The politics of policymaking

Course content

This course aims to introduce students to the political nature of the policy and decision-making process. It invites students to critically consider rational problem-solving accounts of policymaking in light of theories and empirical case studies that highlight the role of power and beliefs in policy decision-making and implementation. The course explores the different ways in which institutions, ideology, and participation in shaping who gets to decide what, when, for whom, and to what end. In it, students will explore questions like: ‘What is the nature of policymakers’ rationality?’ and ‘Is evidence-based policymaking non-ideological?’.


In sum, the course aims:

  • To introduce students to the theories, concepts and methods with which to compare, critically understand and systematically analyse the policy process, from decision-making to implementation and beyond;
  • To familiarise students with the role of power and beliefs in ordering policy preferences, shaping institutions and structuring group participation in the decision-making process;
  • To provide students with a critical understanding of the role past and present policies play in shaping people’s lived experience;
  • To help students acquire the practical skills to research and critically analyse, evaluate and generate well-founded and insightful assessments of the impact of policies on different groups’ political, economic, and social equality.


To do this, the course is structured into four parts. Part one introduces the different accounts of the policy process, contrasting linear, rational, instrumental problem-solving conceptions to those that underscore the role of power, affect, and belief in making and implementing public action. Part two focuses on the different actors, venues, and processes involved in the policy process in a way that draws attention to the central role of struggles over meanings, values, and resources. Part three problematises contemporary accounts of rational, ordered, and ‘neutral’ policymaking, recasting it as a complex process in which ideology and social norms retain a central role. Finally, part four explores the way in which policy itself structures people’s lived experience and can contribute to creating and entrenching differences in status and welfare for different groups.


Session will cover themes including:

  • The evolving ‘policy sciences’
  • Policymaking as ‘powering and puzzling’
  • In/Out: The power in participation
  • The politics of institutional design
  • The politics of policy problems
  • ‘What matters is what works’: The politics of evidence
  • Accounting for complexity: Governance vs Government
  • Persuasion or problem-solving? The politics of effective policy analysis
  • The politics of policy design
  • The politics of policy success (and failure)


One session will also be dedicated to peer review of assignment drafts.


Full-degree students enrolled at the Department of Political 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
  • 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


On completion of the course, students should be able to:

  • Identify, summarise and differentiate between key theories and concepts used to describe and explain the policy process;
  • Describe and evaluate policy process research by reflecting on theoretical and methodological strengths and weaknesses;
  • Describe and evaluate the different roles of actors, institutions and ideas in shaping policy decisions;
  • Describe and evaluate different conceptions of decision-maker rationality.



On completion of the course, students should be able to:

  • Identify and compare theoretical arguments and different types of scientific evidence;
  • Identify and critically analyze concepts and arguments related to the policymaking process;
  • Plan, manage, and write a free written assignment on topic of interest related to the politics of policymaking.



On completion of the course, students should be able to:

  • Analyze and critically evaluate scientific arguments, evidence, empirical data, and methodological choices;
  • Assess real-world problems related to gender through different theoretical perspectives;
  • Conduct and communicate independent empirical analysis to an academic audience.


Classes will comprise mini-lectures, small group exercises, frequent class and group discussion.

The following are an indicative list of key readings associated with the course:


Bacchi, Carol (1999) Women, policy and politics. The construction of policy problems. London: Sage.


Schneider, A.L. and H.L. Ingram, (2005), Deserving and Entitled: Social Constructions Public Policy. Albany: SUNY Press.


Zittoun, P., (2014), The political process of policymaking: A pragmatic approach to public policy. Palgrave Macmillan.


Cairney, P., (2016), The politics of evidence-based policy making. Palgrave Macmillan.


Compton, Mallory, and Paul ‘t Hart (eds). 2019. Great Policy Successes. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. (Available through Open Access)


John, Peter. 2018. Theories of Policy Change and Variation Reconsidered: A Prospectus for the Political Economy of Public Policy. Policy Sciences 51(1): 1-16.


Fukuyama, Francis. 2016. Governance: What Do We Know, and How Do We Know It? Annual Review of Political Science 19:89-105.

Pierre, Jon, and B. Guy Peters. 2000. Governance, Politics and the State. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


Peters, B. Guy, and Jon Pierre. 2006. Governance, Government and the State. In The State: Theories and Issues, Colin Hay, Michael Lister, and David Marsh (eds), pp. 209-222. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


Mukherjee, Ishani, and Michael Howlett. 2015. Who Is a Stream? Epistemic Communities, Instrument Constituencies and Advocacy Coalitions in Public Policy-Making. Politics and Governance 3(2): 65-75.


Blyth, Mark. 2003. Structures Do Not Come with an Instruction Sheet: Interests, Ideas, and Progress in Political Science. Perspectives on Politics 1(4): 695-706.


Howlett, Michael. 1991. Policy Instruments, Policy Styles and Policy Implementation: National Approaches to Theories of Instrument Choice. Policy Studies Journal 19(2): 1-21.


Béland, Daniel. 2010. Reconsidering Policy Feedback: How Policies Affect Policies. Administration & Society 42(5): 569-590.


Cairney, Paul. 2013. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: How Do We Combine the Insights of Multiple Theories in Public Policy Theories. Policy Studies Journal 41(1): 1-21.


Rochefort, David A., and Roger W. Cobb. 1993. Problem Definition, Agenda Access and Policy Choice. Policy Studies Journal 21(1): 56-71.


Schneider, Anne, and Helen Ingram. 1993. Social Construction of Target Populations: Implications for Politics and Policy. The American Political Science Review 87(2): 334-347.


Capano, Giliberto, and Andrea Lippi. 2017. How Policy Instruments are Chosen: Patterns of Decision Makers’ Choices. Policy Sciences 50(2): 269-293.


Dunlop, Claire A., and Claudio M. Radaelli. 2018. The Lessons of Policy Learning: Types, Triggers, Hindrances and Pathologies. Policy & Politics 46(2): 255-272.


Geva-May, Iris. 2001. When Motto is ‘Till Death Do Us Part’: The Conceptualization and the Craft of Termination in the Public Policy Cycle. International Journal of Public Administration 24(3): 263-288.


Peters, Guy B. 2018. Policy Problems and Policy Design. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

Students will receive individual written feedback on their final assignment. They will also receive oral peer feedback on the drafts of their assignments when they participate in the scheduled peer review session.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Type of assessment details
Written free 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
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Emily Flore St Denny   (2-6b6a466f6c7934717b346a71)
Saved on the 01-05-2024

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