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Programme & Unit Catalogues

SP50318: Public policy: politics, theory and practice

[Page last updated: 01 August 2022]

Academic Year: 2022/23
Owning Department/School: Department of Social & Policy Sciences
Credits: 18 [equivalent to 36 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 360
Level: Masters UG & PG (FHEQ level 7)
Academic Year
Assessment Summary: CW 80%, EX 20%
Assessment Detail:
  • "Seen Examination" (EX 20%)
  • Essay (CW 80%)
Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Learning Outcomes: At the end of the unit, students will have
* critical and in-depth understanding of the forces and interests that shape public policy, internationally, nationally and locally, and how these vary across different policy and political settings. (T/A)
* comprehensive knowledge of dominant and cutting edge theories of what public policy is for, how public policies are made, and how they shape social, political and economic life. (T/A)
* critical understanding of the political and normative origins, and strengths and weaknesses, of these explanations, applied to a diverse range of policy cases. (T/A)
* in-depth understanding of how global, regional and national political economies intersect with social and political forces to transform - or reproduce - public policies and politics (T/A)

Aims: This unit provides
* a comprehensive introduction to, and critique of, the dominant theories of public policy, their historical origins and contemporary applicability.
* advanced critical introduction to the links between state transformation and social, economic and political change, and the challenges that these pose for contemporary public policymaking.
* in-depth and critical introduction to the economic, political and social contexts that shape how public policy is understood, made and contested in diverse settings.

Skills: By the end of this unit, students will be able to
* evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of alternative theories of, and approaches to, public policy and their relevance to a specific case. (T/A)
* analyse and assess the significance of different aspects of political economy for public policy. (T/A)
* critically review existing research, and evaluate its implications for the analysis and development of public policy. (T/F/A)
* deploy existing research to construct a persuasive argument in favour of a position relating to a public policy case or theory. (T/F/A)
* appropriately deploy, cite, and assess, a diverse range of existing research resources for the analysis of public policy. (T/F/A)
* apply public policy concepts to the analysis and evaluation of empirical public policy cases (T/F).

Content: This unit offers a comprehensive, critical and advanced introduction to the theory and practice of public policy. It is organised in 3 main parts.
1 - theories and approaches. How do we think about public policy and how it is made? This covers issues like values and ideologies, as well as mainstream, emerging and critical theories of public policymaking and the state. Delivered during the residential and online.
2 - contexts and challenges. What frames, drives and contests public policy and political action? This covers issues of international political economy, understanding the diversity of states and state transformation, and the politics of public policy inside and outside the state. Delivered online with 2 webinar/tutorial sessions.
3 - public policy in practice. How is public policy structured, practiced and understood? This covers issues of how public policy can be organised, by whom, and how different approaches are justified in relation to public policy goals. It also assesses alternative approaches to the design, delivery and analysis of public policy. Delivered online with 2 webinar/tutorial sessions.
Each part is composed of shorter blocks of teaching materials around particular sub-topics, such as 'international political economy', 'politics of public policy beyond liberal democracy', 'diversified public policy delivery - organising private and voluntary sectors'.
The final block of teaching, delivered in part 3, and the main part of the assessment, both focus on how these three dimensions of public policy are linked together to enhance understanding of how public policy is made, and with what consequences.

Programme availability:

SP50318 is a Designated Essential Unit on the following programmes:

Department of Social & Policy Sciences


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2022/23 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2023/24 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2022/23.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
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