Career Advancement

Frequently Asked Questions

Graduate public policy and public administration programs are invited to participate in the Challenge. If you are interested in nominating your school to compete, please email the Executive Director of the National Invitational at

  • December – Deadline for institutions to formally accept or decline the invitation to participate in the national competition. December 1, 2014 – Deadline for institutions to formally accept or decline the invitation to participate in the national competition.
  • February – Deadline to submit the names and programs of team members, as well as a one-page proposal (Executive Summary) on the selected policy topic. If your program conducts an internal competition and your representative team will not have been selected by this date, let us know. Teams are also asked to submit a photo of the team and a signed photo release form.
  • Early-Mid – Deadline to submit proposals so that they can be submitted to judges in advance of the competition.
  • Mid-Late March - Deadline to submit presentation.
  • Mid-Late March – National First Round at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia.
  • Mid-Late March – National Finals at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

The process for forming a team is at the discretion of the home institution. If you are interested in following a staged competition process similar to the one developed at Penn the last six years, we are happy to share information on how that has been organized.

Teams should have three to five members—however, we will accept teams outside of that range at the discretion of your institution. The competition is targeted to graduate students in the early stages of their careers, but the competition at Penn is open to PhD candidates, certificate students, undergraduates as well, and to students from all of the Schools in the University of Pennsylvania. We request that any team you send will contain at least one student pursuing the invited institution’s degree program, but otherwise, we leave team composition up to you.

Based on feedback from past National teams, we encourage teams to work with a faculty or staff advisor at their school as they develop the content of their policy proposal, though this is by no means required to participate.

There will be also be two or three 1-hour conference calls with Challenge staff and other participating teams

Teams participating in the National Invitational are expected to produce the same materials as teams in the Penn competition:

The team should choose a topic that they care about and that is relevant to their university’s local community. The topic could be from any policy area: education, environment, health care, etc.  It may be an issue that requires approval from public decision-makers (e.g. a City Council, Mayor, State Legislature, Congress, or regulatory agencies) or it may be a proposal for a nonprofit or civic initiative (a social entrepreneurship approach). The proposal need not be a new one, nor an old one.

The team should address local or state challenges. Solutions to your local challenges could include federal solutions (e.g., federal funding, support from your local congressman/Senator). However, this policy competition asks teams to refrain from proposing changes to federal laws. Rather, we hope that you will propose a policy solution for your local area.

We encourage teams to address problems in their school’s local area as this approach allows for greater access to real stakeholders, policymakers. However, your team is welcome to create a proposal that focuses on any local/state issue throughout the United States.

The Challenge’s scope is limited to the United States. Team proposals should address a United States local or state governance challenge.

Yes, we welcome teams to incorporate real-world experience and work in their proposals. Teams are welcome to use work from a class project, incorporate programs from local organizations that they have helped create, or use an idea that they have submitted to a different public policy or business plan competition.

That said, teams should not propose policy solution or existing programs that they did not help to create or implement. If the idea is based on work completed in a different context, teams must complete the required Deliverables in the format requested by the Challenge.

Judges will represent a diverse policy and geographic background and will be selected from Governing Magazine’s pool of “Public Officials of the Year.” Any public officials who have received the award since its inception 18 years ago are eligible and will be selected by the impartial executive staff of Governing Magazine.

The proposals will be judged by five equally weighted criteria:

a) the strength of the problem definition (has the team articulated the problem well and explained its significance?);

b) the demonstrated potential impact of the initiative (has the team persuaded me that their proposal would make a difference in the community?);

c) the demonstrated feasibility of the approach (has the team persuaded me that this is doable?)

d) the quality of the implementation plan (has the team “done its homework” in each aspect of the proposal?);

e) the quality of the final oral presentation (did the team communicate its plan persuasively, clearly, and concisely?).

The invited university will be responsible for covering costs of travel and accommodation for their teams. Penn will obtain a heavily discounted hotel rate for participants and judges, and can even arrange homestays if cost is an issue.

The winning team receives $10,000. The three other finalists will each win $5,000.

Thanks to our partner, Governing Magazine, the winning team will be featured in a full page ad in a future edition of the national publication, which reaches approximately 75,000 state and local officials each month. The team will also be featured on the Governing website, which reaches over 100,000 people annually.

Additionally, Penn will send the winning proposal to a network of media outlets, public leaders, alumni, and other supporters in over fifty markets across the country, including the winning team’s local market. The releases highlight the work as a model of interdisciplinary cooperation and policy innovation and execution. The plans of all the teams are published on the Public Policy Challenge/Fels Institute of Government website.

Contact the Executive Director of the Public Policy Challenge at

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829