Master’s Project

Completion of a master’s project (MP) is required of all MPP students. There are two options for completing the MP: individual or team-based.

Individual MP

The individual MP is a 20-30 page, single-spaced paper. Two types of projects are possible: a project for an actual client that involves a variety of methodological approaches, or a research project without a client. Students are encouraged to build their projects from their summer internships where possible and to deepen their policy-area expertise by taking appropriate elective courses.

Team-Based MP

Team-based projects must be client-based. Teams cannot do a non-client option. MPP students must apply to be a master’s project team. To do so, teams must have four students. Potential teams must submit a proposal before August 1 that includes the following:

  • client (with documentation that that client has agreed);

  • advisor (with documentation that the advisor has agreed);

  • team members and roles;

  • working policy question (PQ); and

  • brief rationale of why the team-based approach is optimal to answer the PQ for this client.

By 5 p.m. on the first Friday of the fall semester, teams must submit a signed MOU/contract between the members of the group that acknowledges/includes the following:

  • a written agreement to remain a team the whole year and to affirm that team members will not transition to an individual MP midway through the process;

  • a set of team “norms” to which all members must agree to follow for interactions and expectations (regular meetings, communication mechanisms, roles, etc.); and

  • advisor signature agreeing to play that role

Final outputs should reflect the work of a team-based MP rather than an individual MP.

Process for Completing the Project

All two-year MPP and dual-degree students should enroll in Public Policy 807 in their final fall term and Public Policy 808 in their final spring term. An exception can be made for dual-degree MPP-MEM students who choose to write the combined MPP-MEM master’s project; these students register for 807 in their final fall semester, but they do not enroll in 808 in the spring. The fall term course is designed to help each student begin the project, to provide some exposure to basic questions related to applied policy research (for example, IRB procedures and survey design), and to write a prospectus that will be reviewed by the end of fall semester by a committee of faculty members. Those writing quantitative projects are encouraged to register for the same 807 discussion section.

At the inception of the process, each student should identify a client, a policy problem, and an MP advisor from the approved list of faculty advisors. Students are encouraged to initiate the MP process and cultivate advisor and client relationships prior to the beginning of the second-year fall term. Additionally, before and during the required summer internships, students should determine whether their summer placements can yield MP client relationships and/or policy problems. Early in the fall, each student writes a 3-5 page introductory document describing topic, client, and MP advisor, and submits this document to the 807 instructor for review.

Each student’s MP advisor will be the chair of that student’s MP committee and will work with the student throughout the year. Early in the fall, in consultation with the MP advisor, students completing an individual MP will select one other person to serve on the MP committee. Students completing team-based MPs will select two other people to serve on the MP committee. Normally, these individuals should be Sanford School faculty members, but students may include faculty members from other Duke departments or schools with the approval of their MP advisor. The student is responsible for making sure any non-Sanford faculty are familiar with the goals of the MP and also with the responsibilities as a committee member. The client should not be a member of the committee. The prospectus and its formal committee review will be the basis for the grade in Public Policy 807.

In the first six weeks of the fall semester, with feedback from the Public Policy 807 instructor, peers, and the MP advisor, the student or team will write a prospectus describing the client’s problem, the background, and how the student intends to proceed to develop a recommended course of action. If a student is writing a quantitative project, the prospectus should include the specific policy-relevant questions to be addressed, a description of the data, and the proposed methodology. Ideally, the prospectus should include some initial descriptive statistics related to the project.

Once the MP advisor has reviewed drafts of the prospectus and feels that the student or team is ready to present it to the MP committee for approval, the student or team will schedule a formal prospectus review meeting during the fall semester. Although the prospectus must be submitted to all members of the MP committee, the MP advisor is solely responsible for reading, approving, and grading the final project.

In the course of developing the prospectus, students begins the research, data analysis, and writing necessary to flesh out the MP. During and after the review, regular meetings should be scheduled between the MP advisor and student/team to set interim goals and evaluate progress. A complete draft of the project is due to the MP advisor in March.

The final version of the MP is due mid-April. The final report should include appendices, supporting materials, a formal cover page, executive summary (or, for quantitative projects, an abstract), table of contents, complete footnotes, and a bibliography. The final version must be of professional quality as well as useful to the client and, in the case of a quantitative project, meet high standards of analysis. The MP advisor reports the final MP grade to the MPP director of graduate studies, who serves as the instructor of record for Public Policy 808. Students are required to submit a PDF copy of their final project to the MPP Program Office for storage in the program’s internal electronic master’s project file. MP advisors may recommend that projects of the highest quality be posted to DukeSpace, Duke Library’s electronic document repository. Please note: final MPs posted to DukeSpace will be publicly available via search engines to persons outside of the Sanford School and Duke; students must anticipate and address in advance any potential difficulties regarding proprietary or confidential information with both their MP advisor and client. The MPP director of graduate studies may grant exemptions from DukeSpace publication on a case-by-case basis.

Faculty advisors and/or clients may request hard copies or bound copies of MPs for their records/use. Formatting and submission instructions are described in the master’s project preparation guide sheet.