Pardee RAND Rolls Out Policy Design Studios

Professor Osonde Osoba leads a discussion in Pardee RAND's inaugural design studio

Professor Osonde Osoba leads a discussion in Pardee RAND's inaugural design studio

Photo by RAND Corporation

August 30, 2017

Students in the incoming cohort this fall will experience a new policy design studio as part of the core academic program.

A “studio” is normally thought of as a space where visual or performance artists work—a place for designing and making. But it’s also a place for integrating knowledge, tools, and skills within an atmosphere of experimentation, speculation, and imagination. Like art, policies must also be imagined, designed, and understood within the context of social systems: it is thus sensible and practical for future policy analysts to use some of the same mechanisms as inventors or architects when creating something new.

Pardee RAND’s policy design studios are a place for students and faculty to design integrated, implementable approaches to tackle complex policy problems. Each studio will be focused around a specific social issue, for example homelessness, a potential pandemic outbreak, or equitable policing. The studio will be held in two parts:

  1. A “skills and tools studio” (fall quarter, 5 weeks) for students to understand and visualize complex systems, emphasizing techniques that will permit them to "see" complex structures including the dynamics of strategic gameplay; and
  2. A “mentored research studio” (spring quarter, 10 weeks) to focus on a specific policy problem. Students will learn more about the problem, sharpen skills likely to be helpful in tackling it, and then design an individual project on which they will work for the duration of the studio. Collectively, the students will develop specific projects that tackle the topic from different perspectives and with varying strategies.

The new policy design studios will serve three roles within our program. First, the studios will teach students how to understand and visualize complex, dynamic systems. Second, students will gain valuable practice and experience scoping complex problems and tackling ill-defined and evolving policy spaces. Third and most important, the studios will provide students with opportunities to integrate the skills they learn through their courses by tackling real-world policy challenges and developing implementable policy solutions.

Current students piloted a version of the policy design studio as an elective course this past school year. The refined policy design studio has now been adapted as part of the core academic program. Students entering this year will add an additional 0.5 credits to their total coursework requirement.

This year's studios, on the topic of homelessness, will be led by Pardee RAND faculty Sean Grant and Dmitry Khodyakov and are being co-taught by Ann Pendleton-Jullian, an architect with over 20 years of experience leading studios.

Photos from our inaugural Policy Design Studio in spring 2017