USC Price School of Public Policy

Governance and Policymaking

Critical Research Questions and Findings

For more than 85 years, USC Price faculty have shaped the field of governance and policymaking through seminal research on such issues as city management, institutions and decision-making, organizations and management, administrative ethics, and democratic values, among many others. Price researchers lead in analysis of civic engagement — how people best connect with their governments; and for 30 years, they have served at the vanguard of action-driven empirical research in the realm of philanthropy, nonprofits, and cross-sectoral partnerships.

How does political mistrust of career public servants affect organizational performance?
Assistant Professor William G. Resh’s 2015 book, "Rethinking the Administrative Presidency," reveals how presidential administrations typically start from a premise of distrust in the career civil service that can lead to agency failure in the very policies they seek to advance administratively. His research demonstrates that functional relationships between career executives and political appointees are crucial to moving policy forward, and that presidents are more likely to succeed in advancing their own policy agendas when they begin from a position of optimistic trust in the career service.
How can ethical decision-making be better modeled and quantified?
The Price School’s new Center on Interdisciplinary Decisions and Ethics (DECIDE) works to enhance the research and practice of ethical decision-making with an emphasis on large-scale societal problems and technological innovation. A partnership between the Price school and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the center will accomplish this mission by applying decision-analysis research tools to the areas of climate change, security, energy dependence, healthcare, technological advances, and other pressing issues.
What can demographic analysis tell us about intergenerational relations in fiscal policy?
Professor Dowell Myers’ policy insights are drawn from population projections of the ratio of seniors to working-age residents. After four decades of stability at a ratio of 24 seniors per 100 people of working age, the number is expected to soar to 46 or 48 seniors per 100 workers in the next 15 years. Older voters need to fortify the younger generation with better education and easier educational funding so they can sufficiently support this much heavier senior load. The lesson is, rather than see this as charity for the young, it is for the good of the seniors who are today’s voters.
What influences the effectiveness of continuums of care in providing services to the homeless?
Assistant Professor Nicole Esparza conducted a survey and gathered data on a national sample of 246 homeless service networks, focusing on the influence of organizational structure, composition, and dynamics on effectiveness. She determined that, while the structure of governance matters, whom governs also matters. Networks in which nonprofit agencies occupy central decision-making roles have better client-centered outcomes.
Can Congress influence state-level policy changes without passing a law?
Assistant Professor Pamela McCann studied tobacco reform efforts at both the national and state levels from 1975–2000, when Congress tried (but failed) to pass new anti-smoking regulations. She found that though national legislation was not delivered, congressional hearings raised enough attention to the health dangers of tobacco use for certain states to pass their own restrictions. Progress was greater in states with more professionalized, full-time legislatures and those with a greater presence of health lobbyists.
How do members of Congress delegate implementation responsibility to the states?
Assistant Professor Pamela McCann has demonstrated that members of Congress consider their relationship with their state government vis-à-vis their connection with the national executive branch as they make intergovernmental delegation choices on such legislation as the Affordable Care Act, No Child Left Behind, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Using a novel dataset spanning more than 30 years, 30,000 provisions, and 197 significant laws, she tested her theory against current explanations of decentralization: Republican devolution, average partisan congruence between Congress and the states, and policy type.
How can technology help governments design better responses to terrorism and natural disasters?
The Department of Homeland Security sponsored research at USC’s Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) to develop a tool for high-level policymakers and analysts to assess in real time the consequences of potential threats to the national economy and security. To meet this need, Professor Adam Rose spearheaded the creation of the Economic Consequences Analysis Tool (E-CAT). This user-friendly software provides rapid estimates for threats including terrorism, natural disasters, and technological accidents.
What lessons do the Johnson-era War on Poverty hold for today?
Using newly assembled state and county data, Assistant Professor Nicolas Duquette found that President Johnson directed funding in ways consistent with his administration’s stated aim of fighting poverty and racial discrimination: poorer areas and those with greater shares of non-white residents received more support. Despite considerable evidence that these programs worked, the backlash against the War of Poverty was massive and continues to this day. Duquette believes that the lack of political compromises made by Johnson — as opposed to President Roosevelt’s in implementing the New Deal — account for the reason why many remember the initiative as a failure when the return on investment was actually quite high.
How can cities encourage public engagement in decision-making and service delivery?
In one of the longest policy implementation projects ever conducted, Associate Professor Juliet Musso followed the charter that created some 90 neighborhood councils across greater Los Angeles from its initial development and implementation to its impact eight years later. While she did not find elite control within the organizations, she uncovered a lack of representation of Latinos, attributable in part to a large undocumented population, as well a lack of investment on the part of the city to create structures for engaging this group. She also found that, despite neighborhood council members being wealthier on average, a diverse exchange of views was achieved across each community — but the connection to decision-makers was less robust.
Can common-pool resource governance principles support fiscal sustainability for municipalities?
Conducting in-depth case studies of Los Angeles County, the city of San Bernardino, and San Bernardino County, Professor Shui Yan Tang demonstrated that common-pool resource (CPR) governance principles can help avoid the tragedy of the commons in building fiscal sustainability if trust and reciprocity is exists among stakeholders. He identified six micro-situational variables as crucial to shaping collective action: communications with the full set of participants, known reputations of participants, high marginal per capita return, entry or exit capabilities, longer time horizon, and agreed-upon sanctioning capabilities.
Can volunteer services still play a role in municipalities?
Despite popular belief, approximately 40% of California cities still maintain volunteer police departments and 25% are served by volunteer firefighters. Associate Professor Juliet Musso investigates the economics of such arrangements to see whether the federal Volunteers in Policing program does, as it claims, “add value while budgets decrease." Her research finds that, as cities become more complex, it becomes more difficult — and expensive — to manage volunteers.
How can government, philanthropy, and business collaboration be catalyzed for greater impact?
Research conducted by Professor James M. Ferris — director of the USC Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy — found that public-private partnerships tend to be episodic, time-limited, and ad hoc, resulting in high costs and risks that can discourage their establishment. He explored development of offices of strategic partnerships across the federal government that work to leverage the strengths of philanthropy and business — their dollars, knowledge, and networks — on issues as spanning education, civic engagement, disaster relief, international development, and climate change. He found evidence that these offices can develop more robust partnerships with philanthropy and business that result in more effective solutions.
Will there be a new Golden Age of philanthropy?
Led by Professor James M. Ferris, investigators at the USC Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy are exploring the possibility of a new “Golden Age” of philanthropy. Ferris argues that the future of philanthropy will not be determined by an impending transfer of wealth itself, but by the amount of dollars that result in influential giving. The research reflects on the current state of philanthropy and what it signals for the future, and it provides three core recommendations for what it will take to realize philanthropy’s potential: embrace the power of networks to change complex systems; engage with government at various levels; and boldly leverage all of its assets.
Are there ways to mitigate power imbalances in collaborative governance?
Employing a novel research method of computer simulation using agent-based modeling, Associate Professor Peter Robertson and a colleague studied the effects of a deliberation process through which stakeholders build shared understanding of an issue, and of decision-making rules used to control power imbalances among stakeholders. The team crafted propositions regarding the positive effects of deliberation on consensus building and decision quality, as well as the advantages of requiring a supermajority.
What is the role of social innovation in response to an economic recession?
Assistant Professor Alexandra Graddy-Reed and a colleague suggested that the line between for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations is blurring, as the former become more socially conscious and the latter undertake profit-making activities to ensure survival. In studying how organizations across this continuum responded to the 2008 economic recession, they found that more socially innovative organizations responded by increasing environmental, community, and employee support.

Pamela McCann

“We study the structures of government, the processes of governing, and the outcomes of the governed. Governance is what emerges from the dynamic interactions of individuals — whether they’re citizens, immigrants, political and economic elites, or the governor — within the milieu of these structures, processes, and outcomes.”

Pamela McCann
Assistant Professor

Price School Impact

The increased prevalence of natural disasters and terrorism precipitates the need to model their risks, impact, and overall management. A recent thrust of the Price School’s research in this field is resilience — reducing loss through efficient use of remaining resources and speeding recovery. USC Price was one of the first institutions to create interdisciplinary scholarship in this area, yielding numerous studies on the economic impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In addition, with two major research centers dedicated to philanthropy and social innovation, USC Price provides a robust empirical resource that keeps pace with significant trends related to society’s collective needs. Through research in public-private partnerships, service delivery, network analysis, and the public policy roles of foundations, our faculty set the cutting-edge of governance and policymaking research that guides forward our city, nation, and world.