Toronto PPG1001 The Policy Process

… one of the Specimen Courses in Policy Analysis and Process

Click for syllabus

Course description

This core course in the MPP program aims to help students understand the connection between politics and public policy by making sense of the political environment in which policy decisions are made, and the political forces at work throughout the policy process.

The course proceeds in two parts. First, we explore foundational theories of policy making that seek to capture the role of organized interests, the importance of political institutions, and the influence of ideas and ideology. Part two builds on this theoretical foundation by focusing on each specific “stage” of the policy process, investigating how policy issues emerge, agendas are set, programs designed and implemented, and outcomes evaluated. Particular attention is paid to how well theories of human motivation and rational decision making apply to real-world experiences in public policy.


Linda White, Gabriel Eidelman (Winter 2017)


By permission of the instructors.

Syllabus link on Atlas

Alignment between class topics and Atlas core normed topics.
PPG1001 Class Topic
Closest Normed Topic
1 Introduction The Study of Policy Analysis and Process
2 Interests Interests and the Policy Process
3 Institutions Institutions and the Policy Process
4 Ideas and Ideology Ideas and the Policy Process
5 Agenda Setting Framing and Agenda Setting
6 Policy Formulation Policy Design and Instrument Choice
7 Decision Making I – Rational Choice and Bounded Rationality Models of Decision Making
8 Decision Making II – Evidence and Decision Making Evidence and Decision Making
9 Implementation Implementation and the Policy Cycle
10 Evaluation Evaluation and the Policy Cycle
11 Student Presentations The Study of Policy Analysis and Process
12 Student Presentations The Study of Policy Analysis and Process

Additional description from the Syllabus

What students can be expected to learn

  • The components of the policy process
  • The role of political actors and organized interests in driving policy making
  • The role of institutions in enabling and constraining policy making
  • The influence of contending ideas and ideologies in policy making
  • Theories of human motivation and rational decision making
  • Critical thinking, analysis, and presentation skills
Requirements and evaluation

Participation (20%): Participation is measured by actions including but not limited to: (a) consistently attending class; (b) being attentive and respectful to your peers; (c) raising thoughtful comments and questions; (d) attending office hours; (e) bringing relevant articles and materials to the attention of the class; and above all else, (f) coming to class prepared. At a minimum, this means having completed the required readings, and, for each reading, having reflected on the following questions:

  • What does the reading contribute to our understanding of the policy process?
  • Were you persuaded by the author’s argument? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • What assumptions are being made in the reading, and are they warranted?
  • What evidence does the author present? Does it support the general argument?
  • Are there important weaknesses or contradictions in the reading?
  • What are the implications of the author’s arguments?

Seminar Leadership (5%) – As part of the participation component of your course grade, at one point during the term, you will be asked to lead class discussion on one of the assigned readings. This involves highlighting the most important themes/arguments from the article, situating these within the context of the course, preparing discussion points and questions for the class to consider, and facilitating seminar discussion. You will be evaluated based on the clarity of your analysis, the thoughtfulness of your questions, and the quality of discussion. The schedule will be determined during the first class.

Analytical Essay (20%): Drawing on readings from Part 1 of the course (Weeks 1-4), you will prepare a short (1,000 word) essay evaluating the influence of interests, institutions, and ideas in a case study selected by the instructors. Due Week 5.

Case Analysis (60%): The purpose of this assignment is to encourage students to apply the theoretical content of the course to a practical case analysis. You will be divided into groups of four, select a case from a list provided by the instructor, and complete the following:

  1. Group Presentation Outline (10%) – A one-paragraph sketch of the central policy problem relevant to your case study, accompanied by a preliminary list of theoretical and empirical sources that the group will use to prepare its analysis. Grades will be based on the clarity of the group’s problem statement and the extensiveness of their collective research effort. Due Week 8.
  2. Group Presentation (25%) – A concise, 20-minute PowerPoint presentation that provides necessary background information to bring the class up to speed on the case, before analyzing (a) the emergence of the problem on the public agenda, (b) the policy response adopted by decision makers (c) the process of decision-making that led to this response (d) the means through which the policy response was carried out, and (e) the manner in which the response was ultimately evaluated. Presented in class during Weeks 11 and 12.
  3. Individual Research Paper (25%) – An 8-page essay (12-pt font, one-inch margins) that provides students the opportunity to demonstrate their individual creativity and unique perspective on the case study presented by the group. Due April 13.
Laptops, tablets, and phones

Electronic devices may only be used to access readings or for classroom activities specified by the instructor. At all other times, laptops, phones, and tablets should be closed, switched to silent mode, or turned off to avoid distractions. Exceptions will only be made for those with accommodations or for official note takers.

