Negotiating the Client-Based Capstone Experience

Steve Reifenberg
Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame

Sean Long
U.S. Justice Department

Many graduate programs for professionals (public policy, public administration, business, international affairs, and others) use client-based experiential learning projects, often termed “capstones,” in which students combine theory and practice to benefit an outside client. Increasingly, undergraduate programs use client-based capstones as well, whereby students work with a client over a semester to solve a problem. Evidence suggests that students value these experiences and clients often describe value created as well. However, evidence also suggests that both students and clients can experience a mismatch of expectations, gaps in information, misunderstandings, and frustrations in the process of working together. With the objective to enhance learning for students and create value for clients, reframing the capstone project as a “negotiation in multiple domains” rather than a “fixed problem to be solved” has potential benefits for the student, the client, and the learning process. The approach may have implications for a broad range of team-based problem-solving initiatives. This paper, using the team-based capstone experience of the “International Development in Practice” class at the University of Notre Dame, explores how an integrated negotiations approach contributes to the capstone value creation and learning experiences.

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