers alike. The five primary goals of the course are to: (1) present leading explanations, concepts, approaches, and discourses for understanding civil resistance; (2) explore and recover in-depth cases to better understand how civil resistance succeeds and fails; (3) apply empirical research to current questions and controversies that dominate activist and organizer circles; (4) provide students with opportunities to synthesize their knowledge; and (5) allow students to deepen their knowledge about several historical cases around the globe, particularly neglected cases that can offer up novel insights and perspectives.


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Public Narrative

Marshall Ganz 

Questions of what I am called to do, what is my community called to do, and what we are called to do now are at least as old as the three questions posed by the first century Jerusalem sage, Rabbi Hillel:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
When I am for myself alone, what am I?
if not now, when?
This course offers students an opportunity to develop their capacity to lead by asking themselves these questions at a time in their lives when it really matters. . . and learning how to ask them of others. Public narrative is the leadership practice of translating values into action. To lead is to accept responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty. Public narrative is a discursive process through which individuals, communities, and nations learn to make choices, construct identity, and inspire action. Responding to challenges with agency requires courage that is grounded in our capacity to access hope over fear; empathy over alienation; and self-worth over self-doubt. We can use public narrative to link our own calling to that of our community to a call to action. It is learning how to tell a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now. Because it engages the "head" and the "heart". narrative can instruct and inspire - teaching us not only why we should act, but moving us to act. Based on a pedagogy of reflective practice, this course offers students the opportunity to work in groups to learn to tell their own public narrative. The practice of public narrative may be especially useful in responding to particular moments of real leadership challenges – loss, power, inequality, difference and change. This course will also offer students an opportunity to diagnose and analyze and draw lessons from leadership challenges. For this school year, MLD-355 and MLD-356 have been combined into one, semester-long course.

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Creating Justice in Real Time: Vision, Strategies, and Campaigns

Cornell William Brooks 

Frederick Douglass, the advocate and abolitionist of the century before last whose words yet resound in this century observed, “Power concedes nothing without demand.” Amidst generationally unprecedented activism, advocates around the world make demands for social justice through visions, strategies and campaigns—with varying degrees of success. Working with the William Monroe Collaborative for Social Justice and national advocacy organizations, a select cohort of students will work to address current injustices in real time—with a focus on what is demonstrably effective. Specifically, students develop visions, strategies and campaigns as well as legislative, policy, best practice, organizing, communication and moral framing strategies to address injustices identified by national organizations. Students will employ principles such as moral ambition, perfect/imperfect victims, concentric/consecutive coalitions, and scholarship as an organizing tool.


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Courses related to Democratic Governance (January, Spring)


Native Americans in the 21st Century: Nation Building I

Joseph Kalt

This course examines the challenges that contemporary Native American tribes and nations face as they endeavor to rebuild their communities, strengthen their cultures, and support their citizens. The range of issues that Native leaders and policymakers confront is wide and encompass political sovereignty, economic development, constitutional reform, cultural promotion, land and water rights, religious freedom, health and social welfare, and education. Because the challenges are broad and comprehensive, the course emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of current Native nation building. Research finds that effective nation building must be compatible with individual societies' cultures. Yet, American Indian tribes are culturally heterogeneous. Hence, there is not "one size" that fits all. Case studies and simulations derived from field research and experience are utilized to engage students in the multidimensional settings that confront Native societies. Scholars and leaders from the Harvard University Native America Program provide selected presentations. Prominent North American Native leaders address the class, giving their perspectives on the choices and constraints they confront in their nation building efforts.Non-HKS students (graduate and undergraduate) from all schools and departments in the university are welcome by cross-registration. Grades will be based on: issues briefs, 20%; and a take-home final exam, 80%.

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Native Americans in the 21st Century: National Building II

Eric Henson

This field-based research course focuses on some of the major issues Native American Indian tribes and nations face in the 21st century. It provides in-depth, hands-on exposure to native development issues, including: sovereignty, economic development, constitutional reform, leadership, health and social welfare, land and water rights, culture and language, religious freedom, and education. In particular, the course emphasizes problem definition, client relationships, and designing and completing a research project for a tribe, tribal department, or those active in Indian Country. The course is devoted primarily to preparation and presentation of a comprehensive research paper based on a field investigation. In addition to interdisciplinary faculty presentations on topics such as field research methods and problem definition, students will make presentations on their work in progress and findings.

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Dissent and Disobedience in Democracies

Arthur Applbaum

Recent political upheavals in several of the world’s established democracies have sparked discussions about dissent and disobedience not seen since the 1960s. When, if ever, are citizens in a democracy justified in breaking the law to protest or resist what they believe to be bad, unjust, or illegitimate laws or policies? When, if ever, are public officials in a democracy justified in undermining or refusing to enforce such laws or policies? This course will study important examples of principled disobedience in democracies, and explore normative arguments for and against various strategies of unlawful dissent through the close reading of texts in political and legal philosophy. In the major written assignment of the course, students will argue for or against a proposed, ongoing, or recent case of principled disobedience by public officials or citizens in a democratic state.