Generally speaking, the negative impacts of electronic devices in the classroom (persistent distraction, low levels of engagement, poor knowledge retention, and lower grades) consistently outweigh the positives. Don’t just take our word for it – see for yourself:

Holstead, Carol E. 2015. “The Benefits of No-Tech Note Taking,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 4.

Shirky, Clay. 2014. “Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away,” Medium (personal blog), September 8.

Hamilton, Jon. 2008. “Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again,”, October 2.

Late assignments

We expect students to turn in assignments on time. No exceptions are made except in the case of an adequately documented emergency. You must make a reasonable effort to inform your section faculty as soon as the problem arises and present your written documentation when you return. It is at our discretion whether to accept the late assignment and/or attach a lateness penalty. If you do miss an assignment deadline, your grade for this component will be reduced by 3% for the first day and 1% per day thereafter, including weekends. Students are also strongly advised to keep rough and draft work and hard copies of their assignments. These should be kept until the marked assignments have been returned. All graded assignments are to be kept by students until the grades have been posted on ROSI.

Seminar topics and readings

All required readings are available via the course website, and should be read in advance of class. Students without a strong background in policy studies may also wish to read the following introductory textbook:

Howlett, Michael, M. Ramesh, and Anthony Perl. 2009. Studying Public Policy: Policy Cycles and Policy Subsystems, 3rd edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Week 1: Introduction – What do we mean by the “policy process”? How have political scientists incorporated understandings from economics, sociology, and psychology into policy studies? Is there a role for theory in policy studies?

Smith, Kevin B., and Christopher W. Larimer. 2009. “Public Policy as a Concept and a Field (or Fields) of Study,” in The Public Policy Theory Primer, pp. 1-25. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

DeLeon, Peter. 2006. “The Historical Roots of the Field,” in The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, eds. Michael Moran, Martin Rein, Robert E. Goodin, pp. 39-57. New York: Oxford University Press.

Stone, Deborah. 2012. “The Market and the Polis,” in Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making, 3rd ed., pp. 19-36. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.

Piereson, James and Naomi Schaefer Riley. 2013. “The Problem with Public Policy Schools.” The Washington Post (6 December).

Week 2: Interests – What are the differences, if any, between individual and group decision making? How do individuals and groups act when they are dissatisfied? What kinds of influence do groups have in policy making?

Lemann, Nicholas. 2008. “Conflict of Interests.” The New Yorker (11 August).

Dahl, Robert. 2005 [1961]. “Overview: Actual and Potential Influence,” in Who Governs? Democracy and Power in An American City, 2nd ed., pp. 271-275. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Stone, Deborah. 2012. “Interests,” in Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making, 3rd ed., pp. 229-247. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.

Week 3: Institutions – What are institutions? How do institutions structure/constrain/transform political decision making? How have institutions structured social policymaking in Canada and the United States?

Knill, Christoph, and Jale Tosun. 2012. Excerpt from Public Policy: A New Introduction, pp. 40-50. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Immergut, Ellen M. 2006. “Institutional Constraints on Policy.” In The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, eds. Michael Moran, Martin Rein, and Robert E. Goodin, pp. 557-571. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pierson, Paul. 1995. “Fragmented Welfare States: Federal Institutions and the Development of Social Policy.” Governance 8(4): 449-478.

Week 4: Ideas and Ideologies – Can we separate out the effects of political attitudes, beliefs, and ideologies on policy making? How are various kinds of ideas packaged into policy frames? Do policy makers respond to public opinion, or do they shape it?

Mehta, Jal. 2010. “The Varied Roles of Ideas in Politics: From ‘Whether’ to ‘How,’” in Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research, eds. Daniel Béland and Robert Henry Cox, pp. 23-46. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lakoff, George. 2010. “Why It Matters How We Frame the Environment.” Environmental Communication 4(1): 70-81.

