COURSE: Comparative Public Policy

Course content

This course explores a range of concepts, theories and findings in public policy research with a view to understanding similarities and differences in policies across advanced industrial societies. In doing so, it deals with issues of definition, classification and measurement. What is policy? What is the difference between policy outputs and policy outcomes? How can they be measured? How can we distinguish types of policy and is it useful to do so? The course examines existing research that seeks to explain policy outputs and policy outcomes. Why do countries respond differently to similar problems? Which factors influence policy making? Do policy actors like parties and interest groups matter? Which interests and ideas matter, and how? Do policy makers learn from their own experiences and from the experiences of others? We will use discussion of these questions as a platform to explore substantive policy areas. The course is centred on regular reading and participation in class. It places a strong emphasis on recent research literature that uses a range of methods.


What is Comparative Public Policy? Interpreting results in policy research. Types of policy and policy instruments. Stages of the policy process. Theories in policy research.

There is no required reading for the first session. However, you may wish to consult some of the following texts, which will be useful throughout the course:

Balla, S.J., Lodge, M., and Page, E.C., 2015. The Oxford Handbook of Classics in Public Policy and Administration. Oxford University Press.

Dodds, Anneliese. 2013. Comparative Public Policy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hill, Michael J. 2013. The Public Policy Process. 6th ed. Harlow: Pearson Longman.

Howlett, Michael, and M. Ramesh. 2003. Studying Public Policy: Policy Cycles and Policy Subsystems. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

John, Peter. 2006. Analysing Public Policy. London: Continuum.

Kingdon, J.W., 2003. Agendas, alternatives, and public policies. 2. ed. Longman.

Moran, Michael, Martin Rein, and Robert E. Goodin. 2006. The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sabatier, P.A. & Weible, C.M. eds., 2014. Theories of the Policy Process Third Edition., Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Scharpf, Fritz Wilhelm. 1997. Games Real Actors Play: Actor-centered Institutionalism in Policy Research. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

Schmidt, Vivien A. 2010. Taking Ideas and Discourse Seriously: Explaining Change Through Discursive Institutionalism as the Fourth ‘new Institutionalism’. European Political Science Review 2 (01): 1–25.

Weingast, Barry R, and Donald A Wittman, ed. 2006. The Oxford Handbook of Political Economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



The Policy Studies Journal provides annual reviews of recent developments in public policy studies as part of their Public Policy Yearbook; these can be very useful, especially as a supplement to Sabatier and Weible’s edited volume.


For a general overview of comparative politics, see:

Mair, Peter, 1996. ‘Comparative Politics: an overview’. In Goodin, Robert E, and Hans-Dieter Klingemann, ed. 1996. A New Handbook of Political Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Institutions and policy

What are institutions? How do they influence policy-making?

Immergut, Ellen M. 1992. The Rules of the Game: The Logic of Health Policy-making in France, Switzerland, and Sweden. In Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis, ed. Sven Steinmo, Kathleen Ann Thelen, and Frank Longstreth, 57–89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steinmo, Sven. 1989. Political Institutions and Tax Policy in the United States, Sweden, and Britain. World Politics 41 (4): 500–535.

Mares, I. and Queralt, D., 2015. The Non-Democratic Origins of Income Taxation. Comparative Political Studies, 48 (14): 1974–2009.

Higgins, D.M. and Mordhorst, M., 2015. Bringing Home the ‘Danish’ Bacon: Food Chains, National Branding and Danish Supremacy over the British Bacon Market, c. 1900–1938. Enterprise & Society, FirstView, 1–45.


 Ideas and policy

What are ideas? How do they influence policy-making?

Appel, Hilary, and Mitchell A. Orenstein. 2013. Ideas Versus Resources Explaining the Flat Tax and Pension Privatization Revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. Comparative Political Studies 46 (2): 123–152.

Christensen, Johan. 2012. Bringing the Bureaucrats Back in: Neo-liberal Tax Reform in New Zealand. Journal of Public Policy 32 (2): 141–168.

Blyth, M., 2013. Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, Oxford University Press, USA. pp.165-177.

Hindmoor, A. & McConnell, A., 2013. Why Didn’t They See it Coming? Warning Signs, Acceptable Risks and the Global Financial Crisis. Political Studies, 61(3): 543–560.

See also the session on Science and policy.



Long-run stability and change 1

Path dependence.

Pierson, Paul. 2000. Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics. The American Political Science Review 94 (2) (June): 251–267.

Hicks, T., 2013. Partisan Strategy and Path Dependence: The Post-War Emergence of Health Systems in the UK and Sweden. Comparative Politics, 45(2): 207–226. Available here:  


Advocacy coalitions.

Jenkins-Smith, H.C. et al., 2014. The Advocacy Coalition Framework: Foundations, Evolution, and Ongoing Research. In P. A. Sabatier & C. M. Weible, eds. Theories of the Policy Process. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 183–224.

Szarka, Joseph. 2010. Bringing Interests Back in: Using Coalition Theories to Explain European Wind Power Policies. Journal of European Public Policy 17 (6): 836–53.


Long-run stability and change 2.

Multiple streams and policy agendas.

Readings to be added on the multiple streams framework, drawing on recent special issues in the European Journal of Political Research ( and the Policy Studies Journal (

Baumgartner, F.R., Jones, B.D. & Wilkerson, J., 2011. Comparative Studies of Policy Dynamics. Comparative Political Studies, 44(8): 947 –972.

Mortensen, Peter Bjerre, Christoffer Green-Pedersen, Gerard Breeman, Laura Chaqués-Bonafont, Will Jennings, Peter John, Anna M. Palau, and Arco Timmermans. 2011. Comparing Government Agendas Executive Speeches in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Denmark. Comparative Political Studies 44 (8): 973–1000.


Parties and policy

Do parties influence policy? Which parties? Under what conditions? Can there be democratic control of policy in the 21st century?

Mair, Peter. 2008. The Challenge to Party Government. West European Politics 31 (1): 211 – 234.

Häusermann, S., Picot, G. & Geering, D., 2013. Review Article: Rethinking Party Politics and the Welfare State – Recent Advances in the Literature. British Journal of Political Science, 43(01): 221–240.

Knill, Christoph, Marc Debus, and Stephan Heichel. 2010. Do Parties Matter in Internationalised Policy Areas? The Impact of Political Parties on Environmental Policy Outputs in 18 OECD Countries, 1970-2000. European Journal of Political Research 49 (3): 301–336.

Garritzmann, Julian L., and Kilian Seng. 2015. Party Politics and Education Spending: Challenging Some Common Wisdom. Journal of European Public Policy. Early view.

See also Hicks 2013 (Session 4) and Raess and Pontussen 2015 (Session 11).


Political advisers and the organisation of parties in government

Partisan organisation, influence, and the role of political advisors.

Yong, Ben, and Robert Hazell. Special Advisers, : Who They Are, What They Do and Why They Matter. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. pp.tbc.

Shaw, R. & Eichbaum, C., 2014. Ministers, Minders and the Core Executive: Why Ministers Appoint Political Advisers in Westminster Contexts. Parliamentary Affairs, 67(3): 584–616.

Connaughton, Bernadette. 2010. ‘Glorified Gofers, Policy Experts or Good Generalists’: A Classification of the Roles of the Irish Ministerial Adviser. Irish Political Studies 25 (3): 347–369.

Christiansen, P.M., Niklasson, B., and Öhberg, P., 2016. Does politics crowd out professional competence? The organisation of ministerial advice in Denmark and Sweden. West European Politics, published online.


Lobbying and interest groups

Interest group influence.

Culpepper, Pepper D. 2011. Quiet Politics and Business Power : Corporate Control in Europe and Japan. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp.1–24.

Klüver, Heike. 2009. Measuring Interest Group Influence Using Quantitative Text Analysis. European Union Politics 10, no. 4: 535–549.

Bunea, Adriana, and Raimondas Ibenskas. 2015. Quantitative Text Analysis and the Study of EU Lobbying and Interest Groups. European Union Politics. Early view.

Mares, Isabela. 2003. The Sources of Business Interest in Social Insurance: Sectoral Versus National Differences. World Politics 55 (2) : 229–258.

See also Engeli 2012 in Session 13.


The civil service

The civil service is indispensable for formulating and implementing policy. Despite its importance, it is often ignored in theories of policy-making.

Montpetit, Éric. 2011. Between Detachment and Responsiveness: Civil Servants in Europe and North America. West European Politics 34: 1250–1271.

