Q&A with Cesi Cruz

Cesi Cruz

Assistant Professor Cesi Cruz
 shares her insights on the University of British Columbia’s newly launched professional Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs Program.

1) What is unique about UBC’s professional MPPGA program?

There are many features that make UBC’s professional MPPGA program stand out. First, the program combines technical and substantive training with actual policy experience and professional development. We aim to prepare students to be competitive for policy jobs and to have the skills and tools necessary to succeed once they’re hired.

Second, the program leverages Vancouver’s unique position as Canada’s gateway to Asia. Not only do the faculty members have policy expertise in a wide range of countries and sectors, but the program itself is situated in a vibrant academic environment with research centers covering all the major countries and sub-regions of Asia. There are active research projects, partnerships, and policy initiatives with just about every country in Asia. Not to mention the rich cultural diversity of the city itself.

Third, UBC’s MPPGA has an incredible community of faculty and students. It’s a very supportive academic environment. My colleagues are not only great researchers and policy practitioners, but they’re also dedicated teachers and excellent mentors. The students are also outstanding. I’ve been especially impressed with our current MA students. They take the initiative to organize all kinds of events—guest speakers, panel discussions, and presentations. You should also see the projects that they come up with: they’re conducting field experiments, implementing advanced survey methodology, and producing policy-relevant research. But beyond all that, I have to say that I’m most pleased with the fact that they’re also a cooperative and close-knit bunch: they work together, support each other, and learn from each other.

2) What courses will you teach in the MPPGA program?

I teach policy analysis, program evaluation, and quantitative methods. I really enjoy my classes because they’re very hands-on—intended to prepare students to conduct policy analysis and program evaluation for government, NGOs, and international organizations. This works out great for me because it means I can focus on the cutting-edge policy tools and methodologies that policy practitioners actually use, which keeps it interesting and exciting. It also lets me draw from my previous experience consulting for the World Bank, USAID, and other institutions. I find that using real world cases and examples, although often more challenging because they’re more complex, also makes it more meaningful. When we talk about risk assessment, we discuss real-life examples of how people have been affected when projects go wrong. When we cover stakeholder analysis, we use actual cases so that they can see for themselves that power dynamics don’t always correspond to the institutional arrangements on paper.

As much as I’m excited about the classes I’ll be teaching, there’s probably just as much that they’ll learn outside the classroom, through their independent research activities and capstone projects. Being a field researcher myself, I’m especially looking forward to supervising students conducting fieldwork. Here I expect to be more of a guide than a professor—my role is to help students use the tools and methodologies they learn in class to implement their own real-world policy projects.

3) What are the top 3 takeaways you hope students will gain from your course?

First, I hope students get a sense of what it’s really like to do policy analysis in the real world. It starts with an expectation that the classroom is a professional setting, in which students are required to participate and collaborate in much the same ways that they would with their future colleagues as part of a team. In drawing from my experience and the real-life policy problems that we use as case studies, my goal is to constantly challenge students to make connections between what we’re learning in the classroom and the broader policy world. For example, my students were surprised to find out what the most common type of analysis that I’ve been asked to do as a policy consultant (here’s a hint, it’s not particularly methodologically sophisticated!).

Second, I want students to understand that building a foundation for learning is more important than any specific lessons. This is important for teaching yourself new things later on because policy environments change, and new techniques and tools are being developed constantly. For example, my goal for teaching methods is to do more than teach students to run regressions: students should learn how to think through a problem, select the appropriate tools, and implement the analysis. Sometimes this requires quantitative approaches, but sometimes cases require other methodologies that are more appropriate for the question. Along these lines, it’s also important to make sure that the effort to learn all the details doesn’t interfere with the ability to grasp the bigger picture. If you forget a formula or equation, but you understand the concept and application, you can just Google it when you need it. If you have the formula memorized but you don’t know when and why it’s appropriate to use in a policy context, then it’s harder for Google to help you.

Last, but most importantly, I want students to come away from my courses with a strong sense of their professional and ethical responsibilities as a policy practitioner. If you’re wondering why I don’t have a special discussion for ethics in my policy analysis syllabus, it’s because I think ethics belongs in every discussion. Because the MPPGA is a globally oriented program, I also emphasize the importance of understanding different cultural contexts and conducting policy analysis in a way that acknowledges and respects these differences. I expect my students to hold themselves to the highest professional standards, to contribute to policymaking and advocacy networks, and to serve their communities and the wider world.

4) What qualities does a good policy analyst have?

In my view, the modern policy practitioner is interdisciplinary, well-trained, and at home in a variety of professional settings: in front of a lectern at a conference, conducting interviews in multiple languages, sifting through an archive, or analyzing data in an office. I have even higher expectations for those undertaking field research: I expect them to be able to navigate remote villages as well as the corridors of an embassy; to negotiate a fare with a tuk-tuk driver as naturally as they negotiate policy with government officials; and to set up mosquito nets with the same expertise they have for setting up databases.

5) Why should students enroll?

I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a program like this, so I faced a pretty steep learning curve when I first started working in policy almost ten years ago. I’m deeply grateful to my mentors and former colleagues for taking the time to teach me along the way. They will be able to attest that there were times when I was too academic in my focus, when I didn’t communicate as well as I should have, or when I missed nuances in the cultural context that were glaringly obvious to everyone else. Students benefit from the MPPGA’s combination of cutting-edge training and on-the-ground experience, so that their first employers will get a much better policy professional than the one my first employer got when I started.

Cesi Cruz is an assistant professor, jointly appointed with political science at the University of British Columbia. She studies political economy, focusing on the interplay between electoral incentives and economic outcomes in consolidating democracies. Her research uses quantitative and qualitative methods, social network analysis, surveys, and field experiments. Cesi’s research is funded by the World Bank, USAID, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.