Community-Partnered Policy and Action

Engaging locally to improve policy

Students meet with directors of a local homeless shelter

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

The Community-Partnered Policy and Action stream prepares students to work on policy problems in diverse community settings and with a variety of stakeholders. Building on Pardee RAND’s strong foundation in policy analysis and its cross-cutting themes of ethics, communication, and social justice and racial equity, students in the Community-Partnered stream combine rigorous research methods and their understanding of localized context as they partner with communities to design, implement, and evaluate policies. Students develop and refine their quantitative and qualitative skills developed in the classroom with extensive field experience gained through community externships and through their work on research projects at the RAND Corporation.

Community-Partnered Stream Requirements

In addition to the program requirements, students in the Community-Partnered stream must also complete the following requirements.

Required Courses (4.5 units)

Required courses provide students in the Community-Partnered stream an advanced understanding of how to work in partnership with communities to address complex, adaptive problems. All Community-Partnered stream students take these four courses, which total 3.5 of the 4.5 units:

To complete their required 4.5 units, students in this stream also choose from among the following three courses for an additional 1 unit:

Elective Courses (3.5 units)

Students fulfill the remaining 3.5 units toward their 19.5-unit coursework requirement by choosing among a variety of electives. These may include traditional courses, workshops, or tutorials. Elective offerings vary from year to year depending on student interest and instructor availability.


A key aspect of the Community-Partnered stream's curriculum is student externships. The premise of externships is that place-based learning and problem solving enables students to understand how to translate research and analysis into effective action. Further, the externships emphasize that policy development and change must occur in partnership with communities at all stages of development, from problem identification to policy development, to policy implementation and evaluation. To that end, Pardee RAND has invested considerable time and resources to identify, and to work with, communities interested in developing a partnership intended to last for a decade or more.

Students participate in at least two community externships, working in teams of three or more in the same geographic region, each based with a different community group, government agency, or non-profit. Prior to the start of externships, Pardee RAND faculty and students will work with members of the community to identify local priorities and needs. Students then work with their respective partner organization on the same thematic issue (e.g., homelessness, access to health care, food insecurity) intended to address identified community priorities.

During the externship, students meet as a team to share their contacts, experiences, strategies, accomplishments, and noted barriers. Of priority for these meetings is for students to share perspectives and to seek ways to promote networks and synergies across organizations in the community. On a regular basis, a Pardee RAND-designated faculty advisor (which might include faculty from a regional academic/scientific institution) meets with the student team to provide expertise, supervision, feedback, and support. Each student is also supported in their efforts by a designated community partner supervisor, who assists in student extern orientation to the agency/organization and local community.

All Pardee RAND students are eligible to apply for externships, with priority given to Community-Partnered stream students. The externships last for either 5-6 weeks (full time), or 10-12 weeks (part time), with approximately 30 days of on-the-job training (OJT) support provided to students. Community-Partnered stream-supported OJT will count towards the overall 300 day OJT requirement.

Current externships are available in Sitka, Alaska and Los Angeles County, Calif.

Community-Partnered Learning and Dissertation

After completing their coursework, students continue to have community externships available to them, as well as work on RAND research projects. Students use their analytical and other skills to support the development and implementation of local and regional policies of importance to the community; that work becomes the basis for their dissertations. Pardee RAND faculty and community partners mentor the students throughout the dissertation process. Community-Partnered stream dissertation committees are required to have two RAND faculty, a member of the community from which data were drawn, and an external member or reader.

The Ideal Community-Partnered Stream Candidate

The Community-Partnered stream desires students with strong community experience, applied research skills, and a commitment to working with community partners to understand policy problems and to implement and evaluate policies and programs aimed at addressing these problems. Students in this stream should be curious about how federal and state policy decisions play out in the daily lives of individuals and communities. They should also be eager to work with others to make real and sustainable change in local communities. Community-Partnered students must be comfortable working with others from diverse backgrounds in diverse settings. Students will also demonstrate empathy and cultural and professional humility and be eager to learn from others.

Future Career Paths

Upon graduation, students will be prepared for positions in community-partnered policy research and action such as

  • Applied researchers who conduct community-partnered and -engaged research as part of academic, research, or community-based organizations
  • Education leaders (state, county, and city)
  • Elected officials or their staff members or advisors
  • Evaluators of community-based policies and programs
  • International development program directors or staff members
  • Policymakers in public and private entities
  • Research, program and executive directors of community-based organizations and government agencies (federal, state, and local)

See the initial job placements of our recent graduates for more information.