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Policymaking Gone Global: Learning to Work with NGOs

August 10, 2015

Policy schools prepare students to work in the public policy realm, most often training students for positions in government. But policymaking is an increasingly diverse field, policy issues span the globe and multiple–state and non-state–actors take part in decision-making and policy implementation. How should we teach global policy-making in policy schools?

In a recent article co-authored with Cristina M. Balboa, Policymaking in the Global Context: Training Students to Build Effective Strategic Partnerships with Nongovernmental Organizations [ungated access here], we use a case study of the on-going global response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and descriptive data from an analysis of MPA/MPP programs to demonstrate the need for teaching “global” policymaking. [1]

Global policymaking means that a mélange of public and private policymakers govern accross traditional state lines. For example, the U.S. government deployed personnel from multiple departments and agencies–Departments of State, Defense, Health & Human Services; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USAID–to West Africa who worked side by side with international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Partners in Health, and Samaritan’s Purse to provide lifesaving medical treatment. What’s more, private donors and foundations made immediate and direct donations to the foundation of the CDC and other actors. In all, 21 foundations contributed over USD 117 million and pledged an additional USD 123 million to the Ebola response.

We argue that Master’s in Public Policy/Master’s in Public Administration (MPP/MPA) programs (we look at NASPAA schools) need to do a better job preparing students to work in these types of policymaking environments and specifically, how to work with NGOs. We are not alone in thinking this way. In a recent post for Political Violence @ a Glance, Deborah Avant suggests that

Academic institutions—particularly APSIA schools—train the people that go to work in the policy arena […] If you look at where most APSIA schools place students you’ll see that fully two-thirds of our graduates pursue policy working for NGOs and commercial companies. This means that measuring the usefulness of their training for policy requires tapping into a much broader array of ‘policy makers’.

Indeed, a report produced for the USIP on graduate education in International Peace and Conflict, finds that graduate programs do not adequately prepare students for working in the international peace and conflict management policy arena and should incorporate cross-sectoral coursework, experiential learning and applied skills.


Here are some major takeaways from our article:

  1. Transnational NGOs play an increasing role in bridging domestic and international policy realms, and making, influencing, and implementing policy. The ability of Master’s degree graduates to address societal issues in a globalized world is dependent upon their ability to operate with and within NGOs.
  2. Drawing on our discussion of the Ebola response, we distill a few of the capacity differences exhibited by state agencies, NGOs, and military actors–in the global, national, and local spheres. We argue that MPP/MPA students need to learn about how NGOs operate, so that they can analyze each actor’s capacity in each sphere, but also to learn how to manage these varying relationships based on a diverse set of accountability priorities.
  3. We collected data on NASPAA schools that self-report “international/global” concentrations to see whether and how they incorporate NGOs.[2] We discovered that while a high percentage (73%) of these schools have tenure-track faculty whose research focuses on NGOs, a shockingly low number of these schools require a core course on NGOs. Our data also examines elective course, adjunct faculty expertise and core curricula and repeatedly finds that programs underutilize existing faculty resources.


It is clear that we need to better leverage existing faculty expertise and scholarly interest to  prepare policy students for these complex governance contexts. We also suggest experiential methods such as case studies–like those housed at Rutgers, Harvard Business School, the University of Washington and the University of Minnesota–simulations and service-learning projects as ways to introduce complex global systems into the classroom and prepare students to work with a panoply of actors in policymaking.


[1] Other articles in the  Symposium: Blurred Lines: Preparing Students to Work Across the Public,Nonprofit, and For-Profit Sectors argue that nonprofits are an integral part of public policy and public affairs.

[2] We used NASPAA’s specialization/concentrations fields to select the population of programs classified as “international/global” (48 schools). We consulted websites for each program during January and February 2015 using a codebook to gather and standardize descriptive data on each program.

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Maryam Z. Deloffre is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Arcadia University. Her current work focuses on global NGO governance, accountability and legitimacy; and human security and global health governance.