Public Policy and Social Impact

Among the many ways that research universities contribute to the public good, they have a profound responsibility to use the knowledge they create to address complex public policy questions and social problems.  A stellar array of SAS departments, centers and programs, along with many University programs to which SAS faculty contribute, feature research and teaching with substantial public policy relevance and value. The School’s potential to draw together its pertinent resources to develop public policy analyses and recommendations is great, but not fully realized.  

Significant SAS expertise already exists on a wide range of public policy topics, including criminal justice, energy and the environment, gender and sexuality, health, immigration, international security, race and ethnicity, and social welfare.  Our social science departments, centers, and programs feature leading scholars on all these topics and sponsor public policy-relevant graduate and undergraduate research, as do many humanities and natural science programs. SAS faculty and students participate in public policy initiatives in Annenberg, Design, Medicine, Wharton, and other Penn schools as well. A variety of interdisciplinary SAS undergraduate programs offer further coursework on public policy issues, and graduate-level  training includes professional programs like the Master of Public Administration and Master of Environmental Studies.

In an effort to better consolidate these activities School-wide and increase their influence in policy spheres, we will establish an SAS Public Policy Research Program within the Fels Institute of Government.  The program will serve as a clearinghouse for policy-relevant work taking place in Arts and Sciences, but more consequentially, it will identify important issues that can be illuminated by SAS scholars, organize faculty working groups drawn from the School and beyond to generate studies evaluating the problems and policy options, and help to disseminate findings to appropriate audiences. It will also leverage and strengthen linkages to other key policy-related efforts on campus to maximize the University’s overall policy impact. In addition, the co-location of several relevant social sciences programs in the Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics will stimulate these activities.

The School also contributes to social welfare through a wide range of outreach activities.  SAS provides core support for the Netter Center for Community Partnerships that pioneered the much emulated academically-based community service course model that our faculty continue to carry out in Philadelphia schools and with community groups.  SAS faculty assist Philadelphia teachers through programs including the Science Outreach Initiative, the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia, and several humanities faculty initiatives. Civic House, the Fox Leadership Program, the Fels Institute, the Netter Center, Penn in Washington and other programs help place students in public service internships. Humanities departments and faculty work with Philadelphia museums, theaters, Slought, and community groups on educational and cultural events. Beyond Philadelphia, many faculty and students perform service in other areas of the nation and the world. And the School disseminates the knowledge that it generates not only to scholarly and student audiences but through public programming ranging from on-campus talks to MOOCs that attract tens of thousands of participants from around the world. 

These activities operate so independently that their collective impact is often underappreciated; moreover, with little knowledge of what the others are doing, opportunities for them to coordinate and build on one another are lost. We will create an SAS outreach coordinator position responsible for maintaining a School-wide inventory of outreach efforts, promoting greater awareness of those activities at Penn and beyond, and serving as a resource to support existing efforts and stimulate new ones. The coordinator would also bring the leaders of these activities together to foster awareness of cognate activities and opportunities, to maximize impact through collaboration, and to identify ways and means of program evaluation.