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PPG 1001: The Policy Process

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University of Toronto - School of Public Policy and Governance

PPG-1001: The Policy Process

Description: This core course in the MPP program aims to help students understand the principal drivers of policy-making in contemporary (mainly North American liberal) democracies. We survey contending theories of public policy, identify key actors and institutions, and review a range of policy instruments used to address contemporary public problems. We also consider theories of agenda setting, policy formulation, decision-making, implementation, and evaluation/learning and how they relate to policy problems. We conclude by discussing the place of ethics and democracy in the policy process and in evaluations of good public policy.

A central theme and indeed assumption in public policy analysis is that policy makers arrive at their decisions using rational decision making processes and techniques. This course asks how well rational models serve public policy makers. Is decision making according to rational models an accurate descriptor of what policy makers do? Are policies rationally deduced responses to objective "problems"? Do rational policy models help to account for policy change (or stasis)? How do distinctly political and/or ideological factors shape policymakers’ thinking and praxis? To illustrate these themes, the theories of public policy-making analyzed and discussed in class are applied to specific cases in comparative public policy.

What Students Can Expect to Learn

  • Theories of human motivation and decision making
  • The role of contending ideas and ideologies and their influence on policy making
  • The role of institutions in enabling and constraining policy making
  • The components of the policy process (and the interaction of ideas, institutions, and actors along with theories of instrument choice and evaluation)
  • Analytical and creative problem solving

Faculty: Linda White and Phil Triadafilopoulos (Winter 2014)

Source: Attached syllabus at (accessed 8 January 2014)


Teaching Topics Addressed in this Course, Organized by Public Management Subject

 Democratic Institutions and the Policy Process

  Game Theory and Rational Institutionalism
  Actors, Interests and Institutions
  Ideas and Policy Frames
  Efficiency, Effectiveness and Instrument Choice

 Decision Sciences for Public Management

  Theories of Human Motivation and Decision Making: Rational Choice
  Probing the Accuracy of Rational Decision Making Models: Alternative Accounts

 Ethics and Accountability

  Ethics and Morality


Commentary by the Atlas editors: The Atlas editors have identified four major subject areas that, together, comprise the core of MPP/MPA learning. One of these subjects is “Democratic Institutions and the Policy Process.” Some MPP programs, including the Harvard Kennedy School, attempt to address this entire subject area within one core course. The University of Toronto’s core curriculum splits this subject up into two core courses, PPG-1001: The Policy Process and PPG-1000: Governance and Institutions.

PPG-1001 examines the processes by which policies are conceived, developed and implemented. This course introduces students to different approaches to analyzing the evolution of public policy, asking them to consider how ideological and political pressures can influence the policy process. Students learn about how a number of factors including cognitive bias, imperfect information, ideology and interest group pressure sometimes leads to policy outcomes that are quite different from what might be predicted by a rational decision-making model.

Although the PM Atlas editors have classified this course under the core subject area “Democratic Institutions and the Policy Process,” this course also introduces students to a number of key topics that are foundational to MPP/MPA learning in other subject areas.

For instance, this course draws heavily on the insights of behavioural economics to explain why various actors inside and outside of government sometimes may not act rationally in their own self-interest. This material provides a foundation to students who wish to study the “Decision Sciences for Public Management” subject area in greater depth. The final seminar of the course deals with the topic “ethics and morality,” which introduces students to the foundational themes of the core MPP subject that we have defined as “Ethics and Accountability,” which are studied in greater depth in PPG-2011 (Ethics of Public Administration).

Student evaluation is based on class participation, a series of short written responses to assigned weekly readings, and two major essays.

Page created by: Ben Eisen, 23 February 2013, updated by Ian Clark 8 January 2014. The content presented on this page, except in the Commentary, is drawn directly from the source(s) cited above, and consists of direct quotations or close paraphrases.



PPG 1001H The Policy Process - syllabus.pdfPPG 1001H The Policy Process - syllabus

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School of Public Policy and Governance