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Giving policy makers skills to excel: Executive Master of Public Policy

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Executive Master of Public Policy
Improving the skills of policy professionals

As part of the drive to professionalise policy making, the Civil Service has partnered with the London School of Economics and Political Science to run a bespoke Executive Master of Public Policy programme. Jen Mason from Civil Service Learning outlines the thinking behind, and focus of, this programme and its benefits for ambitious civil servants.

The Executive Master of Public Policy (EMPP) is designed to equip civil servants with the cutting-edge analytical tools required to deliver effective policy in an increasingly complex and inter-dependent world.

The course is a unique partnership between the UK’s central government and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) – a world-leading academic institution – to create proficient ambassadors for the Policy Profession. The ambition is for successful candidates to lead the Civil Service in becoming more open, more professional and consistent in the quality of its advice to the government of the day.

What is the EMPP?

The EMPP is a part-time degree for working policy professionals, with eight modules to be completed over 19 months. The programme is aimed at people with the talent and drive to reach the very highest levels of the Policy Profession, building careers that will see them working on the biggest issues in public policy. They will become experienced in applying the best, most modern and most appropriate approaches to policy development.

Three core modules develop fundamental analytical skills: Political Science and Public Policy; Empirical Methods for Public Policy; and Economic Policy Analysis. Students also choose one module from five options, tailoring their studies to their own preferences.

The Civil Service and the LSE work closely together to ensure the EMPP is custom-made to deliver the skills policy-makers need. Significant elements of the programme are specific to the EMPP, so they might address areas of contemporary and emerging importance for the Civil Service. In addition to supporting its design, the Civil Service helps deliver the programme through practitioner sessions where senior civil servants share their experience of policy development and implementation.

The EMPP shares some classes with the Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA), an open-enrolment degree that comprises an international student body from both the public and private sector. This allows EMPP students to benefit from the diversity of experience in the EMPA cohort and EMPA students to benefit from the insight of senior government decision-makers. The joint peer network will provide support and inspiration throughout participants’ professional careers.

Making the EMPP relevant

The programme has a dedicated Steering Group, comprising EMPP Programme directors and senior representatives from the Policy Profession, HM Treasury and those with considerable experience of the role of ministers and innovative policy practice. The group ensures each topic of the programme features the most relevant and informed academics and practitioners. It is crucial that they co-deliver each element with the quality and rigour one would expect from a world-class centre of teaching.

The application process

The LSE’s criteria for admission to the EMPP include a 2:1 or equivalent standard in a first degree from any discipline and at least five years' work experience. The LSE will consider any relevant professional or personal experience that might compensate candidates without this requirement.

While this programme is targeted at the Senior Civil Service (SCS), applications from talented officials below SCS level who meet the entry standards will also be considered.

Chris Wormald, the cross-government Head of the Policy Profession, has written to every Departmental Head of Policy Profession inviting them to recommend candidates for the second cohort of students for the EMPP.

Departments are committed to putting forward at least one application per year for the length of the three-cohort pilot, to ensure each cohort’s participation and feedback shape a well-rounded pilot for the Policy Profession. Applications will only be accepted through departments’ own selection processes.

The deadline for applications for the 2016-2018 cohort has now passed. If you are interested in being considered for the 2017-2019 cohort, who will begin studying in December 2017, please contact your Departmental Head of Policy Profession.

What do participants say about it?

The first 28 civil servants began the programme in December 2015, and recruitment for the 2016 cohort is now underway. Here, current participants share their early insights on the programme:

Why did you decide to apply for the Executive Master of Public Policy (EMPP)?

“I wanted a new challenge – to stretch different intellectual muscles and to lift my eyes from the day job.”

 How does the EMPP work in practice?

“The EMPP has been designed to fit alongside full-time work. The teaching is condensed into intensive week-long and weekend modules, with subsequent essays and exams.

“The weekend modules focus on policy in practice, and the week-long modules concentrate more on theory, with case studies to illustrate and embed learning. The final part of the course is a Capstone Project, where students will work in teams and be allocated to government departments who will use our learning as we provide advice on real policy questions.”

What have you covered so far?

“We had our first ‘Policy in Practice’ weekend in December...

“... The lectures included guest speakers... It was really valuable to step back and consider how theoretical frameworks can be applied in these contexts.

"We also had a maths and statistics refresher and I now get pitying looks when I pull out the tome of a maths textbook on my commute!”

“In January we had our first week-long module on Political Science. Given my experience of lectures as an undergraduate, I was sceptical that the lecturers would be able to hold my attention for a full-day session, let alone a whole week. But I can genuinely say it was fascinating throughout. A lot of that is credit to the LSE lecturers and guest speakers, who have very engaging styles, but the content is also so readily applicable to real-world examples. It keeps you thinking about how it could relate to the day job and previous policy issues you’ve encountered.

“A big part of the value of the course so far has also been the input from other students. Having a cross-government cohort is great as there will normally be someone with relevant experience on any given topic. For some modules, we’re studying with students on LSE’s Executive Master of Public Administration course, which has a wide range of people from the public and private sectors and many international students. It’s been helpful to have this wider perspective and challenge to our Civil Service bubble!”

How will the EMPP benefit you and your department?

“As a policy professional, I will see improvements because of a combination of new knowledge, new skills and a renewed intellectual curiosity and rigour.”

“The rewards of doing the course are substantial, both personally and to the department. It is an excellent cohort of individuals with diverse experiences and expertise.”

What’s the best part?

 “The wealth of expertise and experience in the room, in both the tutors and fellow students, means you’re always learning something.”

“Great mix of theory, quantitative analysis and practitioner testimony.”

“The benefits of both academic and practitioner were enormous; one painted a black-and-white picture, the other coloured it in.”

The view from LSE

“Policy-making increasingly requires specialist skills to evaluate the effects of programmes, and to understand their political and economic context.  This course is a unique blend of rigorous academically grounded training with real-world relevance.

“It is designed around three core disciplines – economics, political science and quantitative methods – that together equip participants with a powerful package of integrated and durable skills that can be deployed to tackle a diverse set of policy challenges.

“Our ‘Policy in Practice’ sessions are designed in collaboration with the Civil Service to demonstrate the applicability and transferability of the material from the core courses, and participants tackle a tough current policy challenge defined by the Civil Service in a Capstone Project.”

Dr Joachim Wehner, Programme Director, Executive Master of Public Policy


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