Complexity Seminars

For four weeks in May/June of each year, students are offered several intensive one-week seminars, each on a single theme. Each seminar presents students with a particular type of complexity in the policymaking process. Whereas each of the Policy Case Studies examines one specific policy with many associated complexities, the Complexity Seminars are designed to examine one particular type of complexity as it applies to many different policy examples. In this way, students see each complexity as a phenomenon with considerable generality.

Previous seminars have included:

Policymaking in a World of Business

Policymaking in an age of business involves interactions between individual stakeholders who are embedded in organizational structures across institutional sectors. Beyond formal analyses of public policies, how does policymaking actually occur in a world in which businesses have considerable influence? What kind of collaborative approaches are necessary to sustain the relationship between policymakers and businesses? This seminar will draw on many different policy examples to examine the complexity of the policymaking process in contexts where decision-makers and leaders from the private sector play a key role.

Instructor: Nii Addy, Assistant Professor in McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management

Rhetoric and Communication of Public Policy

The adoption of a policy depends on far more than its merits. An effective speech, video or op-ed delivered at the right moment to the right audience can persuade detractors and result in a policy being passed and implemented. Policymakers who ignore the rhetoric of policy debates are likely to see their best laid policy plans fail. This seminar will look at the art of persuasive speaking and writing and its impact on the policymaking process.

Instructor: Adam Daifallah, Assistant Professor, McGill University, Desautels Faculty of Management

Policy and Globalization

With the intensification of political, social, and commercial globalization, policymaking is becoming increasingly complicated. How does the multiplication of international, regional, and bilateral forms of governance impact the policy process? How are public policies developed, interpreted, and applied through complex processes that transcend the traditional territorial boundaries of sovereign states? This seminar explores how international rules, norms, markets, funding, and knowledge, may influence the development and implementation of policies at the domestic level.

Instructor: Sebastien Jodoin, Assistant Professor, McGill University, Faculty of Law

Ethical Dimension of Policymaking

The power to set and administer policy comes with great responsibility. What types of conflicts of interest do policymakers encounter? What moral principles should policymakers adopt to govern their own behaviour? The importance of the power of administrative discretion and its impact on the implementation of policy is being increasingly recognized. How should this power be exercised? And what constitutes an abuse of this power? This seminar will consider these central questions while attempting to address both the theoretical debates and practical challenges.

Instructor: Joe Heath, Professor, University of Toronto, Department of Philosophy

Stakeholder Management

For policies to succeed, stakeholders need to be taken into account during the development and implementation of policies. Failure to do so often results in a policy agenda being derailed. Effective stakeholder management requires developing positive relationships with the relevant stakeholders so that a policy goal can be realized without obstacle. Stakeholder management is a process carried out both by government but also by interest groups to ensure their respective agendas are brought forward. This seminar provides students with insight into the stakeholder management process from the perspectives of government and lobbyists and will provide them with the skills to manage stakeholders as part of the policy development process.

Instructor: Geoffrey Kelley, Member of the Quebec National Assembly 1994-2018

Partisan Politics and the Policy Process

The role of partisan politics in the development of policy is often dismissed as an unimportant detail rather than recognized as a crucial feature of debate and progress in democratic societies. A policymaker who ignores the interaction of policy development with partisan politics is likely to be ineffective. This seminar focuses on the role of partisan politics in the policy process and will examine how partisanship can be navigated or harnessed in the development and implementation of policy.

Instructor: Tasha Kherridian, Media commentator and political analyst

Budgeting and Fiscal Policy

Many consider budgeting to be a dry fiscal exercise where a government produces a surplus or deficit. Yet there is so much more to the budgeting process than government accounting. Budgets can be seen as a reflection of public choice or of “political economy”. Budgets also reveal how governments get the resources to finance their activities. This seminar will explore key variables in a budget, budget rules, the internal and external dynamics of budgeting, and the impact of debt burdens on countries among other topics.

Instructor: Don Drummond, Economist

Race, Inequality and Public Policy

This seminar examines the dynamics and persistence of racial inequality in Canada and other advanced industrialized societies. Students will explore the ways that public policy has worked to aggravate and/or ameliorate these circumstances and analyze the impact of racial inequality on democratic norms and institutions.

Instructor: Debra Thompson, Associate Professor, Political Science

Achieving Policy Transparency

Transparency is generally considered a necessary condition of good democratic power, effective policies and accountability and an engaged citizenry. Democracy is now under strain around the world. Some are questioning whether we are entering a post-truth environment. This seminar examines policy transparency from a 360 degree public policy perspective. We will examine the assumptions and implications of transparency theory. Theory will collide with complexity and the public interest when we look at a full array of policy transparency challenges related to public finance, central banks, trade, income inequality, climate change and access to information laws. We will debate the benefits, costs, and obstacles on the design and implementation of policy transparency. We will look to the future, where the next generation of public policy leaders will grapple with the importance and challenges of policy transparency on big issues like income inequality and climate change in a more integrated global and digital environment.

Instructor: Kevin Page, Appointed Canada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer in 2008

Regulating Civil Society

The institutions of civil society (religious organizations, labour unions, NGOs, political parties, etc.) are in classical liberal theory viewed as a necessary "buffer" between individual citizens and the state. As such they have been thought as lying beyond the regulatory reach of the state. There are however a range of reasons of various kinds for the state to set some limits and conditions on the operation of these institutions. This course will consist in a series of case studies drawn from Canada and elsewhere that lay out the challenges posed in regulating civil society in ways that do not detract from its function of preserving a realm of freedom from citizens outside of the purely private sphere while addressing the pathologies that can be given rise to by a completely unregulated civil sphere.

Instructor: Daniel Weinstock, Full Professor, Director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy, Katharine A. Pearson Chair in Civil Society and Public Policy in the Faculties of Law and of Arts


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