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How Leaders Translate Public Opinion into Policy Action

Benjamin Schneer

Government officials both shape and respond to the policy preferences of the electorate. Understanding this dynamic process is critical for policymakers as well as for informed observers of politics, and it illuminates a number of questions with practical applications: How would public policies change if everyone voted? What mechanisms might compel government officials to be more responsive to the wishes of their constituents? How representative is representative democracy anyway? In answering questions such as these, this course covers topics including how citizens form opinions, the role of traditional and social media as a source of information (and misinformation), the place of elections and electoral institutions in a representative democracy, and how alternative forms of political action such as the petition and the initiative process may influence policymaking. This course offers students interested in a career in politics or policymaking an opportunity to examine what matters when leaders are translating public opinion into public policy.

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History of the U.S. for Policymakers, Activists, and Citizens

Alex Keyssar

This is a course intended for policy students, both from the U.S. and from abroad, who would like to enlarge or shore up their knowledge of U.S. history and its bearing on current policy issues. The course will deal with the major themes, issues, and turning points in the evolution of the modern U.S. (largely post-1900) with an eye towards developments that are likely to be relevant to understanding current and future problems and policy issues. Among the topics to be considered historically are: the constitution and institutions of governance; parties and political institutions; the relationship between business and government; immigration; race; labor and social welfare provisions; regional differences; imperialism; and the Cold War. Some attention will also be devoted to the ways in which historical understanding can fruitfully serve policymakers.

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Urban Politics, Planning, and Development

Quinton Mayne

In the face of failures and dysfunction at the national level, there is growing excitement about the welfare- and democracy-enhancing potential of cities. Yet, not all cities are able to realize their promise as engines of economic growth and human development. Why some fail, while others succeed depends crucially on the politics and governance practices that shape cities and metropolitan regions. Understanding the politics of urban planning and development is therefore fundamental to unlocking the potential of our cities to boost the wealth, health, and well-being of citizens and communities. This course focuses on urban politics in the United States and Europe. Key topics include U.S. and European urban politics viewed in the large, and more specifically the politics of land-use, economic development, housing, water, policing, and transit. Cross-cutting themes include: the role of business and non-profits in local governance; citizen participation and urban social movements; the importance of race, ethnicity, and class in shaping group conflict and co-operation at the local level; as well as the costs and benefits of local government fragmentation. The course involves in-class exercises, group work, and simulations, as well as guest lectures. Most class sessions build off single-city case studies, including written and multi-media cases on Stuttgart, New Orleans, Atlanta, Naples, Seattle, New York, Portland, Chicago, Detroit, London, Boston, and Copenhagen.
The course purposes are twofold: (1) to enhance your sophistication in thinking about and analyzing the factors and conditions that shape political and planning processes at the urban level and what their consequences are; and (2) to hone your skills in thinking strategically about how to exercise influence in and on these decision processes.

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SUP 710

Policing, Citizenship, and Inequality in Comparative Perspective

Yanilda Gonzalez 

Police provide an essential service for citizens – security and protection – without which the exercise of all other rights becomes heavily constrained. Police institutions are also the primary entity of the state with which most citizens come into direct contact. In practice, however, governments throughout the Americas (and beyond) have long struggled to organize police institutions such that they address societal demands for security, and that the deployment of coercion against citizens is applied equitably and constrained by law and external accountability. From São Paulo and Johannesburg to Chicago and Baltimore, police forces engage in widespread extrajudicial killings and torture that largely target marginalized sectors of society, including Afro-descendants, the poor, and those living in the urban periphery. At the same time, these groups are also underserved by their police – and the state – leaving them vulnerable to high rates of crime and violence. Through comparative analysis of police institutions in Latin America, the United States, and other regions, this course probes the ways in which police institutions shape the lived experiences of individuals and communities, and how police may help reproduce existing social inequalities.

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Courses related to Government Innovation (Fall)

API 205 A/B

Politics and Policies: What Can Data Tell Us?

Deborah Hughes Hallett

Intended for decision leaders, this course introduces statistics, big data, and machine learning and asks how they may impact politics and policy, now and in the future. The course develops the ability to interpret reports and make informed decisions based on data. Topics includes experimental design, sampling, inference, multiple regression, and program evaluation. Using case studies, the course asks what insight data can provide -- and what it cannot -- and compares the perspectives of data and ethics.

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API 222 A/B

Machine Learning and Big Data Analytics

Soroush Saghafian

In the last couple of decades, the amount of data available to organizations has significantly increased. Individuals who can use this data together with appropriate analytical techniques can discover new facts and provide new solutions to various existing problems. This course provides an introduction to the theory and applications of some of the most popular machine learning techniques. It is designed for students interested in using machine learning and related analytical techniques to make better decisions in order to solve policy and societal level problems.
We will cover various recent techniques and their applications from supervised, unsupervised, and reinforcement learning. In addition, students will get the chance to work with some data sets using software and apply their knowledge to a variety of examples from a broad array of industries and policy domains. Some of the intended course topics (time permitting) include: K-Nearest Neighbors, Naive Bayes, Logistic Regression, Linear and Quadratic Discriminant Analysis, Model Selection (Cross Validation, Bootstrapping), Support Vector Machines, Smoothing Splines, Generalized Additive Models, Shrinkage Methods (Lasso, Ridge), Dimension Reduction Methods (Principal Component Regression, Partial Least Squares), Decision Trees, Bagging, Boosting, Random Forest, K-Means Clustering, Hierarchical Clustering, Neural Networks, Deep Learning, and Reinforcement Learning.

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DPI 662 A/B

Digital Government: Technology, Policy, and Public Service Innovation

David Eaves

Intended for those interested in public policy and service delivery, this course provides a broad overview of emerging opportunities, challenges and risks created by information technology in the public sector. The course will be particularly concerned with how information technology increases the feedback loop - and thus the speed - at which bureaucracies can learn and adapt. The course will provide an introduction to core concepts in the digital space and then explore the opportunities and challenges around the use of data analytics, security and privacy concerns, agile and iterative policy and program development, and design thinking. The course will also look how technology is already and could continue to shape the structure and functions of government.For additional information about technology courses at HKS please visit
Students enrolled in this course attend two 75-minute class meetings a week. To support remote learning across time zones, students may register for one of two sections of this course. Both sections of the course meet together for one of the weekly meetings and meet in separate time blocks for the other weekly meeting. Course sections and meeting times are listed separately in my.harvard for registration.

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DPI 678M

Product Management and Society: Building Technology in the Public Interest

Kathy Pham

Fall 1

Intended for those interested in understanding the critical role of a product manager to build technology services in the public sector or in mission focused private sector. All levels of PM experience welcomed; no experience in software, product management, or design necessary.Delivering critical services to the public requires building technology that works for people and for society. In environments like the public, non-profit, and mission-oriented private sectors, this is can be a challenge, but it is possible and necessary to build thriving societies. This course will focus on the role of the product manager in leading cross-functional teams across engineering, design, users, policy, marketing, analytics, vendors, and stakeholders when building technology products. Students will learn how to think like a product manager and how to partner with product managers. Students will learn how product managers set strategy, define products, advocate for the user, integrate ethical considerations, prioritize accessibility, manage stakeholders, and understand market or policy factors in order to ship technology services and products that benefit people.
Students enrolled in this course attend two 75-minute class meetings a week. To support remote learning across time zones, students may register for one of two sections of this course. Both sections of the course meet together for one of the weekly meetings and meet in separate time blocks for the other weekly meeting. Course sections and meeting times are listed separately in my.harvard for registration.


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MLD 303 A/B

Science of Behavior Change

Todd Rogers

Over the last 30 years, psychologists and economists have joined forces to study how people process information and actually make decisions, rather than how they would make decisions if they were fully rational and selfish. This research program (dubbed behavioral economics or behavioral science) has provided an understanding of how people’s decisions deviate from “optimal” choices as well as the consequences of such deviations. This course is devoted to understanding the nature, causes, implications and applications of these limitations. This course focuses on how these judgment, decision-making and behavior tendencies can inform the design and development of welfare-enhancing interventions.The Science of Behavior Change (MLD 304) has one central objective: to improve students’ abilities to design policies and interventions that improve societal well-being. It accomplishes this by focusing on how to leverage insights about human decision making to develop interventions (“nudges”). This will be accomplished by building on the toolbox that standard economics provides for influencing behavior (namely, incentives and information) with the insights from behavioral science. There are three additional, though secondary, goals for this class. First, it will help you better understand the science of how humans make judgments and decisions. We will review research on human thinking from social psychology, cognitive psychology, political science, organizational behavior, decision science, and economics. In the process you will also learn how randomized experiments work and why they are critical for making inferences about causal relationships.Second, this course aims to improve the quality of your own judgments and decisions. People are poor intuitive statisticians, meaning that when they “just think” about situations for which some data or casual observations exist, they tend to make serious inferential errors, in turn leading to systematically biased decisions. We will study some errors that are particularly important for real world problems and look for easy‐to‐implement solutions. Third, this course aims to increase your familiarity with randomized experiments so you can be a smarter consumer of claims that interventions cause certain outcomes. The class will be suffused with randomized experiments and we will repeatedly discuss how confident one can be that intervention X causes outcome Y. Applications of the material covered in this course include policy design, healthcare, energy, politics, education, finance, negotiation, risk management, diversity, human resource management, and organization of teams, among others.

