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Public Policy: Interests, Ideas, Institutions


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Tutors: Ben Worthy, Patrick Coupar
  • Assessment: a 4000-word essay (90%) and 1000-word seminar log (10%)

    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

    • Introduction: how is policy made?
    • Success, failure and something in-between
    • Electorally driven public policy
    • Institutionalism policy makes politics
    • Critical junctures and punctuated equilibria
    • Science in public policy-making
    • Evidence in public policy-making
    • Interests in public policy-making
    • Multiple streams
    • Policy paradigms

    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).