Huber, John D. 2000. Delegation to Civil Servants in Parliamentary Democracies. European Journal of Political Research 37 (3): 397–413.

Meyer-Sahling, Jan-Hinrik, and Tim Veen. 2012. Governing the Post-communist State: Government Alternation and Senior Civil Service Politicisation in Central and Eastern Europe. East European Politics 28 (1): 4–22.

See Christensen 2012 (Session 3).


Policy diffusion and policy convergence

How can diffusion be analysed empirically? What are the mechanisms that underpin diffusion? Are policies converging?

Simmons, B.A., Dobbin, F. & Garrett, G., 2006. Introduction: The International Diffusion of Liberalism. International Organization, 60(04):781–810.

Holzinger, Katharina, Christoph Knill, and Thomas Sommerer. 2008. Environmental Policy Convergence: The Impact of International Harmonization, Transnational Communication, and Regulatory Competition. International Organization 62 (04): 553–587.

Starke, Peter, Herbert Obinger, and Francis G. Castles. 2008. Convergence Towards Where: In What Ways, If Any, Are Welfare States Becoming More Similar? Journal of European Public Policy 15 (7): 975–1000.

Swank, Duane. 2006. Tax Policy in an Era of Internationalization: Explaining the Spread of Neoliberalism. International Organization 60 (04): 847–882.

See also Appel and Orenstein 2013 (Session 2) and Fankhauser (Session 12)


Science and policy-making

Montpetit, É. and Lachapelle, E., 2015. Can policy actors learn from academic scientists? Environmental Politics, 0 (0), 1–20.

Hirschman, D. & Berman, E.P., 2014. Do economists make policies? On the political effects of economics. Socio-Economic Review, 12(4): 779–811. See also:

Other readings to be added.


The case of climate policy

How do governments deal with long-term problems?

Christoff, Peter, and Robyn Eckersley. 2011. Comparing State Responses. In: John S. Dryzek, Richard B. Norgaard, and David Schlosberg (eds) Oxford handbook of climate change and society. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp.431–448.

Lachapelle, Erick, and Matthew Paterson. 2013. Drivers of national climate policy. Climate Policy 13:547–571.

Compston, Hugh William, and Ian Bailey. 2008. Political Strategy and Climate Policy. In: Hugh William Compston and Ian Bailey (eds) Turning Down the Heat: The Politics of Climate Policy in Affluent Democracies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp.263–288.

Fankhauser, Samuel, Caterina Gennaioli, and Murray Collins. 2015. Do International Factors Influence the Passage of Climate Change Legislation? Climate Policy. Early View.


 The case(s) of ‘moral’ policy issues

Are these policies different? How does their divisiveness affect the policy process, policy outputs and policy outcomes?

Reynolds, A., 2013. Representation and Rights: The Impact of LGBT Legislators in Comparative Perspective. American Political Science Review, 107(02): 259–274.

Engeli, Isabelle. 2012. Policy Struggle on Reproduction: Doctors, Women, and Christians. Political Research Quarterly 65, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 330–45.

Heichel, Stephan, Christoph Knill, and Sophie Schmitt. 2013. Public Policy Meets Morality: Conceptual and Theoretical Challenges in the Analysis of Morality Policy Change. Journal of European Public Policy 20 (3): 318–34.

Studlar, Donley T., Alessandro Cagossi, and Robert D. Duval. 2013. Is Morality Policy Different? Institutional Explanations for Post-War Western Europe. Journal of European Public Policy 20 (3): 353–71.


Discussion and review



Elective course in Security Risk Management

Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS

Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS


Learning outcome

By the end of the term, students should be able to:

  1. understand the main analytical concepts underlying comparative policy analysis;
  2. illustrate important issues in comparative public policy using empirical cases;
  3. describe policy-making in substantive policy areas in comparative, cross-national perspective;
  4. assess competing explanations of variation in policy outputs and outcomes;
  5. identify current research puzzles and unresolved problems in the literature.

Students are expected to have read the articles and chapters on this syllabus before coming to each class, with the exception of the first class. Before each class (with the exception of the first and last classes), find one or two cases that illustrate one of the issues under discussion and be prepared to describe it for the rest of the class. This should be a case that is not dealt with in the readings. The course takes a comparative perspective, so please go beyond the countries that you know best for these case studies! Each class (with the exception of the first and last classes) will also feature a brief summary and discussion of two articles by students.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28