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MLD 610

Generating and Using Evidence to Improve the Management of Your Organization

Julie Boatright Wilson

In response to the Covid-19 Pandemic and growing awareness of implicit and explicit racial bias in all aspects of society, managers need to rethink not only their missions but, perhaps more importantly, also their strategies for achieving those missions. How will managers of public serving organizations, both governmental and non-profit, need to change their strategies and operations to safely provide services and supports to all they serve? How can managers ensure that the full range of voices within their organization as well as those they serve are heard as they redesign and assess their operations? What information should they gather? From whom? How? How will they feed back what they are learning in order to motivate operational change and, in the process, hopefully changes in organizational culture? Gathering these sorts of data from members of your organization can be risky because if your employees are brave enough to be honest about what they are seeing and experiencing, they expect you to do something about it. In this course students will develop a framework for thinking about evidence of organizational effectiveness and apply this framework through case discussions and group projects to a range of organizations and smaller programs. Students will learn about different strategies for gathering information, assessing organizations, and feeding the information back to their organization’s employees. Students will test these skills in a small group project for a client.

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MLD 830

Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Private and Social Sectors

Dick Cavanaugh

Introduces the theory and practice of entrepreneurial management in the private and social sectors. Provides students with a set of strategic and management frameworks to analyze entrepreneurial ventures, and to begin to visualize, define, structure, and lead enterprises of their own. Through case studies of entrepreneurial ventures and readings, students learn about practical innovation, market research, talent acquisition, intellectual property and financing alternatives. This course focuses on both private and social (not-for-profit) enterprises, including cross-sectoral joint ventures and hybrid models, and examines a wide spectrum of funding models.*Requirements: student preparation and presentation of small group research project(s) of student business plans or case studies on entrepreneurial ventures or leaders in the private or nonprofit world; substantial primary and secondary research. The instructor will meet with each group at mutually convenient times during and outside of class, to help structure the project and coach the presentations of these business plans and case studies. Grades based 1/3 on class participation, 1/3 on the group research presentation, and 1/3 on a case final exam.*Students without prior academic or professional exposure to financial management are urged to enroll concurrently in, or take in advance, MLD-829M: Fundamentals of Entrepreneurial Finance, or MLD-840: Entrepreneurial Finance.

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Courses Related to Government Innovation (January, Spring)

DPI 326M

Personnel Is Policy: Building Teams in American Government

Yohannes Abraham

Spring 2

Every policymaker hopes to see their work executed, and that execution depends on bringing together the right team. While teams matter in every industry, there are pressures and considerations that are unique to the political arena. This course is designed to give students a practical understanding of the mechanics and strategic choices behind selecting, attracting, retaining, and, when necessary, confirming a top notch political team.
We will start with developing a framework for understanding personnel decisions in politics: the principal’s personality, policy priorities, and political realities. Among other topics, we will then explore the mechanics of transitions of power and developing a staff structure; tradeoffs between longtime confidants, political professionals, and outside experts; the balance between attracting high profile "all-stars" and optimizing for team synergy; personnel decisions in the midst of crises; the role of Congress and the media in talent selection; and the practical realities of confirmation battles.
Presidential nominees manage the some of the largest organizations in the world; presidential appointees execute a president's mission; judicial nominees help define a president's legacy. Talent management is at the heart of the American presidency. From pre-election transition teams to the team tasked with handing over the keys, we will also explore how an American president's personnel needs change over the lifecycle of a presidency.
While the course materials and discussions will primarily focus on personnel choices in the U.S. federal context, it will aim to arm students who aspire to work at all levels of government and politics with an understanding of the goals and tensions to consider when putting together or joining a team.

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DPI 610

Data Science for Politics

Benjamin Schneer

Decision-making in politics is now more informed by data than ever before. Data analysis guides voter targeting by campaigns, predictions about election outcomes, and critical policy decisions made by government officials – to name just a few important areas touched by the revolution in the availability and use of data. This course covers key areas of politics transformed in recent years by data science, and it introduces fundamental tools of data science through applications to politics. Planned topics include campaigns and get out the vote, predicting election outcomes, redistricting and gerrymandering, and analyzing opinions expressed offline and online. The course takes a problem-driven approach, covering background and academic literature on each topic, learning a relevant data science tool or method, and then applying it to real-world data. A primary goal of the course is to give students an opportunity to develop data analysis skills relevant for working in politics, including writing and implementing code in R; through applications students will gain experience with data wrangling/cleaning/formatting, record linkage, regression, prediction, visualization, surveys and unstructured data.

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DPI 670M

Preventing Digital Disaster: Why Digital Implementations So Often Go Badly 

David Eaves, Steven Kelman

Spring 1/2 was a critical movement in digital government - it marked the first time both a government website became a national story and of when the future of a critical policy hung on the ability to deliver a digital service. The reality is, is not unique. Every year hundreds, if not thousands of government IT projects fail. The cost of these failures runs into the billions. These projects, however, remain hidden, quietly shelved by their governments. What makes unique is how it has become safe to talk about it. This course will look at a range of issues that led to fail. These include issues such as the drafting of the policy and the law itself, procurement rules, the project management and accountability among others. We live in a world where IT will form a critical part of almost every service and policy area. In this class students will gain important insights into why IT projects fail and how to prevent them from doing so in the first place.
For additional information about technology courses at HKS please visit

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DPI 691M A/B

Programming and Data for Policymakers

Dhrumil Mehta


Data and code are no longer just for programmers. Policymakers in the 21st century, from members of Congress to analysts and executives need to be equipped with the necessary skills to navigate nuanced issues at the intersection of technology and governance. Those who have first-hand experience with programming, data, software development and management methods, open source collaboration, and technology innovation are better prepared to competently navigate these issues.
In the course of five six-hour classes, this module will provide an intensive hands-on curriculum that involves programming exercises in the context of government and politics to build essential core technology and data skills. The hands on exercises will familiarize students with technologies that are a part of the modern programmers toolkit including the command-line, github, the structure of a web application, the linux filesystem, data standards (json, XML, etc), cloud technologies, and databases.
This is not a data science course, nor is it a standard programming bootcamp. This course is designed to give students a deeper appreciation for the nuances of software and data through practical training. Though the course is rooted practical applications, students will be prompted through assigned readings and discussion to think broadly about the implications of implementing the technologies introduced and their ramifications in the context of policy. Exercises will build on one another so that students will come away with a small software project of their own. The course is also designed to prepare students who wish to pursue further learning to overcome the initial barrier to learning programming and more efficiently direct future efforts.
For additional information about technology courses at HKS please visit

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MLD 112

Making State and Local Government Work

Thomas Glynn

This course will focus on how making policy innovations and change can have the impact desired when implemented in a state or local government context. This course will include some non profit cases and international cases as well. Strategic thinking and strategic planning will be important themes. This course will include both cases and readings that address the analytical challenges and the tools that are necessary to produce a successful policy outcome. The course will begin by reviewing the analytical techniques available to assess the specific challenges of a specific situation. The techniques will include 1) analyzing the organizational culture, 2) preparing a correct diagnosis of the policy challenge, 3) identifying issues of race and 4) assessing the influence of the political environment. Next the course will review cases and articles that enumerate the management tools available. These tools include 1) setting goals, 2) organizational change,3) mobilizing the staff,4) improving the customer experience, 5) project management and 6) executive leadership. Finally, the course will take the previously described analytical and management tools to address policy and service delivery challenges like diversity, new technology, increasing traffic, crisis management and global health. The course is taught by a practitioner, Tom Glynn, who has run or overseen a major subway system, a major urban airport, a White House Task Force and the operations of a U.S. Cabinet Agency as Deputy Secretary. Glynn also has a Ph.D. from Brandeis University where he wrote his thesis on implementation.


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MLD 602

Performance Leadership: Producing Results in Public and Nonprofit Agencies

Robert Behn

You are the leader of a public or nonprofit organization. Your job is to produce results. But what results? And how? How can you improve significantly your organization's performance? This course examines the five challenges of performance leadership: (1) Choosing and producing results: How can public executives determine the results they will produce next and develop effective strategies for delivering them? (2) Seizing and creating opportunities: How can public executives recognize or shape events and attitudes to foster the desire and capability to improve performance? (3) Measuring performance: How can public executives measure their agency's progress and results and use such measures to learn how to improve performance? (4) Motivating individuals and energizing teams: How can public executives inspire people in a variety of organizational arrangements, from bureaucracies to collaboratives, to pursue public purposes creatively? (5) Creating targets: How can public executives use specific results to be achieved by specific dates to mobilize people and resources to ratchet up performance?

To see a short VIDEO describing this course, please follow this link:​

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MLD 617M

Effective Implementation: Learning from Effective Implementers

Francis Hartmann, Brittany Butler

Spring 2

Producing tangible and measureable results is an important part of work in the public sector. Yet there are many more good ideas about producing results than there are good ideas implemented. This happens for many reasons, among them that no one really stayed with the idea to "make it happen." This course consists of a case-informed conversation about traits of persons who have been demonstrably effective at translating ideas into action. The objective of the course is to have each of us become more effective in the public service and public policy arena. Each class will address at least one trait that seems to be related to effective implementation, for example: success (knowing what it is); relentlessness (sustained attention); collaboration and bringing out the best in others; setbacks, defeats, and failure; fear, courage, and confidence; help (when does one need it, and what does it look like?); and resilience.

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MLD 620M

The Data Smart City: Driving Innovation with Technology

Stephen Goldsmith

Spring 2

The UN estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050. As more and more residents flock to cities around the world, public leaders will need innovation in order to improve performance and increase responsiveness to changing material and social conditions. The innovations can include changes in existing processes for delivering public goods and services, or for the introduction of new products and services, or for mobilizing and deploying resources to deal with public problems.This course seeks to equip students who wish to be innovators with the knowledge and skills necessary to imagine and implement innovative solutions to public problems. It will focus on driving innovative change through the application of new technologies including data analytics, social media and the internet of things. We will look at how cities can become innovative jurisdictions that unleash their potential for public value creation?The course seeks to develop the attitudes and analytic skills that support individuals who aspire to make positive change, either as innovators or designers of organizations or activities that support innovators of public value.

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MLD 831

Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Private and Social Sectors (Business Plan Workshop)

Dick Cavanaugh

In this seminar/workshop students apply the theory of entrepreneurial management in the private and social sectors by creating business plans and presentations for new social enterprises. Through case studies of entrepreneurial ventures and readings, students learn about practical innovation, market research, talent acquisition, intellectual property and financing alternatives. In particular this spring seminar is designed for students who are prepared to (1) create a business plan for a social venture, or (2) perfect one they have already developed. Student-created ventures may be in the private or social (not-for-profit) sector, or cross-sectoral joint or hybrid ventures. Students are expected to hone their business plans with an eye towards pitching to funders or strategic partners.*Requirements: An individual 10-15 page business plan applying the course insights to a proposal for a new social venture; a PowerPoint presentation “pitch;” and a brief “elevator speech” pitch. Grades based 1/2 on class participation and 1/2 on the individual term paper.*Students without prior academic or professional exposure to financial management are urged to enroll concurrently in, or take in advance, MLD-829M: Fundamentals of Entrepreneurial Finance, or MLD-840: Entrepreneurial Finance.
MLD-830 and MLD-831 cannot both be taken for credit. MLD-831 is designed for students who are more advanced in their business planning.

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SUP 135

Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems with Laboratory Component

Gregory Bruich

This course is a modified version of Economics 50, ordinarily taught by Raj Chetty and Gregory Bruich. Economics 50a will instead be taught by Gregory Bruich.Economics 50a will show how "big data" can be used to understand and address some of the most important social and economic problems of our time. The course will give students an introduction to frontier research and policy applications in economics and social science in a non-technical manner that does not require prior coursework in economics or statistics, making it suitable both for students exploring economics for the first time, as well as for more advanced students. The course will include discussions with leading researchers and practitioners, who use big data in real-world applications. Topics include equality of opportunity, education, racial disparities, innovation and entrepreneurship, health care, climate change, criminal justice, tax policy, and poverty in developing countries. In the context of these topics, the course will provide an introduction to basic methods in data science, including regression, causal inference, and machine learning.In empirical projects and weekly labs, students will work with real data to learn how the methods discussed in the course can be implemented in practice. Students will participate in weekly labs, collaborative work, and discussions with leading researchers and practitioners. The class content will include short videos featuring Raj Chetty, Greg Bruich, and others.
Also offered by the Economics Department as Econ 50A and the Graduate School of Education as A-218. Please note, students registering under HKS SUP-135 must have a background in statistics/econometrics and can only take a section that requires that.

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SUP 425M

Innovation and Justice: Developing New School and Community Strategies that Strengthen Children

Richard Weissbourd

Spring 1

How can we develop more effective interventions for at-risk children? This module will address this question with a focus on children in poverty and children suffering social and emotional risks. Students' primary work will be to develop a proposal for an intervention that they will then present to Boston and Cambridge city leaders and city leaders from other nearby towns. Students may select an intervention designed to improve students' academic performance, to reduce children's social or emotional risks, or to promote social, emotional or moral development. The module will consider not only whether these initiatives ameliorate deficits and troubles, but whether they nurture strengths and resiliency; new models of resiliency will also be examined. Attention will be given to the different sources and different expression of risk and resilience across race, class, and culture. For each of the interventions, we will explore several questions: How convinced are we--based on the available evidence--that the intervention will, in fact, be effective? In what sense is the intervention effective? For example, what kinds of children are helped by these interventions, how much are they helped, and who is left behind? What is the "theory of change," and what are the major ingredients of the intervention? What are the factors, including political factors, that determine whether a city leader supports an intervention? How can interventions best be sustained over time? What determines whether interventions can be effectively scaled up? Classes will consist of discussion, lectures, and guest speakers involved in interventions but will also be devoted to students presenting their proposals at various stages. Prerequisite: Prior knowledge and background in theories of risk and resilience and experience with program development and interventions is helpful.
Enrollment is limited to enable more intensive classroom discussion. Also offered by the Graduate School of Education as H-310W.

