Public administration capstone projects provide students the opportunity to integrate and apply what they have learned throughout their program by conducting meaningful research or working on an immersive project. Here are some example capstone project ideas that could be undertaken in the field of public administration:
Developing a Strategic Plan for a Government Agency – You could work with a local, state, or federal government agency to help develop a new 3-5 year strategic plan. This would involve an extensive research and consultation process including stakeholder interviews, data analysis, environmental scans, and SWOT analyses to determine goals, objectives, strategies, performance measures and an implementation plan.
Conducting a Program Evaluation – You could evaluate the effectiveness, efficiency and impact of an existing government program. This would involve developing an evaluation plan and methodology, collecting and analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data through methods like surveys, interviews, focus groups, financial analyses, developing findings and recommendations for program improvements.
Performing an Organizational Assessment – You could assess some aspect of how a government agency or department is organized and functions. This could involve assessing internal communications, leadership structures, organizational culture, decision making processes, relations with other agencies/departments, resource allocation, and develop recommendations for structural, procedural or cultural changes.
Developing a Public Policy Analysis – You could conduct an in-depth analysis of an existing or proposed public policy issue or problem. This would require extensive research into the nature of the problem, stakeholder perspectives, potential alternatives or solutions, financial and economic impacts, feasibility, ethical considerations and developing policy option recommendations. Relevant policy areas could include things like healthcare, education, climate change, criminal justice, immigration, poverty, and more.
Conducting a Needs Assessment – You could work with a government agency to assess community needs that the agency serves. This would involve research methods like surveys, focus groups, interviews and data analysis to understand community demographics, priorities, gaps in services, barriers to access, level of needs, and develop recommendations on how the agency can better address needs.
Performing a Fiscal/Budget Analysis – You could analyze the finances and budget of a governmental body. This could involve examining revenue sources, expenditure patterns, long term fiscal projections and liabilities, budget priorities, alternative funding strategies, and develop strategies to improve fiscal management, transparency and priorities.
Creating a Performance Management System – You could work with an agency to develop a new performance management system to track and improve outcomes. This would require researching best practices, setting measurable goals and objectives, developing data collection instruments, a process for ongoing assessment, reporting and using findings to strengthen performance.
Some additional potential capstone ideas in public administration include developing new public engagement/participation strategies, creating vulnerability or hazard mitigation plans, developing management strategies for collaborative governance networks, crafting recommendations to strengthen civic education/literacy, analyzing emergency management responses to past disasters, examining ethical dilemmas in public service, and more.
The key aspects of a strong capstone project involve identifying a meaningful and substantive topic area within public administration, conducting extensive background research to understand the scope and complexity of the issue, utilizing mixed methods approaches to data collection as needed, integrating public administration theories and concepts, and developing actionable and ethical recommendations or solutions. An important consideration is also partnering with a public agency so there is opportunity for the work conducted to have real implications or applications following its completion. The capstone should demonstrate a high level of analysis, critical thinking and synthesis of learning outcomes achieved throughout the public administration program of study. With careful planning and execution, any of these example topic areas could result in an impactful final research or applied project to complete an MPA degree.