Practice, Practice, Practice

The Clinical Education of Policy Analysts at the NYU/Wagner School
  • Dennis C. Smith


In the early 1990s the NYU/Wagner School undertook an effort to reform the curriculum of one of the oldest and largest public administration programs in the nation to make its graduates more job ready and better prepared to be “reflective practitioners.” While the reform applied to all parts of the School, the design of the public policy analysis specialization at Wagner School embraces all the elements of the “Clinical Initiative.” The curriculum was revised to provide the three “Es”: Exploration, Exercise and Experience.

The crowning feature of the reform brought by the Clinical Initiative is the year-long, team capstone project, which replaces the comprehensive examination and the master’s thesis in the MPA program. Instead of taking an examination in the specialization, students now enroll in a two-semester course organized around student-team policy projects involving either consulting for public and nonprofit organization clients, or policy research studies. The projects integrate the knowledge, understanding and skills covered in public policy courses, and test the ability of students to meet the challenges of working in teams. The presentation of the Wagner Clinical Initiative pays special attention to the international capstone course, taught by the author, that often involves fieldwork abroad and teams of Wagner students working with students in partner universities in developing countries. In addition to providing effective policy analysis training, Wagner capstones constitute a significant public service.


Clinical Initiative capstone exploration exercise experience master’s of public administration international capstone evidence/analysis ideas action end event policy research policy implementation public economics and finance quantitative analysis program impact practitioners decision-making matrix technical rationality logic model community service Applied Research in Public Economics and Policy real-world client Prospective Evaluation Synthesis (PES) GAO 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Amsterdam, Anthony. 1984. Clinical legal education: A 21st-century perspective. Journal of Legal Education 34, 610–22.Google Scholar
  2. McGraw, Dickinson and Louis Weschler. 1999. Romancing the capstone: The jewel of public value. Journal of Public Administration Education 5(2) (April): 89–106.Google Scholar
  3. Schall, Ellen. 1995. Learning to love the swamp. The Journal of Public Policy and Management 14(2) (Spring): 202–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Schön, Donald A. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  5. Thompson, James D. 1967. Organizations in Action. New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Iris Geva-May 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dennis C. Smith

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations