Skip to main content


POL3132 : Public Policy: Theories, Cases, Skills

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Alistair Clark
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


This module provides an introduction to contemporary theories of public policy and the ways in which they have been operationalised by political scientists to analyse contemporary problems and issues. The module aims to introduce students to the debates within academic research regarding how we can understand the different dimensions of public policy from agenda-setting to implementation and the key factors which shape these processes. The module will provide students with a detailed knowledge and understanding of the changing nature of policy analysis and it relates to contemporary debates and practical challenges facing policy-makers. The module will have a UK focus but examples will also be drawn from the comparative public policy literature and experience. Using contemporary examples of policy problems – for example these may include but are not restricted to, climate change, COVID-19 responses, the creation of the NHS, the international spread of smoking bans – the module explores the lifecycle of public policies. Throughout the course links to employability and transferable skills, and specifically how policy concepts can help us make policy in practice will be discussed.

Outline Of Syllabus

An indicative outline of topics studied may include the following:

1.       Introduction to Module: What is Public Policy?
Theory & Approaches
2.       The Policy Cycle
3.       Theoretical Approaches to Public Policy 1
4.       Theoretical Approaches to Public Policy 2
5.       Policy Actors: Institutions, Networks, Communities and Entrepreneurs
6.       What makes an Issue a Policy Problem? Problem Definition & Agenda Setting
7.       Policy Formulation, Instruments & Decision-making models
8.       Policy Implementation
9.       Policy Transfer & Diffusion
10.       Theory & Approaches Summary (Non-synchronous Online)
11.       Policy Evaluation and Assessing Evidence
12.       Official Statistics
13.       Writing for Policy
14.       Policy Advice & Policy Advisors
15.       Guest lecture & Q&A, Policy Practitioner
16.       Skills Summary (Non-synchronous Online)
Cases (4 cases x 1 lectures each, although scope will be allowed for an extended case study of 2 lectures)
17.       Case Study 1
18.       Case Study 2
19.       Case study 3
20.       Case Study 4
21.       Case study Summary (Non-synchronous Online)
22.       Module Conclusions: Explaining Policy Success & Failure

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00PiP Lectures
Structured Guided LearningAcademic skills activities101:0010:00Quizzes and guided tasks
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00PiP Seminar
Structured Guided LearningStructured non-synchronous discussion31:003:00Online non-synchronous Summaries, and assessment advice
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1154:00154:00Assessment preparation and completion
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lectures will introduce students to the key terms, concepts, and texts in the study of public policy. They will be divided into three main sections – public policy, theories and actors, followed a section where skills are emphasised, before moving on to a third bloc with an emphasis on case studies which allow students to apply their knowledge to actual policy problems. Non-synchronous summaries after each group of lectures (theories, skills and cases) will allow students to consolidate their knowledge, and revisit these lessons as appropriate. Small group teaching will provide a live, synchronous environment in which students can discuss readings, and apply their theoretical and critical insights to current policy problems, while at the same time permitting problem solving and teamwork within groups. The module will aim to bring the policy environment to life for students through an annual guest lecture by a policy practitioner. Structured, guided learning activities will include quizzes to allow students to check their understandings of aspects and approaches to public policy; guided tasks, including with primary sources such as policy documents and post-implementation inquiries, and data where appropriate, will encourage deeper reflection on the practical difficulties of developing and implementing public policies.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination902A5590 minutes in-person handwritten examination
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M45Policy Briefing 2000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The emphasis on transferable skills and employability in the module is carried through into the coursework assessment, with students asked to write a policy briefing dealing with their evidence-based recommendations for dealing with a particular public policy problem chosen from a list provided, although with the approval of the module convenor students will be given the option of identifying a different policy problem to deal with. This is typical of the type of analysis students may be asked to undertake post-graduation, and this experience will equip them well from the viewpoint of employability. This is also a highly intellectually challenging exercise, as it necessitates dealing with theories and evidence in a very different way to a standard essay. Support and advice will be provided for students in developing this new and innovative form of writing in these policy briefings. While coursework allows specialisation, the in-person written examination will be held during the assessment period at the end of the module. It will seek to test the broad levels of knowledge gain throughout the module. To ensure that students must spread their study widely across the module, the exam paper will be sectioned, with one section focusing on theories and approaches, and the second focusing on aspects of the skills and cases dealt with in the module. Students will be required to answer one question from each section.

Reading Lists