Teaching with IPSP

The “21st Century Governance” course at Binghamton

rubaii           aleksey

Nadia Rubaii and Aleksey Tikhomirov describe how they used the IPSP report for their class on 21st Century Governance

“This short report is in response to your invitation to provide a description of our experience as public administration educators with the IPSP initiative and how specifically we went about adopting some of the IPSP initiative’s key contributions – specifically the multi-chapter report by the members of your panel – for use in our teaching, specifically as instructors of PAFF 520 21st Century Governance class this fall semester.

Let us mention at the outset that when we first learned about the IPSP initiative in summer of 2016 from the article you wrote in Nature, we were intrigued by its core notions such as “social progress,” “democracy in a globalized world,” “governance,” “inequality,” “social justice,” and many other. These concepts and notions garnered much appreciation and scholarly interest in the field of public policy and administration. This is why social progress was such a “trigger” concept that drove us to explore more about the IPSP initiative on the first place.

At that time both of us were at the early stages of developing a fall course called “21st Century Governance,” which is one of the core courses in the Master of Public Administration Program at Binghamton University.   This course includes a critical examination of globalization, diversity, and ethics through a discussion of alternative perspectives on the questions of what, when, where, why, how, and with what effect these changes are occurring.  Within the scope of the Binghamton University MPA program’s mission “to improve individual and institutional capacity for community-based public practice” this class is focused on enhancing the knowledge, skills and abilities of each individual student by systematically examining the interconnectedness of global and local contexts, of experiences of privilege and marginalization, and of individual and collective. We seek to practice skills of self-reflection and intentional broadening of appreciation of diversity, critical analysis and application of theory to practice, and put a special emphasis on instilling a commitment to public service ethics.

Needless to say, when we turned to the IPSP report and its chapters, we saw striking similarities. There were notable parallels between our ideas for the 21st Century Governance class and IPSP as an umbrella initiative for advancing social progress. Again, much in what we have already established for our course as its substantive focus appeared to be in parallel with and echo closely those problems and issues examined by the authors of the IPSP chapters.

Given these mutual interests that we shared with the IPSP authors we saw an opportunity for the IPSP work to be used for teaching that (1) helps students to learn and appreciate the most pressing challenges of 21st century governance issues, specifically those related to social progress, globalization, diversity, ethics, and equity, and (2) develops or improves their competencies for addressing those challenges, while nurturing competent public administrator in them, one who:

  1. Understands how the pressures of globalization are affecting public administration and influencing governance in many different contexts;
  2. Is able to articulate core values of democracy, participation, accountability, sustainability, and transparency, and how they might look distinct in different contexts;
  3. Engages in critical thinking and convey thoughts effectively in a professional memo and a memo with academic notations;
  4. Has enhanced skills for working collaboratively in diverse teams to gather information from diverse sources, synthesize and analyze critically the material, apply course concepts, and present ideas in the form of a poster;
  5. Presents one’s own critical analysis of a topic in the form of a literature review which effectively synthesizes and appropriately cites various source materials;
  6. Enhances their own and their classmates’ intercultural effectiveness, sensitivity to privilege and marginalization, and ability to engage in respectful and deliberative discourse.

Below we review how we proceeded about developing some of the above competencies by integrating the IPSP materials into teaching our 21st Century Governance course, and using the IPSP report by pairing it with several of the class assignments.

Process behind Course Assignments

Early in the semester, students were assigned to groups of four-to-five individuals designed to maximize diversity.  These groups of students then had to “draw from a hat” a chapter from the IPSP report which the team would then focus its attention for the rest of the semester to complete two individual assignments and one team project.

At first, individuals within the groups were assigned specific literature review topics related to the IPSP chapter topics.  After that – and still as individuals – students wrote Memos to the authors of the IPSP report as a means of participating in the public comment process. Finally, the team task was to develop a poster highlighting (1) essential issues and topics from a chapter from the IPSP report, (2) how the chapter relates to the public administration profession, and (3) how the chapter relates to the core public service values of the Binghamton MPA program, and the themes of this course (globalization, diversity, equity, and ethics). The three assignments are described in a bit more detail below.

Literature Review

The ability to locate relevant sources, read and understand them relative to each other, synthesize them within the context of one’s own ideas, and present the review of the literature in writing is an essential skill for a professional graduate student and aspiring public servant. To that end, each student conducted research and prepared a 5-8 page literature review on a specific assigned topic, linked to the team topic of a particular ISPS chapter.

The literature reviews were designed to deepen students’ understanding of a particular topic within their assigned IPSP chapter. Through a process of peer reviews, students read and commented on a fellow team member’s draft. Within each team, students were also encouraged to share final literature reviews and discuss how their individual research could inform the group’s understanding of the IPSP chapter and their final team project. 

Memo with Academic Annotations

Each student prepared a 1-2 page memo addressed to the authors of the IPSP report to provide feedback on the IPSP chapter assigned to one’s group.

To complete this assignment, students were asked to

  • read the assigned chapter from the report, reflect on what they have read, and think about it critically. They would then discuss their findings with the teammates and offer a constructive critique of the chapter using specific set of evaluation criteria linked to what you identified as the goals for the IPSP Report (see Appendix A).
  • work individually to craft written feedback in the form of a 1-2-page memo. The memo would reflect critical thinking and provide specific suggestions to the authors of the IPSP report for improvement grounded in the student’s experiences and material from the course. The goal here was to produce a high-quality product that is coherent, complete, professional, and a helpful feedback tool. We expected each Memo to be a credible road-map in and of itself. Not only would it identify areas for the authors to improve, it should be a how-to guide as well, arguing and explaining what and why is in need of improvement while detailing precisely the how-to(s) for the IPSP authors.
  • provide academic annotations (using the Comment function in Microsoft Word) to explain to the instructor the thinking behind the ideas expressed in the memo and the application of the course readings and concepts. The annotations would provide full citations for all materials the first time they are mentioned and an author (year) citation for all subsequent references. The memo would include 5-10 citations and will generally draw upon both the required course materials and sources from the student’s literature review.
  • when authorized to do so, submit comments from the memos and share that feedback with the IPSP authors through the official IPSP commenting process. As a means of quality control, only those students who earned a grade of B or better on the memo were authorized to submit their comments.

Team Poster 

The culminating project for the team was a Poster which highlighted how class themes apply to the team’s assigned IPSP chapter topic and was a mechanism for sharing each team’s analysis of the 21st Century Governance in the context of the issues and topics of the IPSP report. The posters served as a means of sharing with the entire class information about other chapters in the IPSP report they had not been assigned to read. While not explicitly in the form of a critique of the IPSP report, the posters have clear relevance to the commenting process. A number of them can be viewed here.  Posters are only provided from those teams where all members agreed to allow them to be posted.


As we look back, we can conclusively say that using the IPSP report in our classrooms was a challenging and enriching experience, and opportunity we enjoyed and appreciated.

Our sense also is that pairing this 21st Century Governance course with the IPSP initiative and its materials provided for a kind of meaningful and reflective learning, which, at the same time can be very concrete, hands-on, and consequential in terms of having tangible, visible results than span classrooms: Students in two sections of our course have developed and submitted feedback on thirteen chapters of the IPSP report. In addition, they developed over a dozen of posters on the topics of the IPSP chapters, which is another outcome of tangible learning that emerged with pairing this 21st Century Governance course with the IPSP initiative. As memorably, topics and issues from the IPSP chapters triggered numerous classroom discussions, which were provocative, informative, and impactful in many ways.”


Dr. Aleksey Tikhomirov, Adjunct Instructor

Department of Public Administration

College of Community and Public Affairs

Binghamton University

Dr. Nadia Rubaii, Associate Professor

Department of Public Administration

College of Community and Public Affairs

Binghamton University

Appendix A   Evaluation Criteria and Guidelines for the IPSP Memos


Criteria Goals of the IPSP panel To what extent and in what ways does your chapter meet this goal / goals?
Vision Quality


“Our mission is to develop and deliver a positive and cohesive long-term vision of social progress.”


“The main goal is to enter into a dialogue with citizens, social actors (NGOs and think tank) and policy-makers, providing them with useful ideas that can enrich the debates, and guide actions.”

Your chapter clearly contributes to the goal of creating and conveying broader a positive and cohesive long-term vision of social progress.


The chapter has concrete, useful, and enriching ideas.

It helps an IPSP overall report to ignite and guide action.

It strengthens the “visionary” quality of an overall IPSP report.

Influence Quality


The IPSP panel seeks having an impact on the public and decision-makers. They “hope to influence various audiences and processes.”



Your chapter is “impactful”: As a reader – you felt influenced by it.  It was appealing, inspiring you to take action. It triggered your motivation to investigate further. You felt “mobilized”, compelled to learn more. It made you want to start and pursue something.   If that’s true, state what and where in the chapter made you feel that way.


Alternatively, what was the least “impactful” about it (language, logic, argument, conclusions, etc.)?

Bird’s-eye quality The IPSP report is a synthesis that increases awareness of the diversity of the regional perspectives. For its final report the IPSP panel seeks creating such a bird’s-eye, systemic perspective. Diversity of approaches is an asset rather than a liability. The chapter is overly specialized. It lacks the broadness of scope and diversity of perspectives. This is not a balanced and just synthesis. Few important schools of thought are missing. Here are some blind spots. The chapter is not in-tune with the bird’s-eye outlook of the report and weakens its synthesis quality.
Actionable quality Among the ambitions of the IPSP report is to “produce a policy toolkit of recommended actions for all types of actors.”


Key ambition: Action-ready


Does the chapter outline any strategies and policy options to address issues that it raises and mitigate the problems at its focus?

The chapter has a “ready-to-act” quality. Its findings, conclusions, and proposals are already a plan of action. The chapter constructs an easy-to-see follow “road map” of clear, logical steps.  It offers concrete recommendations and specific guidelines for future.


Alternatively, the chapter lacks “actionable” quality: It has no call for action. It offers poor direction and vague implementation. Its recommendations are impractical. They “hide” the road-map. Ideas are not readily-executable and can’t be acted upon. The authors do not prepare readers for action.

Readability  The IPSP report will offer “a synthesis that will be accessible to policymakers and social actors. […] The main goal is to enter into a dialogue with citizens, social actors, and policy-makers.”


Key ambition: Dialogue-ready

This chapter is accessible to diverse readers with no background or expert training in this field. It is “readable” without compromising substance and depth. It is “ready” for diverse audience. It strengthens the ability of the IPSP report to be a platform for public dialogue.
Quality of reasoning From here on consider consulting Paul and Elder’s Critical Thinking pamphlet (Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2001). The miniature guide to critical thinking: Concepts and tools. Tomales, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking) and use the guidelines on pp. 6-9 to evaluate the quality of reasoning by the authors of the chapter (chapters) of the IPSP report. Here are examples of statements that you may use for the evaluation purposes:

–    The authors state their purpose or purposes clearly;

–    The authors clearly identify assumptions that shape their point of view and disclaim any other assumptions that compete or disagree with those their own; they offer some justification of why they endorse particular assumptions

–    The authors leverage cutting-edge, recent data, information & evidence into their claims; data and evidence they cite does not look overly outdated; there is a balance of newer and not-so-new information;

–    The authors consider all possible consequences that follow from their reasoning on the subject; their conclusions are balanced such that both negative and positive implications are evenly addressed;

–    The Paul and Elder piece offers still more venues that you can adopt.