Skip to main content

Unit information: Understanding Public Policy in 2016/17

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Understanding Public Policy
Unit code SPOL20026
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Wilson
Open unit status Not open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


The aim of this unit is to introduce students to the study of the public policy process, reform and outcomes. The unit will provide students with an overview of the policy making process, of how policy is made and implemented, and how public services are delivered and financed. The unit considers different theoretical models of and approaches to understanding public service reform and the underlying policy process, and the significance of key debates including the nature of power and governance. The unit examines key elements of recent public service reform, including choice, competition, targets and league tables, and explores how economics has influenced thinking in this area. The unit puts these issues in the context of current government policies for public service reform.

Unit aims:

  • To provide an introduction to different perspectives on the policy making process;
  • To explore contemporary debates and issues in public policy;
  • To introduce students to changes in the nature of provision and finance of public services in the UK and explore how such changes are informed by economic ideas.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will be able to:

• Recognise different approaches to understanding the policy process;
• Articulate contemporary debates pertaining to the nature of policy making;
• Give an account of the way in which the organisation, delivery and finance of public services have been changing during the last three decades and explain the thinking behind these changes

Teaching details

Interactive lectures and seminars.

Assessment Details

Formative assessment: (max) 2500 word essay to assess and support the students' preparations for the summative assessment.

Summative (100%): a 3000 word essay which will enable the students to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit.

All assessment is marked against the published marking criteria for that level (I/5), as stated in the Social Policy Programme handbook.

Reading and References

Barr, Nicholas (2012) The economics of the welfare state, 5th edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Cairney, P. (2012) Understanding Public Policy, Hampshire, Palgrave MacMillan.

Glennerster, H (2009) Understanding the finance of welfare: what welfare costs and how to pay for it, 2nd edition, Bristol: Policy Press

Hill M. (2012) The Policy Public Policy Process: 6th Edition, London, Routledge

John, P. (2012) Analyzing Public Policy, London, Routledge.

Le Grand, J, Propper, C and Smith, S (2008) The economics of social problems, 4th edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan

Le Grand, J (2007) The other invisible hand: delivering public services through choice and competition, Woodstock: Princeton University Press

Stiglitz, J (2015) Economics of the public sector, 4th edition, New York: WW Norton