Analysing Public Policy: Institutions, Time and Processes

Course content

Governments often find themselves embroiled in complex processes when addressing problems emerging on the policy agenda. The way in which governments respond to policy problems is puzzling, not only for scholars but often also for practitioners. Numerous questions lend themselves to scrutiny. For instance, why do governments declare some social or economic conditions policy problems while ignoring others? Why are politicians overreacting in relation to some policy problems while underreacting when addressing others? Why do different governments confronting similar problems address them in very different ways? Why can a public policy be considered a success and failure at the same time? Why are some policies difficult to reform despite obvious needs for change? Why do policies which have been stable for long periods of time become exposed to demands for radical change? Why are some policy reforms reversed in the post-enactment phase while others are more enduring? The course will introduce and utilise classic as well as more recent concepts and analytical frameworks to explain some of the policy phenomena that puzzles students of public policy. The first part of the course will initially introduce the participants to theoretical approaches to studying the five basic stages of the policy process and subsequently discuss some of the more recent developments in the policy studies discipline, taking mainly a temporal perspective. The policy phenomena being addressed will include path dependency, punctuated equilibrium, sequencing, self-reinforcing and self-undermining feedbacks, policy capacity, reform sustainability and disproportionality in public policy. In the second part of the course, the participants will apply the theoretical concepts and analytical frameworks by analysing real world examples of policy making.


Carsten Daugbjerg is a political scientist and Professor in the Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen. He was a Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University (ANU) from 2013 to 2018 and is now an Honorary Professor at this institution and an Associate of the ANU Centre for European Studies. He is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, Co-editor of the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning and a recipient of the ANU Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Public Policy and Outreach. His research area is comparative and global public policy with a particular interest in policy network and governance theories, historical institutionalism, ideational and policy paradigm theory, policy instrument and policy design theory. Currently, his empirical research focusses on global food security policy and governance, EU trade policy and private food standards.


Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS

Learning outcome


Upon completion of the course, the participants must be able to:

  • demonstrate ability to define key concepts and explain selected analytical frameworks applied in the study of public policy.
  • demonstrate ability to compare key concepts and theoretical frameworks and identify to which policy problematiques they potentially can be applied.
  • critically reflect on the strengths and limitations of the key concepts and theoretical frameworks and their ability to explain public policy phenomena.



Upon completion of the course, the participants must be able to:

  • explain the policy challenge in a case selected for analysis, including its history, the key actors, institutions and debates.
  • select and apply a relevant theoretical frameworks to analyse public policy issues.
  • present their policy project in a clear and balanced way that logically connects the research question, the description of the issue, the application of a theoretical framework, the evidence and the conclusions.
  • evaluate critically the ability of the selected concepts and frameworks to explain public policy issues.



Upon completion of the course, the participants must be able to:

  • Formulate a research project focused on a well-defined public policy problem
  • apply analytical approaches to develop theoretical and practice oriented arguments related to various policy phenomena.
  • systematically process evidence and use it to support such arguments.
  • reflect critically on the evidence and analysis applied to support theoretical and practice oriented arguments relating to public policy.

Teaching in the first part of the course will be based on lectures and group and class discussions. In the second part of the course the participants will undertake research for their assignment. Teaching will be based on individual and/or group supervision by the course convener. The course will be concluded by two research workshops in which the draft assignments will be discussed. Each assignment will have a discussant assigned. It is a required that each participant act as a discussant.

The required readings will amount to approximately 900 words and will include:


Baumgartner F. R. and B. D. Jones (2010), Agendas and Instability in American Politics, (2nd ed.) Chicago: Chicago University Press.


Béland, D. (2009), ‘Ideas, Institutions, and Policy Change, Journal of European Public Policy, 16(5): 701-718.


Béland, D. and Robert Henry Cox (2016) Ideas as coalition magnets: coalition building, policy entrepreneurs, and power relations, Journal of European Public Policy, 23(3): 428-445


Daugbjerg, C. and K. M. Sønderskov (2012), ’Environmental Policy Performance Revisited: Designing Effective Policies for Green Markets’, Political Studies, 60(2), 399-418


Hall, P. A. and R. C. R. Taylor (1996), ‘Political Science and the Three New Institutionalisms", Political Studies, 44(5), 936-957.


Howlett, M. 2009. ‘Process Sequencing Policy Dynamics: Beyond Homeostasis and Path Dependency’, Journal of Public Policy, 29(3), 241-262.


Howlett, M., M. Ramesh and A. Perl (2009), Studying Public Policy: Policy Cycles and Policy Subsystems. (3rd ed.). Toronto: Oxford University Press.


Jacobs, A. M. and R. K. Weaver. 2014. “When Policies Undo Themselves: Self-Undermining Feedback as a Source of Policy Change.” Governance 28(4), 441–457


May, P.J. (2003) ’Policy Design and Implementation’ in B.G. Peters and J. Pierre (eds.) Handbook of Public Administration. London: Sage pp. 221-233.


McConnell, A. (2016), 'A public policy approach to understanding the nature and causes of foreign policy failure', Journal of European Public Policy, 23(5), 667-684.


Patashnik, E. (2003), ‘After the Public Interest Prevails: the Political Sustainability of Policy Reform’, Governance, 16(2): 203-34.


Thelen, K. (1999), ‘Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics’, Annual Review of Political Science, vol 2, pp. 369-404.


Tosun, J. M. Maor and A. Jordan (2017), ‘Proportionate and disproportionate policy responses to climate change: core concepts and empirical applications’ Journal of Environmental policy and Planning, 19(6), 599-611


Weaver, R.K. and B.A. Rockman (1993), ‘Assessing the Effects of Institutions’, in R.K. Weaver, and B.A. Rockman (eds.), Do Institutions Matter? Government Capabilities in the United States and Abroad, Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution, pp. 1-41.


Wu, X., M. Ramesh and M. Howlett, (2017), ‘Policy Capacity: Conceptual Framework and Essential Components, in X. Wu, M. Howlett and M. Ramesh (eds.), Policy Capacity and Governance: Assessing Governmental Competences and Capabilities in Theory and Practice, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 243-261.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No 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