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SUP 470

Strategies and Policies for Educational Excellence with Equity

Ronald Ferguson

This course develops a "big picture" understanding of how policymakers, philanthropists, and civic entities can work in concert with schools, families, and out-of-school-time organizations in pursuit of excellence with equity for children and youth. As the title suggests, the course is concerned with strategies and policies for narrowing racial achievement gaps. But narrowing gaps is not enough. Excellence matters too. Therefore, the focus of the course is academic excellence with equity. The value orientation of the course is toward high-quality developmental outcomes for youth of all racial, ethnic, and social class backgrounds, with "group-proportional equality" (race fades as a predictor) and widespread excellence. With an emphasis on students of color and youth from less advantaged families, the course explores several policy and strategic responses to achievement disparity: identify and work to remove key structural barriers to educational equity; promote a civic ethos of collective responsibility for excellence with equity goals; design more effective policies and practices to improve the quality of teaching; provide consistently high-quality out-of-school-time learning opportunities; support families with ideas and practices for parenting children more effectively; engage youth to reshape their culture of achievement to align with their most positive values; mobilize the business community to support youth, including integrated work and learning; and help build and promote a national social and political movement for excellence with equity. The course concerns theories, evidence, designs, methods, and mechanisms associated with these major prescriptions for raising achievement and closing gaps.

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SUP 601

Urban Politics, Planning, and Development

Quinton Mayne

In the face of failures and dysfunction at the national level, there is growing excitement about the welfare- and democracy-enhancing potential of cities. Yet, not all cities are able to realize their promise as engines of economic growth and human development. Why some fail, while others succeed depends crucially on the politics and governance practices that shape cities and metropolitan regions. Understanding the politics of urban planning and development is therefore fundamental to unlocking the potential of our cities to boost the wealth, health, and well-being of citizens and communities. This course focuses on urban politics in the United States and Europe. Key topics include U.S. and European urban politics viewed in the large, and more specifically the politics of land-use, economic development, housing, water, policing, and transit. Cross-cutting themes include: the role of business and non-profits in local governance; citizen participation and urban social movements; the importance of race, ethnicity, and class in shaping group conflict and co-operation at the local level; as well as the costs and benefits of local government fragmentation. The course involves in-class exercises, group work, and simulations, as well as guest lectures. Most class sessions build off single-city case studies, including written and multi-media cases on Stuttgart, New Orleans, Atlanta, Naples, Seattle, New York, Portland, Chicago, Detroit, London, Boston, and Copenhagen.
The course purposes are twofold: (1) to enhance your sophistication in thinking about and analyzing the factors and conditions that shape political and planning processes at the urban level and what their consequences are; and (2) to hone your skills in thinking strategically about how to exercise influence in and on these decision processes.

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SUP 680

Urban Economic Policy

Gordon Hanson

Cities are the locus of global economic dynamism. Urbanization in emerging nations, the growth of high-technology clusters in superstar cities, and the rise and fall manufacturing centers combine to create a global hierarchy of cities, linked by flows of ideas, people, and trade. Although urban density fuels economic growth, it also facilitates disease transmission, as evident during the Covid-19 pandemic. We begin the course by discussing the costs and benefits of urban density, which explains how cities form and develop, why innovative firms concentrate geographically, how communication and transportation networks shape urban systems, and how disease can upset this balance. We next address key policy issues confronting cities in both advanced and emerging economies, including urban sprawl, affordable housing, place-based policies for struggling regions, rising income inequality within and between cities, reducing the carbon footprint of urban living, and mitigating the risks of disease transmission within and between urban areas. The course highlights big-data approaches to urban economic policy analysis and involves a mix of slide presentations, in-class lab exercises and policy debates, and team assignments. Students will complete a paper of their own design in which they will propose solutions to a policy challenge confronting a particular city or region.

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The Political Economy of Trade

Robert Lawrence

This course provides a multidimensional introduction to international trade policy. Its purpose is to provide students with an understanding of international trade economics, rules, politics and institutions, and the major policy issues and challenges facing the global trading system. The course begins with an exploration of the rationales for free trade & protection, the distributional consequences of trade, the impact of trade on employment and growth and the challenges presented by deeper international economic integration. The course then considers the World Trade Organization (WTO). It explores negotiation mechanisms and principles, the rules relating to market access, services, agriculture, trade-related intellectual property (TRIPs), fair trade, safeguards and the system for dispute settlement and retaliation. The final section considers major challenges currently facing the trading system. These include the Covid pandemic, the backlash against globalization, and threats to the global trading order presented by US trade policy and the problems of absorbing China’s Socialist Market Economy. The pedagogical approaches in the course include lectures provided prior to class, case studies, small group discussions based on study questions, and exercises that simulate trade disputes and negotiations over WTO reforms for which students will be organized into national teams.

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The Political Economy of Globalization

Lawrence H. Summers, Robert Lawrence

After the Covid pandemic, the US-China trade war, and growing attraction to populism and nationalism, is globalization still inevitable? Is the US equipped to sustain its role as a global leader and, without its leadership, can global institutions still be effective? How will the rise of China change the global economic system? How do international trade and financial flows affect prosperity, inequality, and economic stability? How can global public goods problems like climate change or pandemics be governed? This course draws on economic theory and lessons from economic history to illuminate the choices - and trade-offs - faced by governments, international institutions, businesses, and citizens as the global economy evolves, analyzing questions which we believe are fundamental to human progress, prosperity, and security. Our premise is that passion without careful reason is dangerous, and that reliance on rigorous analytics and empirical evidence can contribute to a better world. Throughout, we expect students to take the perspective of decision makers, not analysts. Policy issues are debated in class by the professors and guest speakers, and students participate in group preparations for class. In addition, students will participate in simulated hearings and negotiations -- on the future of US trade policy, international pandemic preparedness, and the US-China economic relationship -- in order to gain a better appreciation for how decisions made by individual actors affect the evolution of the global system.
Also offered by the General Education Department as GENED 1120.

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Great Power Competition in the International System

Nicholas Burns

The global balance of power is changing dramatically. This course focuses on the compelling transformation we are witnessing: the rise of China to great power status; the changing nature of European and Russian power; the new roles that India, Brazil, South Africa and others are exercising in global politics; and, most importantly, the change in U.S. leadership under President Donald Trump’s America First agenda. Our major objective will be to discuss and debate whether nations can find ways to cooperate in addressing the most consequential challenges ahead in this still new century—climate change and changing energy dynamics; nuclear proliferation, cyber threats, the scourge of pandemics, the refugee crisis, and other issues. We will also examine competition among the great powers in the North Korea nuclear crisis, the South and East China Seas, the Middle East wars, and renewed divisions in Europe. We will conclude the course by investigating what the world power balance might look like in 2050 and by examining the more positive economic, technological and social trends that should give us some hope as we think about the global future.

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Geopolitics, Human Rights, and the Future of Statecraft

Samantha Power

This course will examine the interplay of geopolitics and human rights, with a focus on how the changing dynamics of the international system are influencing the strategy and statecraft for confronting issues with major security and human consequences. We will probe how such factors as the rise of China, divisions within the U.N., and the challenges facing democracies have shaped international responses to past and present global challenges like climate change, Ebola, and the Syrian civil war. We will also look ahead to potential responses to emerging issues like cyber-interference. The course will use concrete cases to understand the factors behind successful crisis management or mitigation, asking what these lessons portend for the future, and for the actions of governments, NGOs, and activists.
Also offered by the Law School as 2235. Please note, priority registration is granted to HKS and HLS students, with minimal (if any) openings for cross-registrants.

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Courses related to Asia (Spring)


The Political Economy of Transition in China

Anthony Saich

China's incremental reforms have been compared favorably as a transition strategy with the "shock therapy" attempted in Eastern Europe and Russia. Reality is more complex, progress is mixed, and the country is now facing major challenges from delayed reforms, especially in the industrial and financial sectors. How are the state's priorities set? Relevant theories on socioeconomic development and transitions will be analyzed through a detailed study of the policymaking process in China. China provides an interesting empirical testing ground for comparative theory, as it has moved from a statist model of development to one that makes greater use of market forces within an authoritarian political structure. The course first evaluates China's evolving development strategies. Second, it analyzes the politics of the current transition, with detailed discussion of economic and social policy formulation and implementation.


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The War in Vietnam

Fredrik Logevall

The struggle for Vietnam occupies a central place in the history of the 20th century. How did it happen? Why did first France and then the United States wage large-scale war there, and why did both powers fail in their effort to subdue the revolutionary Vietnamese forces? And what is the legacy of the struggle for our world and for U.S. foreign policy today? This course examines these and related questions, with particular attention to the long period of direct American involvement. The events will be considered in their relationship to Vietnam's history, to American politics and society, and to the concurrent Cold War.
Also offered by the History Department as HIST 1001.

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