MPP/MPA Core Competencies

… a “NASPAA Plus” set of professional Competencies,
that underlie the Atlas Core Curriculum and the Atlas Standards

CoreCompetenciesCompetencies imputed from international standards and required courses in leading MPP and MPA programs

This page describes how two established standards for Master’s level competencies can be combined with an analysis of syllabi of the required courses in leading MPP and MPA programs to identify a common curricular core that could serve as a benchmark for professional Master’s programs in public affairs. The resultant MPP/MPA Core Competencies form the basis for the topics and concepts in the Atlas Core Curriculum and the learning outcomes, grading rubric and sample assessment questions in the Atlas Examination Standards.

The MPP/MPA Core Competencies could be considered to be “NASPAA Plus” in that they incorporate the NASPAA standards that apply to all NASPAA-accredited public affairs programs plus the rigour associated with the required courses of leading MPP and MPA programs.

Commonalities in the two international standards

The most well known standards for public affairs programs are those promulgated by NASPAA (Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration) through its Commission on Peer Review and Accreditation (see NASPAA Competencies) and by UNDESA/IASIA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration through its Task Force on Standards of Excellence for Public Administration Education and Training (see UNDESA/IASIA Standards). We use the most fine-grained descriptions of competencies in these standards: the examples under the competency domains in the NASPAA standard and the subcomponents under the curriculum components in the UNDESA/IASIA standard. These are reproduced in truncated form in Tables 4 and 5 below. It can be seen that they have highly similar expectations in the competencies graduates.

Commonalities in the required courses of leading MPP and MPA programs

Our analysis of 119 programs offering MPP, MPA, and similarly titled degrees (see MPP/MPA Curricular Types, Program Rankings by Attributes, and Curriculum Comparison Tables) illustrates that the required courses in most of the highly ranked programs, regardless of whether their flagship degree is called MPP or MPA, cover similar subject matter. In particular, they tend to have required courses in economics and in other mathematically intensive subjects such as quantitative methods. For example, of the leading 25 programs in the US News and World Report’s 2015 ranking of American public affairs programs (http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-public-affairs-schools/public-affairs-rankings, accessed 23 May 2016), all but one (Kansas) are in the “higher math-economics content” column of MPP/MPA Curricular Types.

Identifying the subjects and course-weeks of instruction in the MPP/MPA core

In Tables 4 and 5 we estimate the number of course-weeks of instruction required by a typical student to achieve MPP/MPA-level mastery of each competency. We constrain our estimates with the parameters implicit in the following three propositions, which reflect curricular choices made by leading MPP and MPA programs:

  1. It should be possible to satisfy the standards with 120 course-weeks (10 one-semester course equivalents) of instruction. We have selected this number because most public affairs programs require between 12 and 18 courses to graduate and some space within the curriculum is needed for specific program missions and to allow for electives.
  2. It should be possible to satisfy both the NASPAA and the UNDESA/IASIA standards with the same set of courses.
  3. The economics and quantitative analysis competencies for both standards (reflected, for example, in NASPAA’s “Analytical tools for collecting, analyzing, presenting, and interpreting data,” and in UNDESA/IASIA’s “Policy and program formulation, analysis, implementation and evaluation” as well as “management of economic development” and “institutional and developmental economics”) can be met with a combination of one full-semester course (12 course-weeks of instruction) in each of Economic Analysis and Quantitative Methods plus 6 course-weeks of instruction in Macroeconomic Policy.

The estimates that we have made in Tables 4 and 5 are summarized in Tables 2 and 3. They suggest that the required competencies could be taught by offering courses in 17 subjects, although not all subjects require a full semester of instruction. All 17 subjects can be considered “core subjects” in that at least some instruction is needed in each to meet the competency standards, but only five subjects require a full semester of instruction: Policy Analysis and Process; Implementation and DeliveryGovernance and Institutions; Economic Analysis; and Quantitative Methods. The competency requirements associated with the 12 remaining core subjects could be fulfilled with quarter-semester or half-semester course modules, or combined with other subjects to form a one-semester course. Consistent with the first proposition noted above, the total instruction across all 17 core subjects is 120 course-weeks, or 10 one-semester course equivalents.

Implicit in our approach is the assumption that all the subject matter taught in a course assigned to a subject is pertinent to the competencies assigned to the subject. For example, it assumes that the required competency of project management is taught in at least one of the courses assigned to Analytic Methods. Although we identify finer-grained, topic-level, subject-matter requirements using normed topics, we cannot apply topic-level analysis to programs where we do not have access to syllabus-level information on course content. Our competency gap analysis described below therefore relies on the assignments of whole courses to subjects.

As described at Normed Topic Model we have developed 120 normed core topics to specify the subject matter that could be taught in the 120 course-weeks of instruction to meet these competency requirements.

The MPP/MPA core competencies

If all the NASPAA and the UNDESA/IASIA standards can be met with the curricular content from 17 subjects, it should be possible to group the required content under top-level competency headings that take account of subject boundaries such that each of the 17 core subjects is associated with only one top-level competency. We therefore propose the following MPP/MPA Core Competencies:

  1. Applying economics and statistics concepts to public management problems (30 course-weeks)
  2. Applying analytic methods and evaluation concepts to public management problems (12 course-weeks)
  3. Understanding the socioeconomic, political and global contexts of public management (12 course-weeks)
  4. Applying policy and management analysis concepts to public management problems (18 course-weeks)
  5. Understanding democratic institutions and processes, and acting ethically (24 course-weeks)
  6. Managing financial, human and information resources in public and nonprofit institutions (12 course-weeks)
  7. Leading and communicating in public management (12 course-weeks)

The first three core competencies cover subjects and topics that what we describe in Subjects as policy-oriented; the last three cover those that are management-oriented, and the fourth covers the one subject that we describe as both policy- and management-oriented. The 120 topics are intended to constitute a core of 10 semester-course-equivalents of instruction common to all MPP and MPA programs. Programs with a policy-oriented curriculum (often leading to an MPP degree) typically supplement the common core with additional instruction (topics and courses) under the policy-oriented headings, as well as additional instruction in policy-oriented subjects that are outside the common core. Conversely, programs with a management-oriented curriculum (often leading to an MPA degree) typically offer additional instruction under the management-oriented headings, as well as in management-oriented subjects outside the common core.

We do not claim that our list of MPP/MPA core competencies is more valid than the list of five required competency domains in the NASPAA standards or the list of eight curriculum components used in the UNDESA/IASIA standards. The advantage of our depiction of top-level competencies is that it respects subject boundaries. As illustrated in Table 1, the required content (course-weeks of instruction) in each of the 17 core subjects is associated with one and only one core competency. Table 1 can be contrasted with Tables 2 and 3 where the required instruction in most subjects is distributed among several competency domains or curriculum components. Tables 1, 2 and 3 reflect the fact that, consistent with the second bullet proposition above, all three competency depictions result in the same subjects and course-weeks of required instruction.

NOTE: The tables below and the PEACO calculations employed a 33 subject nomenclature which has been slightly modified to a 34 subject nomenclature which has reconfigured the two 18-topic subjects shown below (Policy and Management Analysis; Democratic Institutions and Policy Process) into three 12-topic subjects (Policy Analysis and Process; Governance and Institutions; Implementation and Deliver). These changes do not effect the distribution of total course-weeks of instruction among the NASPAA Competency Domains, UNDESA/IASIA Standards, or MPP/MPA Core Competencies. We will update the tables to conform with the new subject nomenclature soon.

Table 1: Estimated number of course-weeks of instruction (and thus normed core topics) needed to master each MPP/MPA core competency

The alignment of subjects with core competencies permits us to apply our subject descriptions almost directly to the specification of competencies and learning outcomes. Our descriptions of learning outcomes for the core competencies, subjects and topics can be found at MPP/MPA Core Learning Outcomes. Table 6 below is reproduced from that page.

Competency gap analysis

The identification of the 17 core subjects with numerical course-week requirements allows us to perform a competency gap analysis on each program. We can calculate the subject-matter shortfall in each core subject experienced by a typical student in a program, taking account through the PEACO Algorithm of which courses are required and which are elective. For example, if a typical student experiences 9 weeks of instruction in courses that we have assigned to Economic Analysis, the subject-matter shortfall in that subject would be 12 – 9 = 3 course-weeks; if a program offers no courses that can plausibly be assigned to Public Financial Management, the program’s subject-matter shortfall in that subject would be 6 – 0 = 6 course-weeks. It is important to recognize that, depending on which courses a program designates as required and which it designates as elective, a subject-matter shortfall (competency gap) can occur even though the program offers courses that address all required competencies. For example, a program that has many electives, one of which addresses all the required competencies in human resource management, could still have a shortfall in Human Resource Management if the high number of available electives results in a low probability that a typical student will take the course. Indeed, our calculations using this methodology indicate that every single one of the over one hundred programs analyzed to date have shortfalls in one or more of the 17 core subjects.

What should we make of the observation that even the most highly regarded MPP and MPA programs have subject-matter shortfalls relative to the competencies in the NASPAA and UNDESA/IASIA standards? Do the standards include unnecessary competencies? Are the standards overly ambitious? Should programs take the competency expectations more to heart in designing their curricula? We try to address these issues in our quest to specify 120 core normed topics, including associated learning outcomes, which would meet the NASPAA and UNDESA/IASIA standards in 120 course-weeks of instruction.

