Atlas U

AtlasUOur vision for the Atlas as a learning tool

The Atlas of Public Management will provide free online access to the learning materials needed to master the core topics and concepts taught at the world’s leading MPP and MPA programs.

What is Atlas U?

As noted in About, we hope the Atlas can be useful for those who wish to teach, or assess, or learn curricular content in Master of Public Policy (MPP) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs. Atlas U is a view of the Atlas resources designed for the third set of users. The contents of the Topics and Concepts databases are organized into course-length or module-length (designated by M) groupings in 12 Atlas Courses, shown below.

Core Atlas Courses
(work in progress)
Atlas100 Governance and Institutions
(ready to use)

Atlas101 Policy Analysis and Process

Atlas102 Economic Analysis
(ready to use)

Atlas103M Macroeconomic Policy
(first 3 course-weeks ready to use)

Atlas104 Quantitative Methods
(ready to use)

Atlas206 Internship Reading
(ready to use)

Atlas105 Social, Environmental, and Global Context

Atlas106M Public Financial Management

Atlas107 Implementation and Delivery

Atlas108 Analytic Methods and Evaluation

Atlas109 Leadership and Communication
(ready to use)

Atlas111M Ethics

Atlas112M Management of Human, Information, and Technology Resources

What are core topics and concepts?

As described at Core Curriculum, the Atlas project has identified 120 topics – based on international competency standards and syllabi of required courses in highly regarded programs – that we believe constitute the common core curriculum for MPP and MPA degrees. The assumptions and methodologies used to derive the core topics and concepts are set out in Atlas Framework for Curricular AnalysisDefining Core, MPP/MPA Core Competencies, MPP/MPA Core Learning Outcomes, and Normed Topic Model.

How can the learning materials be open access?

Annual tuition for leading MPP and MPA programs can be $50,000 or more (see PA and IA Degrees offered by Times Higher Ed Top Fifty Universities). Assigned readings in core courses usually come from expensive text books or scholarly articles that require university library privileges to access.

We Atlas editors have access to most of these materials and have used them in our process of identifying the core topics and concepts. Once we have identified and understood the core topics and concepts, we can draw on the cornucopia of open access materials on the Internet to present them on the Atlas. We include videos such including those created by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok for their remarkable online economics courses at, (accessed 7 April 2016). See Supply, Demand, and Equilibrium for an example of one of the 12 topics in Atlas102 Economic Analysis that makes extensive use of the Cowen and Tabarrok course videos. Where we cannot find suitable open access materials we will provide brief summaries of passages in books or articles (see, for example, Williams’ Distinction between Real and Counterfeit Leadership) in a manner that respects copyright – see Open Access and Attribution on the Atlas.

Could Atlas U be a substitute for an MPP or MPA degree?

We Atlas editors are instructors in MPP and MPA degrees and, not surprisingly, we do not believe that it is possible to learn online for free everything that students learn in our programs. The Atlas does not provide:

  • access to the full text of scholarly articles that are not yet open access or to books and articles in a university library
  • classroom exercises in applying the topics and concepts
  • interaction with instructors and fellow students
  • personal feedback on assignments and tests
  • learning opportunities associated with co-curricular activities
  • material on topics and concepts that are outside the core
  • a degree

In terms of Staton’s Unbundling Higher Education Framework, the Atlas can provide the three components in the Knowledge Acquisition quadrant (expert innovation, delivery formats and mandates, pathways and sequencing). However, it cannot provide the three components in the Access to Opportunities quadrant (signals of aptitude, a credential of accepted value, an affiliate network), or those in the Cognitive and Employable Skills quadrant (modes of thinking and doing, facilitated practice, coaching and mentorship), let alone those in the Personal Transformation quadrant (a culture of personal exploration, a secured life transition, a rite of passage).

As described in Atlas Examination Standards, we propose a grading rubric for subject matter comprehension covering the range from just passable (B-) to exceptional (A+) that distinguishes between vocabulary knowledge, subject-matter intuition, and ability to calculate. We believe that it should be possible for a diligent learner to attain, using Atlas resources alone, an A- mastery of some subjects in the MPP/MPA core (particularly Economic AnalysisMacroeconomic Policy, and Quantitative Methods where the Atlas links to superb online pedagogy) and at least B+ mastery of the remainder of the MPP/MPA core. For most learners, we believe that achieving A level mastery would require enrolment in a highly regarded MPP or MPA program.

How many of the core topics and concepts are currently available?

As of 4 June 2017 we have identified, in draft form, the full slate of 120 core topics (although these will undoubtedly be adjusted as the project progresses) and have created pages for 92 of these topics (with links pointing to the older version of the Atlas for most of the remainder). We have created over 600 of what we expect to be close to 1,200 core concepts and terms. As illustrated at Core Curriculum and Atlas U, we have essentially completed Atlas100 Governance and Institutions and Atlas109 Leadership and Communication and substantial progress has been made with Atlas107 Implementation and Delivery, Atlas101 Policy Analysis and ProcessAtlas102 Economic Analysis, Atlas104 Quantitative Methods, and Atlas111M Ethics. Concept comprehension questions have been developed for over 200 concepts at Concept Quizzes for Atlas206 Internship Reading.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 4 June 2017.

Image:, at, accessed 7 April 2016.