Workplacements and policy analysis papers – getting in some practice

A core part of the Cambridge MPP is a focus on the practical. The last thing that anyone needs in government, the third sector or in the private sector is policy specialists without practical knowledge. It is the combination of theory and practice, along with the interdisciplinary nature of the course, that we believe is a core strength.

The third layer of the MPP course is based on students having the opportunity to choose two pieces to write policy analysis papers and then either bidding for or generating a workplacement on which their final policy analysis paper will be based. So what’s the sequence?

In the first term students work one to one with their supervisor to decide on a topic for their first paper. The key is that this is a piece of policy analysis, so it must address a choice or a question and provide a recommendation. There is no point in providing a review of the multiple sides of an argument or issue if you do not come to a decision. The second element that is really important is who are you writing for, who is your audience. How you write and what detail you will provide will vary depending on what level your briefing to and what you can assume about their needs and their knowledge. It’s very different to brief the Prime Minister than a journalist or analyst. Finally, these papers need to be concise, packing in your messages in a well structured manner and giving the recommendation upfront (sometimes referred to as pyramid writing).

In the second term, students choose another topic, which can be linked to the first or completely different. It depends on what students are looking to get out of the course. Some choose to do pieces that build upon one another, others look to gain experience across a number of policy areas.

The workplacement process is interleaved into all of this. As part of the course development we develop workplacements with partners in government, NGOs and in other organisations. These are put together into a ballot book and given to the students towards the end of the first term. They then decide on their top 3 and we run a random ballot to see who is placed where.

This year we have been able to offer over 40 placements to the students, ranging from local government, through most of the central government departments in London, and a few international placements including the WHO and the EU. Students can also work to generate a placement themselves, if they have a very specific target. Four of our students this year have taken this route and have generated great placements that will lead to really interesting policy papers.

Putting all of this together we believe provides students with opportunities for choice and specialisation, as well as getting inside great organisations with support from senior level policy makers. Overall this provides students with a solid practical foundation on which to build and to test the knowledge that they are gaining on the rest of the course.

If you are a government agency or an NGO and would like to discuss providing workplacements for the Cambridge MPP please contact Dr Finbarr Livesey (tfl20@cam.ac.uk) in the first instance.

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