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Theories of the Policy Process - POL00012M

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  • Department: Politics and International Relations
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Matt Lesch
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

This module introduces generic themes and academic debates on public policy. It exposes students to a range of theoretical perspectives rather than schooling them in any one single approach. After a brief introduction to basic social science concepts often used to understand public policy problems, the module examines the "policy process," including why policymakers perceive some but not other policy problems as worthy of their attention, how policies are made, why policies are often implemented ineffectively despite "good intentions," and challenges involved in judging policy "success" or "failure." The module then goes on to explore issues such as policy learning and diffusion to other domains or polities, as well as the relationship between policy and politics. A question running throughout the module is how far the different stages of the policy process are best understood as independent from each other. The module and especially seminars use "real world" policy examples and exercises to help students grasp otherwise abstract theories, and to encourage them to form their own views about which theories are most useful and why.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should:

  • Be familiar with basic social science concepts commonly used to understand public policy problems;
  • Show a critical appreciation of traditional and contemporary literature on how issues come on to the policy agenda, how policy is formulated, the pathologies often associated with implementation, techniques via which policy can be evaluated and their limits, why policies travel across sectors and countries, and wider issues about the balance between the elected and unelected;
  • Critically appraise the policy process as a whole;
  • Be better equipped to embark on (policy-focused) research projects of their own (e.g., dissertation).


Task Length % of module mark
Policy Analysis - Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Policy Analysis - Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

There is no single "course book," but rather core and further readings for each week. Students might nonetheless wish to have a look at:

  • Cairney, P. (2012) Understanding Public Policy: Theories and Issues. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • John, P. (2012) Analysing Public Policy. Abingdon: Routledge.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.