Postgraduate Course: Comparative Analysis of Social and Public Policy (PGSP11104)
|School of Social and Political Science
|College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)
|SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
|Available to all students
|This course introduces students to the main methodological approaches in comparative policy analysis. Its aims are to give students an understanding of key issues involved in comparative social research and to develop their analytical skills in systematic comparison that may add rigour to their research and help achieve valid and well-founded generalizations and evaluations of social and public policy developments in national and international context.
1. Course description
a. Academic description
The course introduces students to main approaches in comparative policy analysis. It aims to give students an understanding of key issues involved in comparative policy research, of the role of comparisons in policy debates and to develop their analytical skills in systematic cross-national comparison, adding rigour to the research process.
b. Outline content
Week 1: The course starts by considering why comparisons are central in the social sciences generally and policy related social science in particular. What are comparisons for; what can be compared and what kind of comparisons are there? We also discuss whether comparisons may provide a basis for better policy making.
Weeks 2 and 3: Modern policy making often includes references to other countries which, arguably, do better or worse in certain areas of public policy. But how do we know whether this is actually the case? Which empirical indicators are used for constructing league tables and benchmarking? Who is using country league tables for which purpose? We will explore how policy indicators might be designed as part of policy packages?. We will also discuss ways in which country rankings, benchmarking and league tables are put to use in the policy arena.
Weeks 4 and 5: Moving on to methodological aspects of the course, we start by considering typologies and why typologies may be used in social science. What techniques can we use to construct and test typologies? We then consider problems of conceptualisation and address issues of functional and linguistic equivalence in comparative research.
Weeks 6, 7 and 8: The course then discusses different strategies of comparative analysis and logics of case selection. These include comparison of many cases (often using quantitative and statistical methods), comparison of a few cases (often using qualitative data), and the analysis of a single case in a comparative way. Throughout these discussions we consider the logic of comparative analysis as a research method.
Regarding comparison of many cases, we contrast macrosocial and micro-social data, within-country analysis and cross-country comparisons. We reflect on regression analysis with small and large samples and associated problems/opportunities as well as the question of validity in cross-country comparisons and how one might investigate cross-cultural comparability using statistical techniques.
When considering comparison of a few cases, the course discusses Mill's methods of difference and agreement; necessary and sufficient conditions; case (country) selection and the constitution of cases, as well as the issue of causality in comparative social research more generally. Mid-level and mixed-method strategies between ¿small-N¿ and ¿large-N¿ studies are also discussed.
In the discussion of single cases, we ask the somewhat counterintuitive question: can we compare countries (cases) by looking at one country (case) alone? We consider the various possible rationales for a single-country study and look at the different ways that such single-country analyses might contribute to a cross-national comparative research programme. The role of single country studies in relation to the generation, confirmation and falsification of hypotheses and theories is discussed, and strategies of strategic single-case selection are explored.
Weeks 9 and 10: In the final two weeks we will examine the roles of context and time for case selection and causal analysis. We consider causality and causal mechanisms as key aspects of comparative analysis which aims to explain differences and/or similarities across cases. We discuss the relevance of spatial and temporal context for comparative policy analysis.
c. Student Learning experience
The course consists of 10 two-hour weekly sessions. Sessions are divided between an interactive lecture and group/class seminars. For the latter students are expected to have read and prepared relevant readings each week.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Information for Visiting Students
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Lecture Hours 20,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
|The assessment consists of two assignments: a critical reflection (1000 words); 25% of the mark; a course paper (3,500 words); 75% of the mark.
|Students who are unsure about how to write essays may want to submit a voluntary 'formative; non-assessed essay of max 1500 words on the topic which is to be submitted to the course organizer by the end of week 3. Feedback will be provided by week 6. The essay will not be marked and is not part of the grade achieved for the course.
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Have a good understanding of the role of comparisons in policy debates and policy making
- Know about comparative approaches and problems of inference from data
- Know about conceptual, theoretical and empirical aspects of comparative research
- Have a good knowledge about comparative data sources and their limitations
- Have explored substantive social and public policy areas from a comparative perspective
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
|Additional Class Delivery Information
|Mode of delivery
The course will run as a series of ten two-hour weekly lecture and seminar sessions. Each week, students will learn a different aspect of comparative method, aided by group discussion based on one or two selected texts. Students are expected to have read and prepared these readings prior to each session. The final session will be organised as a panel where staff members discuss their comparative approaches and practical experiences with conducting empirical comparative research.
|Mr Ewan Robertson
|Ms Emilia Czatkowska
Tel: (0131 6)51 3244