Internationalization is a guiding principle in the strategic direction of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, as my colleagues and I strive to prepare students to be global citizens and future leaders.
In one of the courses I lead, Advanced Governance, this internationalization principle is realized through the participants that sit around the seminar table, and embedded in the content of the course and the exercises that animate the readings and discussions.
Advanced governance deals with broad questions about the manner in which authority to make policy decisions is distributed and stakeholder consent is obtained. In short: who has the power to determine what, and how will that power be exercised.
Governance is changing in front of us, whether through political and social forces, or the impact of new technologies. To be effective public servants, we need to understand this change and consider how to respond appropriately. The objectives of this course include providing learners with a framework through which to understand modern-day governance systems and arrangements, and to evaluate the effectiveness of these arrangements with attention paid to how they may help or hinder the achievement of desirable public policy outcomes.
I’ve always been impressed by the breadth of global exposure that JSGS students bring to the classroom, and this year’s class is no different. It’s one thing to talk about governance or conflict resolution as abstract concepts. But where those discussions are animated by first-hand accounts of civil war, inter-state rivalries, extreme poverty, or rapid industrialisation, it causes me to be more careful in using words like “instructor” when describing what I do.
One thing I do with every class is have the participants identify “places we’ve called home” on a Google map. Different than asking “where are you from”, this allows participants to talk about their varied experiences that define them beyond their birth certificate. This year’s map, like previous versions, looks both similar and different than prior ones – but it’s always interesting (btw that one east of Madagascar? that’s Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius).
In the version of the course I teach, we spend very little time talking about the theory of governance, and more time focused on applied ways in which this changing notions of governance can be understood and acted upon. Topics include participatory budgeting, citizen juries and deliberative polling, electoral reform, the role of social capital in governance, governing common property and collective action problems, opening governance, the sharing economy and disruptive governance, collaborative governance, and using gamification in governance.
This content is explored in the standard graduate school seminar fashion, with assigned readings and group discussions. Participants take turns leading the seminar for one of the articles, and using examples to illustrate the concepts. It’s at this point where the global experience of the room becomes invaluable, providing real examples of governance challenges and pointing to successful implementation and future opportunities for the application of the ideas being explored. Students discuss their experience with different electoral systems, for example, or how social capital works at different scales and what can be done when social capital has been destroyed. There are first-hand examples of common property failures and successes, and recounting of experiences with disruptive governance like Uber. And these discussions always prove the universal rule: that everyone has a strongly-held view on restaurant tipping, leading to general principles on the tradeoffs between social norms and enforceable measures.
But what really animates the class are the exercises: mini-case studies, formal debates, experiments, and simulations. An “ultimatum game” determined whether a pair of students would each receive some share of two bonus point or walk away with nothing each (most pairs agreed upon an fairly equitable split). A “public goods game” saw more bonus marks allocated in exchange for a whole-group commitment to blitz the class discussion board with comments (though some last-minute whipping was required to enforce the group agreement and meet the quota). Unfortunately, an effort to fund an end-of-class cake through cash contribution commitments failed (though some Keebler elves worked on a solution to this collective action problem).
One of the exercises brought together the applied readings on participatory budgeting and the use of Internet tools to solve collective action problems. Participatory budgeting is a method for the public to provide input on how to spend real money on projects that matter to them. An example of a collective action problem is the funding of micro-loans by multiple lenders; this is something that the website Kiva facilitates.
Operating with a budget of $100, seminar participants used the Kiva website to identify potential loan recipients. Students then engaged in an in-class participatory budgeting discussion to advocate for their preferred options, seeking to persuade their colleagues that their preferred loan was a good choice based on different criteria: worthiness, a viable business plan, emotion, connection.
After making their pitch, the class voted for their preferred options (students could support any number of loans up to the $100 available). (This exercise was adapted from a much more ambitious project developed by my colleague Erik Johnston at Arizona State University.)
The class helped three individuals seeking Kiva loans, and donated $25 to the Kiva Foundation.
When these loans are paid back, and additional contributions are made to the base amount, future classes will be able to select Kiva micro-loan recipients in their own participatory budgeting exercise.
Besides being fun, this experiment helped to illustrate some of the concepts explored in the course readings and discussion, and served to bring the idea of internationalization directly into the classroom.
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