Table 2: Estimated number of course-weeks of study needed to master each NASPAA required competency domain (based on estimates at the competency example level in Table 4 below)

Comp2

Table 3: Estimated number of course-weeks of study needed to master each UNDESA/IASIA curriculum component (based on the estimates at the subcomponent level in Table 5 below)

Table 4: Estimated number of course-weeks of study needed to master each competency example in the NASPAA competency domains

Table 5: Estimated number of course-weeks of study needed to master each subcomponent in the UNDESA/IASIA curriculum components

Comp5

Table 6: Learning Outcomes for the MPP/MPA Core Competencies and Core Subjects
MPP/MPA
core competency

Learning outcomes for the core subjects
associated with the core competency
(note that most of the 120 normed topics are also referenced in the parentheses)

1. Applying economics and statistics concepts to public management problems (30 topics) a. Appropriately utilize and interpret results of the application of microeconomic concepts to the analysis of public policy and management (including concepts associated with the theory of the firm, consumer theory, externalities, public goods and commons problems, market failure and optimal intervention, monopoly and oligopoly, signaling, game theory, taxes and transfers, trade, welfare economics, and supply and demand).
b. Appropriately utilize and interpret results of the application of macroeconomic policy concepts to the analysis of public policy and management (including concepts associated with appropriate revenue and expenditure systems; government deficits, debt, and fiscal consolidation; fiscal stabilization policy; monetary policy; the economics of taxation; and tax incentives, compliance, and enforcement).
c. Appropriately utilize and interpret results of the application of quantitative methods concepts to the analysis of public policy and management (including concepts associated with descriptive statistics, looking at data, probability concepts, sampling, confidence intervals and hypothesis testing, simple regression, multivariate analysis, omitted variable bias, randomized trials, research design, ethical issues in research, and panel data).
2. Applying analytic methods and evaluation concepts to public management problems (12 topics) a. Appropriately utilize and interpret results of the application of analytic methods concepts to the analysis of public policy and management (including concepts associated with decision analysis, agency theory, cost-benefit analysis, project management, risk management, and ethical research design).
b. Appropriately utilize and interpret results of the application of evaluation concepts to the analysis of public policy and management (including concepts associated with evaluation purposes and types, the identification problem, the confounding effects of unobserved factors, sensitivity analysis, data collection strategies, and performance measurement and performance management).
3. Understanding the socioeconomic, political and global contexts of public management (12 topics) a. A basic understanding of the socioeconomic and political context in which public policy and management is conducted (including facts and concepts associated with indigenous peoples, the immigrant society, the impact on decision making of gender and other group identities, inequality, family structure and poverty, and education and labour markets).
b. A basic understanding of the international and intergovernmental context in which public policy and management is conducted (including the implications of globalization for state sovereignty and democracy, the meaning and implications of national interests, and the relationship between sub-national states and the national government).
c. A basic understanding of the environmental and sustainability concepts (including those associated with defining environmental issues, environmental risks and hazards, and regulatory choices).
4. Applying policy and management analysis concepts to public management problems (18 topics) a. The ability to assess the range of stakeholders and partners involved in decision-making, their interests and positions, and manage their interaction in the decision-making process; assess and interpret evaluation results for programs and apply their lessons to program design and reform by applying the basic tools of policy and management analysis, including policy analysis, implementation planning, organizational behaviour, managing conflict, implementing through markets, and multi-level governance.
5. Understanding democratic institutions and processes, and acting ethically (24 topics) a. A basic understanding of the political institutions in democratic societies (including their implications for the formulation and implementation of public policy, including the political context of policy making, the policy cycle, federalism, political and administrative responsibilities, the international context of domestic institutions, indigenous rights and institutions, executive leadership in government, Westminster parliamentary systems, courts and judicial review, public and para-public institutions, institutional designs and paths, New Public Management, public opinion and policy frames, political parties and elections, framing and agenda setting, and interests and lobbying).
b. A basic understanding of the principles and implications of ethics, rights and accountability in public policy and management (including public management ethics, ethics in management, implementation and accountability, deception and transparency, and distributive justice).
6. Managing financial, human and information resources in public and nonprofit institutions (12 topics) a. Appropriately utilize and interpret results of the application of financial management tools and concepts to the analysis of public policy and management (including concepts associated with accounting, financial statements, planning and budgeting, costing and forecasting, capital budgeting, risk-based control, and audit and oversight).
b. Appropriately utilize interpret results of the application of human resource management tools and concepts to public management (including those associated with recruitment and renewal, evaluating talent, and workplace issues and labour relations).
c. Appropriately utilize interpret results of the application of information and technology management tools and concepts to public policy management (including those associated with the costs and challenges of IT in the public sector, online service delivery, and open government).
7. Leading and communicating in public management (12 topics) a. Appropriately utilize leadership tools and concepts in public management (including those associated with differences between leadership in public and private organizations, how values differ, diagnosing the leadership challenge, identifying resources and strategies for leading change, inspiring and persuading, and negotiating).
b. Appropriately utilize communication tools and concepts in public management (including those associated with the craft of memo writing, elements of rhetoric, and generating emotional impact through narrative and storytelling).
 

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 25 May 2016.

Image: Millennium Consulting LLC at https://millenniumconsultingllc.com/our-methodology-2/, accessed 15 December 2015.