POLSC501-23A (HAM)

Policy Analysis: Theory and Practice

30 Points

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The University of Waikato
Academic Divisions
Division of Arts Law Psychology & Social Sciences
School of Social Sciences Office
Political Science and Public Policy


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: frances.douch@waikato.ac.nz
: marisa.ibanez@waikato.ac.nz

Placement/WIL Coordinator(s)


Student Representative(s)

Lab Technician(s)


: melanie.chivers@waikato.ac.nz

You can contact staff by:

  • Calling +64 7 838 4466 select option 1, then enter the extension.
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What this paper is about

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In this course, we examine the process by which public policy is made. Our focus is on both theoretical and practical aspects of policymaking, and over the coming trimester we will work together and come to grips with the latest thinking in this subject. We have a particular interest in understanding what drives policy change, or what blocks it. You will have the opportunity to apply these insights in your own areas of interest, be that economics, psychology, science, sociology, geography, environment, climate, education, health studies, international relations, or politics. You will have the opportunity to deepen your understanding of policy related questions in these subject areas and develop knowledge and skills for policy analysis.

We also introduce a ‘critical’ approach to the study of public policy, this being a way of thinking about what ‘governments choose to do, or not to do’ that recognises the essential political nature of the policy process, and particularly the way choices lead to some sections of society being advantaged and some disadvantaged, often in unjustifiable ways. Critical approaches focus on power and politics in the policy process, and are defined by a commitment to social justice and equality, and emphasise that policy analysis should lead to transformational outcomes that eliminate oppression. A key concern is how to do policy analysis in a way that avoids methods and outcomes that reinforce injustice.

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How this paper will be taught

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The paper is delivered over the A trimester through a series of lectures, student-led seminars, and related assessment activities. We have up to four hours together each week of the trimester. The format for these classes will typically consist of a lecture on a topic, workshop type activities, student presentations, and class discussions of examples.

I also encourage you to bring your own interesting course related material to class, be that video clips, news links, reading material and web sources. Through these activities we seek to develop a deep understanding of relevant concepts and theories, and of the implications for the real world of policy analysis and the promotion of policy change.

There are assigned readings for each week and, as this is a graduate level course, you are expected to have worked through these prior to class and arrive ready and willing to engage in intensive discussion. In order to assist you in this process, I will specify which of the readings are essential and provide you with a reading matrix that will help you to be more efficient, effective and critical in your reading.

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Required Readings

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In this course you will use journal articles and other materials available electronically from the University Library. There will be direct links to all of the required material in Moodle.
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Learning Outcomes

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Students who successfully complete the course should be able to:

  • Apply key public policy concepts to the analysis of a specific policy issue
    Linked to the following assessments:
  • Express ideas clearly and credibly both in written work and orally
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  • Understand arguments about what constitutes ‘good’ policy, and ‘good’ policy process
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  • Understand debates about the role of democratic participation in policymaking
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  • Understand debates about the significance of evidence in policymaking
    Linked to the following assessments:
  • Understand different theories of the policy process and policy change
    Linked to the following assessments:
  • Understand what defines good policy analysis and evaluate how this is best produced
    Linked to the following assessments:
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How you will be assessed

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Weekly Reading Matrices and Class-based Activities

You are required to complete reading commentaries prior to class and these will contribute towards 10% of you final mark. You will be provided with a reading matrix to assist in writing these commentaries, and you should bring your commentaries to class so that we can refer to them as a part of the discussion. Participation in class-based activities such as conceptual mapping exercises and group discussions is also expected, and this will contribute towards 5% of your final grade.

You will be required to give a presentation and lead a class discussion in which you apply a policy theory to the analysis of an area of policy. The schedule for this will be arranged in the second week. This activity will involve:
• Providing a one page summary and commentary of the assigned topic (to be handed in on the day of your presentation),
• Clarifying the key issues or ideas raised,
• Commenting on continuities and differences across the readings,
• Offering a critical analysis,
• Developing questions to guide discussion, and
• Leading the discussion in a way that provides opportunities for others to participate.
You may use the whiteboard, handouts, PowerPoint, video clips or other media in carrying out this task.

The seminar is worth 20 % of your final grade.

Short Essay on Evidence-Based Policy-making
Paul Cairney wrote, “If you want to inject more science into policymaking, you need to know the science of policymaking”. Write an 1800-word essay in which you outline critiques of the evidence-based policymaking model, and discuss how theories of the policy process help us come to a deeper understanding of the relationship between evidence and policy. A list of possible sources will be made available on Moodle.

This will constitute 25% of your final grade.

Final Paper on Politics, Policy-making and Policy Change Essay
Write a 5,000 word essay in which you identify a public policy, describe how that policy has changed over a particular time period, and then, by reference to theories of the policy process, offer an explanation of that change. Conclude your paper by discussing the implications of your analysis for how you might strategise to advance a critical policy agenda in this area. The final essay will contribute towards 35% of your final grade.

While this looks like a simple exercise, it requires you to think about just what is policy, provide an informed account of change in a policy area, and then draw on one or more of the policy theories we have covered to explain that change.

Peer Review: You will be required to review the draft of a fellow student and provide a short constructive critique. You must, therefore, have a draft of your own final paper ready to he handed in by Wednesday 12 October. These will be distributed and you will have five days to complete the peer review. Your comments will address matters of clarity, depth, coherency and theoretical insight. A guide will be provided. This will be worth 5% of the final grade.

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The internal assessment/exam ratio (as stated in the University Calendar) is 100:0. There is no final exam. The final exam makes up 0% of the overall mark.

The internal assessment/exam ratio (as stated in the University Calendar) is 100:0 or 0:0, whichever is more favourable for the student. The final exam makes up either 0% or 0% of the overall mark.

Component DescriptionDue Date TimePercentage of overall markSubmission MethodCompulsory
1. Weekly Reading Matrices and Class-based Activities
  • Hand-in: In Lecture
  • Online: Submit through Moodle
2. Seminar/Leading Class Discussions
  • Hand-in: In Lecture
3. Short Essay on Public Policy and Evidence-Based Policymaking
12 Apr 2023
5:00 PM
  • Online: Submit through Moodle
4. Politics, Policymaking and Policy Change Essay
9 Jun 2023
4:00 PM
  • Online: Submit through Moodle
Assessment Total:     100    
Failing to complete a compulsory assessment component of a paper will result in an IC grade
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