BASS Social Anthropology and Philosophy / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Politics of Policy Making

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI20802
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Public policies have far reaching consequences for citizens ranging from the restriction of liberty to the provision of free school meals. Ministers cannot directly arrest criminals, provide health care to patients or teach this module. Governments need policy  interventions to act. Policy is the means by which politics is connected to government activity in the real world.  

Studying public policy raises some controversial questions and issues. For example, who  
really has the power in policy-making? Who sets the policy agenda, and how?   Should citizens be involved in decisions, and how can we stop the loudest voices from dominating? Are Government policies decided on the basis of evidence? Why do some policies go so disastrously wrong? Are Government ministers as in charge as they like to believe, or are they actually manipulated by permanent bureaucrats?  How are policies delivered and are they delivered in the way in which policy-makers intended? What are the effects on peoples' lives of the workers delivering policy on the ground, like care workers, policy officers, doctors receptionists?  

These are some of the exciting questions we will discuss in this module. Previous students have rated this module highly, with comments including:  

"Unbelievably enthusiastic, helpful and kind. Put so much effort into everything, organized the course very well and overall was there to help with anything."  

"the tutorials really helped my learning, [the tutor] managed to encourage everyone to participate and that was really helpful"  

"valued greatly the breadth of topics within this module and the opportunity to bridge many gaps between theory and the real world"  

A key ethos of this module is that students need to put the effort in and work hard and you are encouraged to bring your own examples of policy [drawn from both time and space] to illuminate the conceptual framings provided by the course .   

The main aim of the course is to provide conceptual and empirical insights into the  development and implementation of public policy. In teaching, we blend theories with practical examples. The lectures offer UK examples and contemporary 'real-life' case studies from British politics. However, the theories are applicable in other advanced industrial democracies, and we very much welcome examples from other places in the world. In previous years, students have used examples from Hong Kong, China, the USA, Brazil, France etc.  

The tutorials are very interactive, and participatory.  We draw on a variety of approaches to ensure everyone contributes, in an informal atmosphere, while stretching ourselves intellectually. The convenor and tutorial teacher want students to do well, and will respond constructively to emails, and offer tailored support, and comments. We want students to develop their own creative ideas.  

Where possible, we have outside speakers tell us about 'behind the scenes' policy-making. We also try and offer work experience opportunities (unpaid) where we can get them.  It is suitable for students across a range of degrees, including joint degrees with politics, such as PPE, BASS, Law with Politics, Politics and Modern History, as well as students from Criminology and Sociology.  


Original ideas and a commitment to working hard,


This course will aim to provide students with conceptual and empirical insights into the  
development and implementation of public policies. On completion students should  
possess an understanding of models of policy making and implementation and be able to  
apply this understanding to contemporary policy examples from the UK, and elsewhere in  
the world. Case studies will be examined and will include examples from current policy  

Learning outcomes

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

- Demonstrate a critical awareness of the role of concepts and theories applicable to the study of public policy making;

- Apply relevant concepts and theories to substantive case material drawn from the field of public policy.

- Use electronic resources to identify relevant empirical material, summarise key ideas and concepts both in writing and verbally, and work in small groups

Employability skills

See additional notes at the end

Assessment methods

Assessment will be by:

2,000 word essay (50%) 

Exam (50%)


Feedback methods

We offer feedback before submission on plans, drafts, or  ideas. We do this by email, on the phone, in drop-in sessions, and comments on written documents.  Students then also receive feedback on their marks (within 15 working days of the hand-in) through Turnitin as usual, or comments on exams.Politics staff will provide feedback on written work within 15 working days of submission via Blackboard (if submitted through Turnitin).Students should be aware that all marks are provisional until confirmed by the external examiner and the final examinations boards in June.For modules that do not have examination components the marks and feedback for the final assessed component are not subject to the 15 working day rule and will be released with the examination results. This applies to Semester 2 modules only. Semester one modules with no final examination will have their feedback available within the 15 working days.

You will receive feedback on assessed essays in a standard format. This will rate your essay in terms of various aspects of the argument that you have presented your use of sources and the quality of the style and presentation of the essay. If you have any queries about the feedback that you have received you should make an appointment to see your tutor. Tutors and Course Convenors also have a dedicated office hour when you can meet with her/him to discuss course unit specific problems and questions.On assessments submitted through Turnitin you will receive feedback via Blackboard. This will include suggestions about ways in which you could improve your work in future. You will also receive feedback on non-assessed coursework, whether this is individual or group work. This may be of a more informal kind and may include feedback from peers as well as academic staff

Recommended reading

Cairney, Paul. (2020) Understanding Public Policy, 2nd Edition, Houndmills, Palgrave,  

Hill, Michael, (2021) The Public Policy Process, 8th Edition,  

Cairney, Paul (2016) The Politics of Evidence-based Policy Making, Houndmills, Palgrave  

Knill, Christoph and Tonsun, Jale. (2020) Public Policy An New Introduction, [2nd Edition]  Houndmills, Palgrave

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Timothy Oliver Unit coordinator
David Richards Unit coordinator

Additional notes

This is a great module for students wishing to develop and demonstrate skills that can be applied in a wide range of different jobs, voluntary roles, internships and work placements. It could be particularly useful for people considering careers in the civil service, journalism, think tanks, research and policy, and charitable organisations.
It requires students to:
- grasp detailed and concrete policy and political problems across a range of topics, places and contexts
- understand the challenges and difficulties of making good decisions, and making things happen as intended, in policy and practice
- understand how processes of problem identification and problem solving might be improved


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