Postgraduate Course: Political Issues in Public Policy (PGSP11247)
|School||School of Social and Political Science
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||The course covers theories of governance, the political system and policy-making; the processes of public policy; agencies and organisations within government; policy implementation and policy networks; multi-level governance and the distribution of powers between levels and agencies of government; the reasons for the success or failure of policies.
a. Academic Description
The course provides an introduction to theories of how government seeks to address public policy issues. The intention is to equip students with the ability to use a variety of distinct theories and concepts about the policy process to understand how policy is formulated, developed, influenced, refined, implemented and revised.
We explore debates about policymaking as an exercise in comprehensive rationality and dispassionate assessment of evidence or whether it is marked by bounded rationality, incrementalism and more infrequently by radical policy divergence. To this end we consider the relative importance of ideas, interests and institutions along with how these connect to the actions of political parties, organised groups and coalitions advocating for particular policy reforms. Can partisan politics and ideational orientation explain policy developments? Are these temporally and spatially contingent? We also explore whether the state is losing its ability to affect change given the emergence of wicked problems that traverse multiple levels of government and nation state borders. Does growing complexity require national government to forge partnerships with, and/or cede power to, business and civil society actors and International Governmental Organisations?
This course will:
provide students with an introduction to the literature on the theories of policy-making to facilitate exploration of how policy is advocated, formulated, enacted, implemented and reviewed.
provide a framework for discussion of the mechanisms and processes of government, presented in a way that facilitates comparative analysis of political and policy systems and applies general themes from the policy-making literature to current issues.
build an understanding of the degree of value in key general theories of the policy-making process and the relations between the levels and agencies of government and actors outside of the state.
b. Outline content (this is indicative only. Please note that specific course content and/or its timetabling may vary each academic year).
1. Understanding the public policy process
This session provides an outline of key issues in the politics of public policy and the policymaking process including an overview of the idea of policy as a rational process involving various distinct stages such as problem identification, policy formulation, consultation, implementation and evaluation.
2. Does politics matter? Exploring the role of politicians and political parties
This session examines explanations of the policy-making process that emphasise the importance of political parties, electoral competition and the holding of elected office for shaping policy development.
3. Public policy and organised interests
In this session we look at the role of organised interests and consider their role in driving policy reforms to accord with their preferences. We are particularly interested in exploring business organisations in the policy process.
4. Explaining stability and change: path dependency and punctuated equilibrium
This session explores tendencies towards stability that result from the institutionalization of public policies over time, and addresses the theorization of this under the banner of ¿path dependency¿. We also discuss the difficulty that institutionalist approaches to policy development can have in accounting for policy reform when it does happen.
5. Interests, institutions and ideas
In this session we consider whether a focus on identifying the role of ¿interests, ideas and institutions¿ might help us to reach a more rounded explanation of variations in policy development.
6. From government to multi-level governance
This session considers whether the authority and control of the state has been eroded and/or transformed by a dispersion of power; upwards to International Governmental Organisations; downwards to sub-national governments and outwards to the market and civil society.
7. Policy Transfer
How do policy makers learn from other countries? This session explores how and when policy transfer occurs, what is likely to be transferred, who initiates and facilitates cross national policy learning and whether ¿transfer¿ is voluntary or coercive. We also consider whether it is better to think of transfer as policy translation (adoption and adaption).
8. The Advocacy Coalition Framework
This session explores the Advocacy Coalition Framework focusing on how in any given policy sub-system there are competing coalitions of organisations/ individuals who come together to mobilise behind distinct policy preferences/ agendas over an extended period of time. We explore how actors seek to drive forward and/or block policy reforms, the scope for coalition policy beliefs to change via learning about policy in practice and the conditions most conducive to the displacement of a dominant Advocacy Coalition by a competing coalition.
9. Evidence based policy or policy based evidence
In this session we explore the notion of evidence based policy. Do politicians and public servants make policy on the basis that what matters, is what works or is that merely one influence amongst many? We consider the complex relationship between the timescale and messiness of policy evaluation and priorities of policymakers. The session will also reflect on the importance of power and interests in the policy process for shaping what is and is not treated as evidence.
10. Understanding and explaining ¿policy blunders¿
This session explores the how and why of policymaking going badly wrong. We will look at a number of examples of ¿policy failure¿ in the UK and beyond to draw out how issues concerning co-ordination, authority, conflicting goals, political priorities, ideology, complexity, ambitious timescales and technical proficiency may contribute to poor performance.
c. Student Learning experience
The course is taught through lectures and seminars. The latter includes a mix of group presentations and whole class discussion to provide an in depth focus on key texts and encourage the exchange of views and experience as we critically explore core concepts and theories associated with the policy process. The class is open to students with disciplinary backgrounds in the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
Information for Visiting Students
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||Coursework consists of one short essay of 1000 words that is worth 25% of the final mark and one long essay of 3000 words that is worth 75% of final mark.
||The short essay involves answering a single set question and provides the opportunity to show your ability to succinctly draw together and critically analyse theoretical positions and evidence. The deadline for the short essay is set for early within the course so that the course convenor can provide timely and individual feedback addressing what students did well/ or less well ahead of the submission of the long essay. Students are invited to arrange a meeting with the course convenor in the week following the return of marks. This provides an opportunity to discuss and clarify the feedback given on their short essay. The long essay involves answering one of six questions set by the course convenor. Alternatively in consultation with the course convenor and subject to their agreement a student may choose to formulate and answer a question of their own on a relevant topic.
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Acquaint students with the literature on policy-making and on the principles of public policy.
- Provide a framework for discussion of the mechanisms and processes of government, presented in a way that facilitates comparative analysis of political systems and applies general themes from the policy-making literature to current issues.
- Build an understanding of the degree of value in general models of the policy-making process, the systems of control at the centre of government and relations between the levels and agencies of government.
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
|Course organiser||Dr Jay Wiggan
Tel: (0131 6)50 3939
|Course secretary||Mrs Casey Behringer
Tel: (0131 6)50 2456