Harvard Kennedy School – Beyond the Classroom

You should expect to get your hands dirty if you take a management, leadership, and decisions science (MLD) course at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Learning-by-doing is a key pedagogical component of the majority of MLD area courses at HKS. Running a range from personal case analyses, “live” case and negotiation simulations, simulated-client projects, to fieldwork for real clients and organizations, MLD students learn by experiencing for themselves real world lessons in management, leadership, teamwork, and decision making.

On the scaffold of classroom curriculum, and with the guidance of faculty and support from their peer teams, students work to address challenges in complex areas like negotiation, government innovation, operations management, social organizing, philanthropy, and municipal budgeting. The learning students achieve by engaging the curriculum and working in real and challenging contexts is often transformative for them, but the simultaneous positive impact students make has become a major part of the mission of the Kennedy School.

In the past year, no fewer than a dozen MLD courses assigned students to projects that required clients operating in the local Boston area and beyond. Even seemingly unexpected courses, on topics like Negotiation, Behavioral Science, and Municipal Budgeting, had students in the field.

Mark Fagan’s Operations Management course (MLD-601), for instance, has worked for many years with the Boston Mayor’s “Office of New Urban Mechanics.” This year, three student teams worked with the city’s operations center, the office of Vital Records, and the Surplus Properties division.

In feedback to Mark Fagan, Program Director Patricia Boyle-McKenna noted the “tremendous” work of the students, “On a really politically and operationally difficult task. They [The Vital Records team] were able to work through difficult data and make an informed recommendation which led to us opening the registry five days a week starting in January….we were grateful and learned quite a bit….”

The Surplus Properties “team was given a difficult problem with a high expectation to not only deliver a solution, but also implement that solution. They were fantastic.”

The Operations Center team “was able to provide incredibly valuable data and research to senior level staff. In the end they presented to six departments who all plan to use their research moving forward.” Fagan’s students have also worked with clients at Mt. Auburn Hospital, theMassachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy.

This past fall, in the core MPP course MLD-101, over 40 student teams engaged with client organizations working across a huge spectrum of efforts, including, for example, human rights, anti-terrorism, healthcare, poverty alleviation, clean energy, education, international and local development. One client, the Boston Public Market, a soon-to-launch, permanent, year-round, self-sustaining, urban market featuring fresh locally-sourced food, faces huge challenges managing diverse constituents and a wide ranging mission.

HKS students used course frameworks to help the market’s CEO and Commission develop monitoring and evaluate metrics their work in advance of the launch. Liz Morningstar, the BPM CEO, praised the students for making “meaningful difference” and “a tremendous impact.”

“Quantitative and qualitative in their thinking. Transparent in their process, clear in all their communications. The quality of their assessment was thoughtful, thorough and (most important) useable,” said Morningstar.

The students presented their report to the BPM Commission this past winter, and their work has helped BPM to establish metrics to monitor its progress towards their numerous goals in advance of the July 2015 opening.

One of the most prominent and long- standing examples of HKS “in the field” even received the Hollywood treatment this year. The Kennedy School released “Somerville Resurgent” a short film documenting Linda Bilmes’ students work with Mayor Joe Curtatone to transform the city of Somerville, MA. More than a decade of work by students in Bilmes’ strategic budget courses has tremendously boosted the quality of life and delivery of city services in Somerville, and has propelled the city and Mayor Curtatone into the ranks of national leaders in urban innovation.

This spring, Curtatone, who is also now a senior fellow in the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, has teamed with Lecturer Jorrit de Jong teaching a new course MLD-621M: Innovation Field Lab: Public Problem Solving in Three Massachusetts Cities. In this course, student teams are assigned to three nearby cities: Chelsea, Fitchburg, and Lawrence, to work on the issue of “problem properties” and its relationship to larger social issues such as poverty, safety and public health.

Student teams are embedded alongside city officials as they design and implement innovative solutions to the cities’ most pressing challenges. Class sessions include case discussion, design work, simulation, peer consulting, and discussion of literature on public sector innovation. In the field, students will attempt to implement classroom curriculum, facing all of the organizational, political, financial, and personal challenges faced by the city officials. At the end of the course and beyond, innovations put into place will continue to be tracked and evaluated by Curtatone, de Jong, and future students in the course.

Local cities are not the only beneficiaries of the experiential pedagogies being fielded at HKS.

Beyond Boston, Marshall Ganz and students from his MLD-377 course have worked with the UK National Health Service on mobilizing, organizing, and action. This past year saw the launch of a project founded partly on work by former HKS students Chris Lawrence-Pietroni, Sarah Kopse-Sholberg, and Ganz’s teaching fellow Kate Hilton called NHS Change Day.  NHS Change Day is a grassroots movement that’s about harnessing the collective energy, creativity, and ideas of thousands of people to improve the care and wellbeing of people who use healthcare services, their families and staff. Over the past two years thousands of people made pledges to change things. This year the program goal is to inspire people to take action. To that end, the Change Day website contains hundreds of great stories of individual innovations and actions that are making tangible improvements in service delivery and organizations within the NHS. November 3rd, 2015 is the next Change Day.

Max Bazerman and HBS Professor Michael Luca’s year-long experiential course (MLD-335Y) on Behavioral Insights in the UK and the Netherlands, allows students to apply insights from the fields of behavioral economics and psychology while working with the UK central government’s  Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and a similar office in the Dutch government. Students,  through a group project with these clients, study and create “nudge”-style interventions in a variety of possible domains, including tax collection, charitable giving, education, and employment.

Elsewhere, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (‘NYCEDC’), and its Managing Director, Eric Gertler, have hosted Steven Strauss’ students from Princeton, where he is visiting this year, and teaching policy analysis courses on “Implementing Urban Economic Development Policy” and “Urban Economic Development Policy in New York City and other Major American Cities.”  Students are working on field projects with such focuses as “Economic Development Strategies for Anchor Institutions,” “Bridging the Digital Divide,” and “Economic Development Strategies for Not-for-Profit Institutions.”

Other courses in non-profit management (MLD-801), philanthropy (MLD-805), social enterprises and social entrepreneurship (MLD-829, -830, -835, – 839) have long based much of their curriculum on work with clients, some which originated with the students’ own personal work and aspirations.

These courses have students tackling real challenges, in many cases with high-stakes strategy and funding decisions hinging on student recommendations. Faculty have the have the job of bringing the best academic insights to bear on the choices in front of our students.

Source: Harvard Kennedy School – Beyond the Classroom

Greg Dorchak

Administrator of the Management, Leadership, and Decision Sciences Area at the Harvard Kennedy School.