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Unit information: Public policy for a complex and uncertain world in 2018/19

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Unit name Public policy for a complex and uncertain world
Unit code SPOLM0043
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Alex Marsh
Open unit status Not open
Pre-requisites

No

Co-requisites

No

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

Description

Policymakers face a number of structural developments - such as population ageing, increasing inequality or climate change - which present profound systemic challenges crosscutting traditional departmental boundaries. There is increasing interest in how thinking about such long term developments can be integrated into policy alongside short term imperatives driven by electoral politics and the news cycle. This debate goes under a number of headings including strategic foresight, horizon scanning, and policy futures. Looking to the long term means that the policymaker must deal with world in which uncertainty, rather than risk, is pervasive. Policymakers must act in the face of the partially known, the unknown, and the unknowable. Consideration of longer term trends and challenges raises questions about the capacity and capabilities of policy systems: Do governments have access to the analytical skills needed to do useful futures work? Do they have the leadership and strategic capacity to develop and deliver policy that can effectively account for and address these complex systemic issues? In the background sits a more fundamental question: What sorts of useful knowledge can be derived from futures work?

This unit aims to provide an overview of a range of futures techniques and a critical understanding of the challenges associated with applying them to policy processes, both in a national and global context.

The unit will allow students to:

  • develop their understanding of the nature of public strategy and leadership
  • deepen their understanding of the drivers of the policy process
  • examine the scope for integrating longer term thinking into policymaking alongside short-term drivers, including an appreciation of the organisational and institutional challenges associated with doing so
  • reflect on the nature of complex social systems and the extent to which policy can exert predictable influence over them
  • examine a selection of the practical tools available for futures work in policymaking, including developing an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses

Intended learning outcomes

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

  • give a critical account of the nature of public leadership and strategy, contrasting them with comparable practices in the private sector
  • explain the scope for integrating longer term thinking into policymaking, including demonstrating an understanding of the organisational and institutional challenges associated with doing so
  • give a critical account of different ways of understanding complexity and social systems, and how these different understandings influence thinking about the ways in which policy can exert predictable influence over such systems
  • explain how a selection practical tools for futures work could be applied to policymaking, including demonstrating an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses
  • demonstrate the ability to apply a futures method in a policy context
  • give a critical account of the ontological and epistemological commitments associated with futures methods.

Teaching details

Interactive lectures and seminars, including groupwork; online discussion via VLE.

Assessment Details

4,000 word written assignment which tests the learning outcomes of the unit.

Reading and References

  • Colander, D. and Kupers, R. (2014) Complexity and the art of public policy, Princeton.
  • Goldin, I. and Mariathasan, M. (2014) The butterfly defect: How globalization creates systemic risks, and what to do about it, Princeton.
  • Jackson, M. (2003) Systems thinking: Creative holism for managers, John Wiley & Sons.
  • HM Government (2014) The futures toolkit: Tools for strategic futures for policy-makers and analysts, London: HM Government.
  • Mulgan, G. (2008) The art of public strategy: Mobilizing power and knowledge for the common good, Oxford: OUP.
  • Verweij, M. and Thompson, M. (eds) (2006) Clumsy solutions for a complex world: Governance, politics and plural perceptions, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

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