Not available in 2023/24
PP416      Half Unit
Beyond the policy cycle: how theory explains practice

This information is for the 2023/24 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 Hertie), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and NUS), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Tokyo), MPA in Data Science for Public Policy, 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 AT.

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

Formative coursework

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

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 AT.
Essay (60%, 3000 words) in December.

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

Key facts

Department: School of Public Policy

Total students 2022/23: 21

Average class size 2022/23: 20

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

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