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Public Policy: Interests, Ideas, Institutions


    Module description

    Public policy is a strand of social science that employs general theories of policy-making to understand developments in specific policy areas. This course introduces you to three dominant theoretical paradigms in this field and uses them to understand developments in a wide range of policy areas, including health care, social policy, migration, the environment, education and macroeconomics.

    The first paradigm views self-interested actors both inside and outside government as the key drivers of public policy; the second explores how governmental actors, interest groups and scientific communities utilise specific ideas to influence the policy process; the third focuses on the link between public policy and institutional factors with specific reference to the role of independent agencies in policy-making. Seminars use case studies of policy areas and key decisions to examine these issues and apply different approaches.

    Indicative module syllabus

    • Interests: the rational/unitary actor model, the bureaucratic politics model, policy networks
    • Ideas: advocacy coalitions and epistemic communities, policy learning, ideas and policy change
    • Institutions: the principal-agent model, historical institutionalism, non-functionalist delegation
    • Institutional problems and reforms: political business cycle, regulation, privatisation, delegation to judicial and quasi-judicial bodies

    Learning objectives

    On completing the module you will:

    • have developed detailed knowledge of the different actors, processes and stages involved in formulating public policies in liberal democracies
    • have acquired a critical understanding of the main theories of the policy process
    • be able to apply theories and models to contemporary policy issues
    • understand the institutional features of policy-making, with a particular sensitivity to the role of different levels of governance (local, national and European).