Though the policy-making process is complex, with a host of actors and competing interests, public policy is traditionally shaped by elected officials, administrative agencies and organized interest groups. There are many avenues for policies to be informed by the lived experience of members of low-income and marginalized communities, however, their participation is often hidden and/or undervalued. Public servants and policy-makers can provide proactive opportunities for communities to assert their own priorities and rights through mechanisms like public planning processes or participatory budgeting. Similarly, marginalized communities can self-organize and even form common cause with broader interests to create more just public policies.
In this course, we will examine the essential concepts of power – what it is, how it is used, how groups and communities can expand and strengthen their political power, and how public officials can share theirs. We will explore strategies for initiating participatory policymaking from above (e.g., government/ policymakers initiating participatory approaches to decision-making, the opening of previously hidden datasets to the public) and below (e.g., grassroots communities mobilizing to influence policy), and the democratic tradition of challenging traditional power structures. Case studies will include a landmark set of laws passed in 2013 in New York City to advance oversight of the Police Department, the global expansion of Participatory Budgeting, grassroots campaigns to improve public transit, and the effect of "open data" laws on policy formation. Students will learn about the mechanisms often used to advance community-driven efforts such as public planning processes, public hearings, meeting with elected officials, public information campaigns, and mass mobilizations.
CORE-GP 1022 or URPL-GP 2660.