PP450      Half Unit
Public Organisations: Theory and Practice

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Adnan Khan and Prof Timothy Besley


This course is available on the Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-University of Toronto), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Columbia), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Hertie), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and NUS), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Sciences Po), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Tokyo), Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


Some understanding of economics and quantitative methods is desirable.

Course content

The course will offer students the analytical frameworks and practitioners’ knowhow for understanding public organisations and the challenges in design and implementation of public policies.  Public organisations are key determinants of state capacity and this course will draw primarily on economics, particularly principal agent theory, and political economy to understand these. The lectures will take different views of public organisations: a micro, personnel-economics view; an organizational level perspective; and a heterodox approach drawing on the recent literature from several disciplines on identity, values and norms.

The seminars will have an applied focus and will deal with intractable public policy problems confronting states and public organisations and reasons why it is so difficult to deliver transformative and sustainable change on the ground. The group work during seminars will use a systematic and structured framework to identify pressing policy problems, diagnose the underlying causes of these problems using evidence, and design, test, implement and refine policy innovations. There will be a lot of emphasis on learning-centric approaches to transforming public organisations and to diagnosing and dealing with the challenges of policy implementation and political authorisation and the skill sets needed to address these challenges.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars totalling a minimum of 35 hours across Lent Term.  This year teaching will be delivered through a combination of online lectures, with seminars taking place in person where possible and where conditions allow.

Formative coursework

Students will be provided regular and weekly feedback on their group work during LT.

Indicative reading

Key readings:

  • Timothy Besley, Robin Burgess, Adnan Khan and Guo Xu. (2021). Bureaucracy and Development. Annual Review of Economics. Forthcoming.
  • Besley, Timothy and Torsten Persson. 2014. “The Causes and Consequences of Development Clusters: State Capacity, Peace and Income”. Annual Review of Economics. Volume 6:927-949.
  • Finan, Frederico, Benjamin Olken, and Rohini Pande. 2015. “The Personnel Economics of the State”, The Handbook of Field Experiments.
  • IGC Evidence Paper. 2019. “State Effectiveness”
  • Cristina Corduneanu-Huc, Alexander Hamilton and Issel Masses Ferrer. 2012. “Understanding Policy Change: How to Apply Political Economy Concepts in Practice.” Washington D.C.: World Bank Publications.
  • Andrews, M., L. Pritchett & M Woolcock. (2017). Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action. Oxford University Press.
  • Parkhurst, Justin. 2017. “The politics of evidence: from evidence-based policy to the good governance of evidence”. Routledge Studies in Governance and Public Policy.


Essay (50%) in the period between LT and ST.
Policy memo (20%) and group presentation (30%) in the LT.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: School of Public Policy

Total students 2020/21: 36

Average class size 2020/21: 18

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills