Institutions and Actors in the Policy Process

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Code: 
Course Description: 

Mandatory for Mundus MAPP students and for MAIPA Students (Part II of Policy Analysis)

Governance Specialization for DPP

This course introduces students to how institutions and ideas interact with interests to structure policy making processes and influence actor behaviour, policy output, as well as prospects for participation and engagement. The course adopts a broad understanding of political institutions and takes a governance perspective. Rather than being just branches of government, political institutions – be they formal or informal – significantly frame and affect actor behaviour. Policy making does not happen in a vacuum but it is constrained by different institutional settings which enable or disempower particular actors, include or exclude them, encourage or discourage association or dispersion of actor groups.

Likewise, ideational forces can guide behavior and shape policy praxis, most notably through the formation and/or de-stabilisation of policy paradigms. Whether ideas are an independent source of power in policy or simply a tool in the hands of interests is a perennial question in policy studies. Actors also pursue their interests through institutions where questions such as the following arise: Are minorities more successful in securing their interests in systems of proportional representation? Are authoritarian regimes dependent on the legitimation of their policies? What determines which societal interests prevail when pressure groups seek to get a grip on the policy process? Are presidential systems of democratic representation more effective in delivering policies than parliamentary ones or vice versa?

The approach of the course is both comparative and inspired by multi-level governance. Students acquire core knowledge in analyzing the impact of ideational forces and institutional settings on the policy process and how different groups of actors are affected by them. The course helps students to consider different actors and institutional environments when designing policy and developing strategies for influence. We also explore different causal dynamics behind policy-making – when and how do institutions, ideas, interests and identities matter as driving forces behind policy.  

Learning Outcomes: 

On successful completion of the course students will be able:

  • to understand key patterns of how political institutions impact on the policy process, the degree to which ideas do or do not structure policy, and to identify the role of different types of actors and interests within this process;
  • to develop a critical understanding of core concepts and approaches in the field including conceptual and empirical limitations;
  • have acquired the necessary skills for engaging in team work and discussion when analyzing the causal dynamics of ideas, institutions and interests in policy processes;
  • to engage in independent research in the field using multiple sources including scholarly contributions and empirical information also in areas which are new to them.

Participation:                         10%

Seminar presentation:         20%

Group presentation:             20%

Essay                                     50%