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Queen's University

MPA 802 - Approaches to Policy Analysis

Robert Wolfe and David Elder

This course serves an integrative function within the interdisciplinary MPA curriculum. Rather than dignify any single approach or any single social science discipline as "policy science" in preference to others, the course provides an opportunity for students to develop their own integrated approach to policy analysis. The abstract objective of the course is to help students to develop knowledge and comprehension of the diversity of theoretical and practical approaches to policy analysis. The practical objective is to be able to demonstrate the application of these ideas to a specific policy problem: we learn about policy analysis by doing it.

We take a broad view of policy in the School of Policy Studies. Not all "policy" is state policy, and government sometimes does best by facilitating the work of others. Policy analysis for us is the study of the sometimes implicit choices a community makes about what we collectively will do about problems we understand to be public, whether we do it ourselves through our collective actions, or through the state and its agencies, or though forms of voluntary association in the third sector. In using analysis to break public problems into their component parts, we are interested in how issues come to be framed as public problems; and how we know that some sorts of policy interventions are feasible or appropriate.

Policy analysis is a normative discipline. A policy, as defined by Pal is a course of action or inaction chosen by public authorities to address a given problem or interrelated set of problems. Atkinson observes that "policy is a theoretical construct. It is a course of action, yes, but action that is anchored in both a set of values regarding appropriate public goals and a set of beliefs about the best way of achieving those goals." The idea of public policy assumes that an issue is no longer a private affair. Policy analysis, Pal says, is the "disciplined application of intellect to public problems." It reduces to one question: what are we going to do about the problem in view?

This course approaches policy analysis from the inside, the view of practitioners, rather than from the outside perspective of analysts who observe the policy process. The focus is not on how decisions are made, but on how practitioners should think about policy problems. Studies that take policy as a dependent variable, such as attempts to explain the machinery of government decision-making or how interest groups and policy communities influence policy outcomes, are outside the scope of this course, as are studies of public managementand policy implementation.

The course outline and related materials are available to registered students through Moodle.

School of Policy Studies, Robert Sutherland Hall
Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.3020