Analysing Public Policy: Institutions, Time and Processes

Course content

Governments, whether in Denmark or elsewhere, 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 can a public policy be considered a success and failure at the same time? Why do different governments confronting similar problems address them in very different ways? 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 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 introduce the participants to theoretical approaches to studying the five basic stages of the policy process and 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, policy feedbacks, policy capacity, policy design, reform sustainability, disproportionality in public policy and policy success and failure. The way in which these analytical concepts have been applied to study real world policy challenges will be illustrated through examples and discussed in class.


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. The students select their own case and analytical framework for their assignment. Individual supervision by the teacher is offered in this process.


The course is designed for Danish and international students. The wealth of knowledge on national policy processes brought to the classroom by the students will be utilised to explore nuances in concept application and to explore how differences in institutions affect 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. He is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Co-editor of the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. 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.


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Politcal Science, UCPH 

  • MSc in Political Science
  • MSc in Social Science
  • MSc in Security Risk Management
  • Bachelor in Political Science


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Social Science, UCPH 

  • Master Programme in Social Data Science
  • Bachelor and Master Programmes in Sociology
  • Master programme in Global Development


The course is open to:

  • Exchange and Guest students from abroad
  • Credit students from Danish Universities
  • Open University students


Enrolled students register the course through the Selfservice. Please contact the study administration at each programme for questions regarding registration.


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 in this part will be based on individual and/or group supervision by the course convener. It is strongly recommended to use this opportunity for individual feedback on your ideas for assignments.

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


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


Cairney, P. and N. Zahariadis (2016) ‘Multiple streams approach: a flexible metaphor presents an opportunity to operationalize agenda setting processes’, in N. Zahariadis (ed.) Handbook of Public Policy Agenda Setting, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 87-105


Daugbjerg, C. and P. Fawcett (2016), ‘Metagovernance, Network Structure, and Legitimacy: Developing a Heuristic for Comparative Governance Analysis’, Administration & Society, 49(9): 1223-1245


Green-Pedersen, C. and S. Princen (2016), ’ Punctuated equilibrium theory’, in N. Zahariadis (ed.) Handbook of Public Policy Agenda Setting, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 69-86


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 (2020), Studying Public Policy: Principles and Processes, (4th  edn). Don Mills: Oxford University Press.


Mahoney, J. and K. Thelen. 2010. ’A Theory of Gradual Institutional Change’ in J. Mahoney and K. Thelen (eds.) Explaining institutional change: ambiguity, agency, and power, New York: Cambridge University Press


Maor, M. (2017), ‘The implications of the emerging disproportionate policy perspective for the new policy design studies’, Policy Sciences (50(3): 383–398.


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.


Pierson, P. (2000), ‘Not Just What, But When: Timing and Sequence in Political Processes’, Studies in American Political Development, 14: 72-92.


Skogstad, G. (2017), ‘Policy Feedback and Self-Reinforcing and Self-Undermining Processes in EU Biofuels Policy’, Journal of European Public Policy 24 (1): 21-41.


Vancoppenolle, D., H. Sætren and P. Hupe (2015), ‘The Politics of Policy Design and Implementation: A Comparative Study of Two Belgian Service Voucher Programs, Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, 17((2), 157-173


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.


Zohlnhöfer, R., N. Herweg & C. Huß (2016) ‘Bringing Formal Political Institutions into the Multiple Streams Framework: An Analytical Proposal for Comparative


Continuous feedback during the course of the semester

In addition to ongoing feedback on student inputs in the class discussions, comprehensive individual feedback on assignment outlines is offered in order to assist students developing a workable analytical platform for their assignment.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Type of assessment details
Free written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

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


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester


Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
  • Department of Anthropology
  • Social Data Science
  • Department of Sociology
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Carsten Daugbjerg   (3-676865446d6a7673326f7932686f)
Saved on the 17-11-2023

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