Students gain policy analysis experience with real-world clients

Students present findings from their workshop in public affairs projects.
Students present findings from their workshop in public affairs projects.

In the capstone workshops for the La Follette School master’s degree programs, students gain policy analysis experience by collaborating with real-world clients. Working in teams, they produce research-based, analytical, evaluative, and prescriptive reports for clients in the public, non-profit, and private sectors that range from municipal government offices to international development organizations. Each report is the equivalent of the thesis for a master’s degree from the La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Many alumni say work on these client-based projects has helped them find public policy employment. At the same time, the information-packed reports allow clients to move ahead with problem-solving projects that might otherwise not be possible amid tight budgets and other challenges.

In the 2021-2022 academic year, workshop students focused on projects ranging from identifying and analyzing successful mental health services in Wisconsin schools, to recommending land-use policies to enhance housing development, to bringing electricity to health facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Learning policy analysis skills in class is important, but there’s nothing like the experiential learning students gain by doing real-world policy analysis,” says La Follette School Professor Michael Collins, who served as a workshop mentor. “Our graduate students take this work very seriously, determined to produce reports that can help our partner organizations make important decisions about projects affecting people in Wisconsin, the nation, and the world. This is a great example of outreach inspired by the Wisconsin Idea, UW–Madison’s guiding philosophy.”

Students in the elective cost-benefit analysis course also have the chance to do hands-on policy analysis for clients. In 2021-2022, students produced cost-benefit analyses related to childcare, training for certified nursing assistants in nursing homes, and marijuana decriminalization and legalization.

The sampling of report conclusions below demonstrates the value of the projects to the clients.

Through incorporating the analysis and recommendations included within this report, the Office of the City Attorney has the potential to address outcome disparities and become a model for the country on how to produce equitable outcomes in municipal prosecution.

– Observing Prosecutorial Outcomes in the City of Madison by Ian Pearson, Paul Tadross, and Charlie Warzecha

The development of quality healthcare service delivery is the product of many factors, but access to reliable electricity has a discernable and significant effect on delivery of healthcare services, per our regression analysis using under age five mortality rates as a proxy variable for health outcomes.

– Health Facility Electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Importance of Electricity Access for Public Health by Muhammed Fofana, Stephanie Liechty, Matthew Marcus, and Jean Vilbert

“My team and I were so pleased with the report on improving Wisconsin’s residential building code,” said Jennifer Garrett, assistant deputy secretary at the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. “It will be an invaluable resource for several related projects and initiatives, including our new Sustainable Building Council, so the timing could not be better. The report also generated insights we were not expecting, including ways our agency could assist efforts to expand access to affordable and workforce housing. We anticipate using this report as the foundation for future initiatives within our agency and across the administration. We could not have generated a resource like this without the La Follette School and UW–Madison.”

These partnerships demonstrate the La Follette School’s commitment to public outreach and the Wisconsin Idea, using evidence-based research to serve the public good.

Subscribe to our newsletter