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.

The list of seminars for 2022 will include:

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

The 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: Andrew Potter, Associate Professor (professional) and Graduate Program Director

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

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

Public Choice: Do Governments Always Act in the Public Interest?

Economics often assumes that voters, elected officials and the government are motivated by the public interest. But is this right? How does the public policy calculus change if we assume that voters, legislators and government officials are also motivated by self interest? Ken Boessenkool brings 25 years of practice in politics and government to the theory of public choice. We will not only learn the theory, but learn how the theory translates, or doesn’t, into real life.

Instructor: Ken Boessenkool

Complexity in Regulatory Systems

Regulatory systems have been an important part of public policy as long as societies have needed public goods, like water supply and urban sanitation.  This course surveys recent discussions about regulatory complexity in developed economies.  Study focuses on experiences in selected, highly regulated and knowledge-intensive sectors:  past experience with telecommunications, and current experience with finance (credit/lending and investment funds), electricity, and vaccines.  The course then looks at the developing public conversation about regulating big technology companies (big tech). 

Instructor: John Stewart


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