Through the major’s capstone practicum project, students conduct policy analyses requested by government and nonprofit organizations. The practicum experience enables students to apply and expand their technical skills while providing a useful service to the client organizations. In the practicum, students work in small teams to to address issues faced by their client organizations. Each team receives guidance from their client, practicum course instructor, and other Stanford faculty throughout the project. The project culminates in a final report and formal presentation to the client.
Since the practicum's inception in 2007, over 200 students have conducted projects for over 50 client organizations.
The most common types of practicum projects are those in which students:
- Assess the shape of a policy issue/problem
- Evaluate a policy/program
- Develop a new program initiative
Regardless of project type, many projects contain the following components and subcomponents:
- Background Research: describe the policy context, synthesize previous research
- Information Gathering: interview or survey stakeholders/experts, collect quantitative/qualitative data, identify best practices
- Analysis: establish evaluative criteria and decision-making framework, construct policy options, use analytical methods to forecast policy outcomes, make recommendations.
Ideal projects for the practicum are sufficiently narrow and well-defined such that in one or two quarters students can delve deep into the issue, gaining the specialized knowledge necessary to conduct a rigorous analysis of the issue and make useful recommendations about it. At the same time, the project is complex enough to be academically challenging and to enable students to apply skills they have learned in the curriculum. The project should also be on an issue that is important to the client organization and that the students are likely to impact.
Students must enroll in Public Policy 200a, 200b, or 200c for 5 units in their senior year. Student teams are expected to produce high quality work and act in a professional manner. Students should expect to use applied research methods from the social sciences in the context of public policy issues.
Clients are expected to meet at least once with the students at the beginning, middle, and end of the project. Instructors meet with each team regularly and review drafts of the client deliverables. The projects culminate in two client deliverables: a final report and formal presentation of the main findings. Having a practicum team is roughly the equivalent of having one full-time employee working on the project for the length of the practicum.
Before each practicum course, the proposed projects are screened by the practicum directors and then given to the students to rank their preferences among them. Typically a few proposed projects do not get selected each year. The two-quarter graduate practicum is offered during the fall and winter terms, and the one-quarter undergraduate practicum is offered each quarter.
Student and Client Feedback
- The practicum … perfectly fulfills its "capstone" function, requiring students to synthesize and apply all that they've learned through their Public Policy and Economics courses.
The experience was very interesting to employers and made it easier for me to find a job in this field of work.
- As a policy analyst, public finance investment banker, and now venture capitalist, all these skills [from the practicum] have been used on an almost daily basis.
- All the recommendations were underpinned and supported by the best science, facts and analysis available on [the] topic.
- The report had an enormously beneficial impact that reverberates to this day.
- The analysis was most useful. [I]t served as a counterpoint to challenge our assumptions on the topic.
- [The project] helped us to understand the reasons why it would not be a good idea to pursue [an initiative we were considering].