Petry, Francois. 2007. “How Policy Makers View Public Opinion,” in Policy Analysis in Canada: The State of the Art, eds. Laurent Dobuzinskis, David H. Laycock, Michael Howlett, pp. 375-398. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Week 5: Agenda Setting – Why, when, and how do some issues become policy problems? How is a policy problem defined? Who sets the public policy agenda? Is there a clear logic to the process?

Kingdon, John W. 1995. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. 2nd ed., pp. 165-195. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Soroka, Stuart N. 2007. “Agenda-setting and Issue Definition.” In Critical Policy Studies, eds. Michael Orsini and Miriam Smith, pp. 185-210. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Boothe, Katherine. 2012. “How the Pace of Change Affects the Scope of Reform: Pharmaceutical Insurance in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 37(5): 779-814.

Week 6: Policy Formulation – Whom do policy makers listen to, experts or citizens? Is there a tension between expertise and democracy?

Lenihan, Don. 2012. “The Political Objections to Public Engagement,” in Rescuing Policy: The Case for Public Engagement, pp. 100-118. Ottawa: Public Policy Forum.

Prince, Michael J. 2007. “Soft Craft, Hard Choices, Altered Context: Reflections on Twenty-five Years of Policy Advice in Canada,” in Policy Analysis in Canada: The State of the Art, eds. Laurent Dobuzinskis, David H. Laycock, Michael Howlett, pp. 163-185. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Doberstein, Carey. 2016. “Whom Do Bureaucrats Believe? A Randomized Controlled Experiment Testing Perceptions of Credibility of Policy Research.” Policy Studies Journal.

Week 7: Decision Making I – What is a “rational” policy decision? What are the basic assumptions of rational choice theory? What is “bounded rationality” and how does it affect policy making?

Becker, Gary S. 1976. Ch. 1 of The Economic Approach to Human Behavior, pp. 3-14. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Forester, John. 1984. “Bounded Rationality and the Politics of Muddling Through.” Public Administration Review 44(1): 23-31.

Wilson, Rick K. 2011. “The Contribution of Behavioral Economics to Political Science.” Annual Review of Political Science 14: 201-223.

Week 8: Decision Making II – What is evidence-based decision making? Why do policy makers often ignore good evidence? When should we expect decision makers to “follow the evidence”?

Head, Brian W. 2010. “Reconsidering Evidence-based Policy: Key Issues and Challenges.” Policy and Society 29(2): 77-94.

Cairney, Paul. 2015. Excerpts from The Politics of Evidence-based Policymaking, pp. 1-7, 119-134. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Botterill, Linda Courtenay, and Andrew Hindmoor. 2012. “Turtles All the Way Down: Bounded Rationality in an Evidence-based Age.” Policy Studies 33(5): 367-379.

Week 9: Implementation – How are policy decisions translated into action? What policy tools are best suited to produce desired outcomes? What assumptions underlie the selection of specific policy instruments?

Hupe, Peter L., and Michael J. Hill. 2016. “‘And the Rest is Implementation.’ Comparing Approaches to What Happens in Policy Processes Beyond Great Expectations.” Public Policy and Administration 31(2): 103-121.

Schneider, Anne and Helen Ingram. 1990. “Behavioral Assumptions of Policy Tools.” Journal of Politics 52(2): pp. 510-529.

Patashnik, Eric. 2003. “After the Public Interest Prevails: The Political Sustainability of Policy Reform.” Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions 16(2): 203–234.

Week 10: Evaluation – What criteria do governments use to make and evaluate policy decisions? Are all considerations reduced to dollars and cents? Or are other factors taken into consideration?

Anderson, Charles. 1979. “The Place of Principles in Policy Analysis.” American Political Science Review 73(3): 711-23.

Bovens, Mark, Paul ‘T Hart, and Sanneke Kuipers. 2006. “The Politics of Policy Evaluation,” in The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, eds. Michael Moran, Martin Rein, and Robert E. Goodin, pp. 319-335. New York: Oxford University Press.

McConnell, Allan. 2010. “Policy Success, Policy Failure and Grey Areas In-Between.” Journal of Public Policy 30(3): 345-362.

Week 11: Student Presentations

Week 12: Student Presentations

Page created by: Ian Clark, last updated 3 December 2019.