PP416      Half Unit
Beyond the policy cycle: how theory explains practice

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Mr Nicholas Rowley


This course is available on the Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-Columbia), Double Master of Public Administration (LSE-Sciences Po), 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.

Preference will be given to students in the School of Public Policy. Students from other LSE departments and schools can seek permission to be accepted on the course.

Course content

This course will introduce students to the core public policy theories which help reveal how and why challenges and problems become amenable to policy. By first presenting Harold Lasswell’s seminal work on the ‘policy cycle’, the course explores those theories that have countered and gone beyond it. The course will present theories including social construction; ‘multiple streams’; behavioural theory; the idea of the ‘policy entrepreneur’, advocacy coalitions as well as different notions of power to help explain various examples and case studies presented each week. The course will also examine how (individual, general and institutional) trust is critical to effective policy deliberation, decision and implementation. And how understanding executive decision making: who can take which decisions based on what evidence and to what effect, is critical to any public policy professional seeking to make a difference.

The course will be structured around topics which are both relevant to political and policy deliberation and being researched in the academy. The emphasis will be on revealing how a deep and broad understanding of public policy theory can help illuminate an understanding of:

  • why certain problems are not deemed amenable to policy;
  • how and why certain problems are, and
  • how policy might be considered, developed, and effectively implemented.

The course will be of use to students considering a career in government, a not-for-profit, an international organisation, the private sector or in advocacy. Forming half of their assessed work, students will be encouraged to concentrate on and master a policy problem or challenge which they find particularly interesting or important.


20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of workshops in the MT.

Teaching will involve ten two hour 'Harvard style' combined lectures / seminars, together with an additional one hour intensive policy workshop.

The first introductory class will establish the purpose / rationale for the course, describe the course content and ‘flow’ (when students will be expected to do most of their reading, research, presentations, and writing). The expectations the course educator has for all students will be made clear and formative and summative assessments will be explained.

The course educator will introduce himself and his standing on the subject and students will be given the opportunity to introduce themselves to each other. Students will be allocated into groups of five and be given the opportunity to prioritise which classes they would like to take a lead on through their involvement in role play, presentations and interrogating particular aspects of the week’s topic.

The following seven lectures will share the week’s topic / content, educator perspective and reflection on the topic of the week. Coming at a time when students should be focussed on their major essay, the final two classes will not require any additional reading: week nine will be the presentation of a case study involving the lecturer either when he was working for the British government or as Strategic Director of the Copenhagen Climate Council prior to the 2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting (‘COP 15’). From their scholarship students will be able to identify how the content of the course explains both the limitations and achievements of the identified case study.

The final class will involve three policy practitioners (ie. a senior public servant, a former politician, advocate or individual who has devoted their career to influencing or implementing policy).

They will present on three questions for 10 minutes each, allowing plenty of time for students to question the three policy practitioners and debate insights that they will be able to interrogate from their learning.

Formative coursework

  • Group presentation plan
  • Short (2,000 word) essay
  • One page (500 word) policy memo

Group presentation plan

Students will be required to share a plan of how their group will lead on the second half of a defined class ensuring maximum teaching effectiveness and wider class involvement and engagement. Students will be supported by the course educator in this task through the provision of material on effective presentation and how to develop compelling scenarios and case studies based on course content.

Short mandatory (2,000 word) essay (required to be submitted prior to reading week)

Students will be required to write in response to the question “Through reference to the policy theories presented in class which do you find most compelling and why?”

In answering this question students might choose to evaluate several theories or concentrate on one. They might seek to answer the question through reference to principles and a number of examples, or they may choose an example of a policy or problem of interest to them and ‘test’ which of the theories is most useful in explaining either policy success or failure.

This short essay must be submitted by reading week, allowing the provision of swift, useful feedback. Assessing student ability in this way will enable the lecturer to understand each student’s academic ability early and support them to excel in the summative extended essay.

One page mandatory (500 word) policy memo

Following reading week students will be required to present a mandatory one page, 500-word policy memo presenting the issue, background, thesis / approach and likely conclusion of the 3,000-word essay that will constitute 60% of their grade.

Being required a week after reading week will allow students to consider the policy they wish to interrogate during the break and present an outline which will allow the course educator to provide clear and useful guidance and support prior to students embarking on their extended essay.

Students will be given guidance on how to write a clear and effective policy memo / brief which sets out how they are intending to tackle their summative 3,000-word essay.

Indicative reading

  • In Defence of Politics by Bernard Crick
  • The Decision Process - Seven Categories of Functional Analaysis by Harrold Lasswell
  • Power – a radical view by Steven Lukes
  • Causal Stories and the Formation of Policy Agendas,” Political Science Quarterly, vol. 104, no. 2, 1989 by Deborah Stone
  • Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies by John Kingdon
  • The Politics of Attention by Bryan Jones and Frank Baumgartner
  • Administrative Behaviour – a Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organisations by Herbert Simon
  • The Art of Public Strategy by Geoff Mulgan
  • A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis – the Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving by Eugene Bardach
  • The Tools of Government in the Information Age by Christopher Hood in The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy


Presentation (40%) in the MT.
Essay (60%, 3000 words) in December.

40% Class presentations and involvement (in classes 2-8 through the term)

30% of the mark will be allocated to the group. 10% will be for individual work and contribution.

In the first introductory class each student will be allocated to a group (mixed on the basis of ethnicity, gender, background etc.). After each class has been broadly described and presented, an active prioritisation exercise will establish which group will take responsibility for the second half of which class.

All students will be allocated the roles and tasks they must complete in the second half of a defined class. These will involve a mix of role play scenarios and presentations on class content designed to stimulate wider class discussion and deliberation.

In developing their approach students will be asked to produce a plan for how the group is going to lead the second half of the class. This formative one-page outline will allow the course educator to provide guidance on how each group might best structure their contribution to the second half of the class. The course educator will share material and examples of effective presentation and role play exercises that each group will be supported to lead on.

Each week the intensive policy workshop will allow students to work together and receive support and input prior to their assessed presentation / involvement in class.

60% An extended (3,000-word) essay (required to be submitted two weeks after the final class).

This extended essay will allow students to specialise on a policy challenge which they are both particularly interested in, and think is amenable to consideration through applying the content of the course. Students will be able to engage in student directed learning choosing a social, environmental, economic or infrastructure challenge of particular interest to them. This could be an international, domestic, state or city-based policy challenge.

Students will be expected to either develop a compelling thesis which explains the effectiveness or otherwise of a defined policy or argue for a new policy approach in a defined context. Both approaches will need to be grounded in well researched evidence and data informing effective arguments in support of a compelling thesis.

Key facts

Department: School of Public Policy

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Controlled access 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills