University of Technology Sydney

15625 Contemporary Policy Challenges

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2024 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Design, Architecture and Building: Institute for Public Policy and Governance
Credit points: 6 cp
Result type: Grade and marks

There are course requisites for this subject. See access conditions.


This subject is available under the Graduate Certificate in Applied Policy (C11263), the Graduate Diploma in Applied Policy (C06121) and the Master of Applied Policy (C043223).

The subject introduces students to major challenges and issues confronting contemporary policymakers. It considers policy making challenges in terms of the social, political and economic ideas that shape the framing and implementation of policy at the global and national level. It studies these challenges as they apply across both national boundaries and within key policy sectors with an articulated focus on case studies. Bringing stakeholders into the room, the subject examines major issues in the formulation and implementation of policy such as the role of international organisations, global civil society, public opinion, bureaucracy, technology and interest group participation.

Undertaking this subject, participants are able to:

  • Conceptualise policy making as a framework for describing, analysing and addressing key social, political and economic issues across a variety of policy contexts.
  • Identify supra-national pressures that act on policy makers and influence policymaking at the national and sectoral levels
  • Categorize the grounds upon and issues against which different national governments confront interrelated related policy challenges and issues in diverse ways

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

On successful completion of this subject, students should be able to:

1. Deliver an account of major social, political and economic ideas through which national political makers identify and confront policy problems;
2. Demonstrate an understanding of national and supranational pressures acting on policymakers across various policy sectors;
3. Identify, examine and elaborate upon the major issues facing governments from within diverse national contexts and policy sectors.

Contribution to the development of graduate attributes

Students successfully completing this subject have a greater understanding of the major challenges and issues confronting contemporary policymakers that will enable them to:

  1. Define and debate key supra-national institutions and ideas that confront, challenge and shape the framing of policy at the national level.
  2. Build, extend and apply an understanding of the role and task of national and sectoral level policy makers operating with a globalized policy making environment.
  3. Identify, examine and elaborate on the diverse array of national institutional and cultural pressures that impact upon supra national challenges of contemporary policy making.
  4. Select, contrast and constructively apply diverse conceptions of community needs and priorities within a policy making environment characterised by supra and subnational challenges and issues.
  5. Describe, develop and appraise means and processes through which contemporary policymakers might respond to the supra-and subnational challenges and pressures across policy portfolios that meets the needs of their communities.

Teaching and learning strategies

This subject is run as an extended period of self-directed learning and two blocks of intensive seminars, workshops and expert symposiums run on campus. There is a strong emphasis on students engaging in independent reading and reflection on the material through self-directed study. Face-to-face classes incorporate a range of teaching and learning strategies, including presentations, student group work, presentation and deliberation of concepts and theory-practice integration via the medium of case studies, and review and discussion of independent student reading. The subject utilises five main modes of teaching/learning, all underpinned by the principles of adult education:

  1. Self-directed learning - Strongly based on a flipped learning approach, students engage in reading prior to attending on-campus delivery blocks, supported by a comprehensive Guide to Readings available through Canvas and through accessing core and additional readings through the Canvas system and library. Students extend, test and reflect on their self-study in workshop sessions in which the material is organised into modules of teaching/learning (see ‘Content’ below) that strongly direct participants’ attention to the value and utility of integrating theory with practice.
  2. Structured presentation of trends, issues and background research - Presented by UTS academic staff and expert presenters, the modules are based on policymaking practice, research and political, economic and social theory.
  3. Active learning - An interactive and professional development approach enables participants to discuss course content and reflect on issues and practices within their own national contexts, while comparing these with the experiences of their peers and other national contexts. It includes structured reflection on national and regional experiences, work-based case studies, workshop tasks and analysis, and the structuring and conduct of the assessments and the feedback provided to students on the basis of those assessments (see ‘Assessment’ below).
  4. Applying theory to practice - Participants apply supra and subnational challenges, ideals and issue to national policy making contexts and across diverse policy portfolios to their own work situations and demonstrate this learning through the writing of a Professional Policy Report.
  5. Collaborative learning - Participants who have completed this foundational subject in applied policy regularly provide feedback within group learning situations ensuring that their individual learning and development derives from peer-to-peer contact, sharing and reflecting on diverse experiences through workshops, small group discussion, facilitated symposium and problem-solving activities, and other methods included in the overall teaching/learning approach in order to promote peer learning.

Content (topics)

During the course of the structured teaching/learning experiences, students address the following challenges and issues involved in the contemporary policy making process.

Module 1: Economic Globalisation and Public Policy

This Module considers the influence of economic globalisation on national policymaking and democratic governance, investigating the extent to which international trade and finance influence the ability of democratic states to pursue collectivist policies of welfare, social protection, and wealth redistribution to citizens. The module considers the influence of corporate and business culture on contemporary policymaking, considering the policies and regulative postures that private sector organisations represent as feasible and normatively desirable. As with all subsequent Modules, opportunities for class discussion are provided in order that participants are able to put forward their own impressions of the ways in which policy process are influenced by the challenge of economic globalisation.

Module 2: Decentralisation and Public Policy

There is a wide variety of definitions and measures of contemporary forms of decentralisation, and much debate about their salient consequences. For example, early analyses of decentralisation often focused on democratic impacts. More recently however, decentralisation has been considered in terms of the capacity to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public services. This Module introduces students to the various forms of decentralisation, including fiscal, administrative and political decentralisation, and to consider their consequences. We focus on the theory and practice of decentralisation, and consider concepts and frameworks associated with regionalisation and the politics of geography, and the promises and dilemmas of multi-level governance.

Module 3: Does Politics Matter?

In political science and public policy, the question of whether politicians and political decisions shape public affairs, or whether a range of domestic and international, economic, social and institutional constraints limit the scope for political choice is a major issue. This Module considers the influence of politicians and political parties on public policy. During the 1990s, a supra-national level of influences over policy emerged, creating new levels of policy convergence within individual nation states which has proved difficult to ascribe to the influence of national politics. In this new world, national governments seem constrained in terms of ideology by international pressures on the making of public policies. As such, a major issue in public policy is the level of influence that globalisation exercises over national administrations.

Module 4: Interest Groups, International Organisations and Inter-Governmental Networks

Interest groups are any organisation of individuals with common policy aims who operate within the political process to achieve their goals. Today, they are a common feature of political systems around the world. International and intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) also contribute to habits of cooperation between nation states. Through regular and formal interactions facilitated by IGOs, national states become socialised to participate in global dialogue and exchange. This Unit considers more organised forms of influence upon democracies, from interest groups, international organisations and inter-governmental networks. It introduces students to IGOs, such as the World Trade Organisation, that develop procedures to make rules, settle disputes, and punish those who fail to follow the rules. It also considers other IGOs, like the United Nations, that enable collective interactions and conduct operational activities that help to resolve substantive policy problems. It also considers the responsiveness of public policy to the strategies and tactics that groups attempting to influence public policy employ.

Module 5: Public Opinion and Public Policy

Arguably, the key responsibility of representative democracy is to provide a regular and secure means by which to connect public opinion with public policy. In such case, public policies should represent and reflect public preferences. But, the relationship between opinion and policy is neither direct nor obvious. This unit considers the responsiveness of public policy to external popular pressures. It considers means by which we can assess the impact of opinion on policy. Is the thermostat theory of opinion-policy linkages an appropriate measure for the current era; or, whether we live in a world where only some types of opinion and certain types of actors.


Assessment task 1: Essay


Students complete an individual written assignment (essay) describing one of the challenges of contemporary policymaking.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1, 2 and 3

This task also addresses the following course intended learning outcomes that are linked with a code to indicate one of the five CAPRI graduate attribute categories (e.g. C.1, A.3, P.4, etc.):

A.2, I.1, P.1 and R.1

Type: Essay
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 40%

2,000 words

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Assessment criterion 2.1 - Skill in identifying and analysing reference material from a wide range of sources, as demonstrated through using and acknowledging that literature via consistent and accurate in-text referencing and the compilation of an accurate reference list. 20 1 R.1
Assessment criterion 2.2 - Skill in structuring complex information, arguments and ideas in written form, as demonstrated through the structure of the text and its readability. 20 3 R.1
Assessment criterion 2.3 - The studentís exploration of the topic expresses a foundation understanding of the challenges of contemporary policymaking, including historical debates on the changing role of national policy makers under conditions of globalisation. The writing provides evidence of the student showing a professional interest in, and laying strong foundations for, their deeper exploration of challenges in policymaking practice. 20 3 P.1
Assessment criterion 2.4 - The student shows evidence of considering the normative and ethical implications of the principles or conceptual frameworks relevant to the selected module and its application to policy making and government practice. There is a clear focus in the writing on suggesting how a considered and systematic application of principles and conceptual frameworks to policy making practice can be of benefit to national governments. 20 1 A.2
Assessment criterion 2.5 - The student questions, challenges and develops new perspectives on current policy making practice by applying principles and conceptual frameworks from the literature that could enhance not only the understanding of policy making, but also its improved functioning within national government contexts. 20 2 I.1
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Assessment task 2: Policy Challenges Report


The objective of this assignment is to enable you to demonstrate your competence in explicitly integrating challenges and issues of policy making to your professional practice.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1, 2 and 3

This task also addresses the following course intended learning outcomes that are linked with a code to indicate one of the five CAPRI graduate attribute categories (e.g. C.1, A.3, P.4, etc.):

A.3, I.1, P.1, R.2 and R.4

Type: Report
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 60%

3,000 words


Assessment criteria are provided in the ‘Subject Description and Seminar Questions’. These will also be discussed in class.

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Assessment criterion 3.1 - The Professional Report provides evidence that student has focused on the self as a policymaking practitioner when considering implications of the learning from the subject for her/his own work. In the Report, the student has provided an engaging description of the challenges and opportunities associated with their chosen topic in relation to their work unit, and how it affects their professional practice. 20 1 A.3
Assessment criterion 3.2-The studentís exploration of the topic is based on a sound understanding of challenges involved in the policymaking process, including historical debates on the changing nature of these issues and challenges The Report makes clear links between the ways principles are expressed in the literature, and how they manifest in the studentís own policy sector and home country. 20 3 P.1
Assessment criterion 3.3 - With a focus on contemporary challenges and issues in policymaking practice, the student provides evidenced conclusions using information about their home country including knowledge of government work plans, decisions, policies and activities. Discussion of concepts outlined in the modules is underpinned by reference to the identified readings. 20 2 R.2
Assessment criterion 3.4 - Drawing on research evidence and debates in the literature and from the issues raised in the facilitated discussion with peers, the student applies relevant conceptual frameworks relating to the challenges and issues discussed in the Report based on the issues as they are presented in each of the study modules. 20 1 R.4
Assessment criterion 3.5 - The student puts forward innovative, practical and workable ways in which they would achieve their aims and mitigate policy challenges based on a assessment of the national context in which they intended to implement their policy. In doing so, the student demonstrates the ability to question, challenge and develop new perspectives on current policymaking practice in their home country. 20 1 I.1
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Minimum requirements

Students must meet attendance requirements and overall must obtain at least 50% of the total marks.

Required texts

As it is a foundation subject for the studies in Applied Policy at the University of Technology Sydney, it is essential that all students undertaking 15625 Contemporary Policy Challenges grapple with the academic literature. All readings are discussed in a comprehensive ‘Subject Description and Guide to Readings’, which, as the key guide for self-directed study, is provided to students well in advance of the first scheduled face-to-face session. Readings for the modules of the subject are distinguished according to whether they are ‘core readings’ or ‘additional readings and references’. The core readings (around 36 texts) are made available to students online via Canvas. Students are expected to access the additional readings by making using of the UTS library facilities (especially online access for journal articles) themselves. Core readings include:

Aberbach, J D, Putnam, R D and Rockman, B A (1981) Bureaucrats and Politicians in Western Democracies, (Cambridge, Ma, Harvard UP), Chapter 1. (pp. 1-23)

Ahn, M, and Bretschneider, S (2011) 'Politics of E-government: e-government and the political control of bureaucracy' Public Administration Review 71(3): 414-24.

Baumgartner, FR and Leech, BL (2001) “Interest Niches and Policy Bandwagons: Patterns of Interest Group Involvement in National Politics” Journal of Politics, 63:1191-1213

Binderkrantz, A (2005) "Interest Group Strategies: Navigating Between Privileged Access and Strategies of Pressure" Political Studies 53(4): 694–715.

Buffat, A (2015) Street-Level Bureaucracy and E-Government Public Management Review Volume 17, Issue 1,

Campbell, Colin (1988) ‘The Political Roles of Senior Government Officials in Advanced Democracies’ British Journal of Political Science 18: 243-272.

Castles, Francis G. (1981) “How does Politics Matter? Structure or Agency in the Determination of Public Policy Outcomes”, European Journal of Political Research 9-2: 119

Dahlström, Carl, Victor Lapuente, and Jan Teorell, “The Merit of Meritocratization: Politics, Bureaucracy, and the Institutional Deterrents of Corruption,” Political Research Quarterly, June 16, 2011.

Dawes, S (2008) ‘The Evolution and Continuing Challenges of E-Governance’ Public Administration Review, 68(s1): 86-102.

de Graaf, G (2011) ‘The Loyalties of Top Public Administrators’ Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory (2): 285-306

Devasa, N amd Delaya, S (2006) "Local democracy and the challenges of decentralising the state: An international perspective" Local Government Studies 32(5): 677-695

Faguet, J-P (2014) "Decentralization and Governance" World Development 53 (January): 2-13.

Gartzke, E. and M. Naoi (2011) Multilateralism and Democracy: A Dissent Regarding Keohane, Macedo, and Moravcsik. International Organization 65, pp. 589–98.

Gilens, M and Page, BI (2014) Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens Perspectives on Politics 12(3): 564-581

Golden, MM (1998) "Interest Groups in the Rule-Making Process: Who Participates? Whose Voices Get Heard?" Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 8(2): 245-70

Grant, R. W. and R. O. Keohane (2005) Accountability and Abuses of Power in World Politics. American Political Science Review 99, no. 1, pp. 29-43

Hambleton, Robin, Paul Hoggett & Frank Tolan (1989) “The decentralisation of public services: A research agenda,” Local Government Studies, 15:1, 39-56,

Held, David, (2006) Models of Democracy (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006). Ch. 7

Huber E, Mustillo T and Stephens JD (2008) "Politics and Social Spending in Latin America" Journal of Politics 70(2): 420-436

Imbeau, LM, Pétry F and Lamari, M (2000) Party Ideology and Government Policies: A Meta-Analysis, European Journal of Political Research 40: 1-29

Irvin, RA and Stansbury, J (2004) "Citizen Participation in Decision Making: Is It Worth the Effort?" Public Administration Review 64(1): 55–65, February 2004

James, O and Lodge, M (2003) "The Limitations of ‘Policy Transfer’ and ‘Lesson Drawing’ for Public Policy Research" Political Studies Review 1(2): 179–193

Keohane, R. O., S. Macedo and A. Moravcsik, (2009) Democracy-Enhancing Multilateralism. International Organization 63, pp. 1-31.

Macdonald, K. and Macdonald T. (2010) Democracy in a Pluralist Global Order: Corporate Power and Stakeholder Representation. Ethics & International Affairs 24 (1) pp. 19–43

Manza, J and Lomax Cook, F (2002). ‘Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion: The State of the Debate’. In Jeff Manza, Fay Lomax Cook and Benjamin Page (eds.). Navigating Public Opinion: Polls, Policy, and the Future of American Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Montanaro, L. (2012) The Democratic Legitimacy of Self-Appointed Representatives. The Journal of Politics 74, no. 4, pp. 1094–1107.

Mosley, L., & Uno, S. (2007). Racing to the Bottom or Climbing to the Top? Economic Globalization and Collective Labor Rights. Comparative Political Studies 40, no. 8, pp. 923-948.

Page, BI and Shapiro, RY (1983) ‘Effects of Public Opinion on Policy’. American Political Science Review 77 (1): 175-190.

Pogge, T. (2003) The Influence of the Global Order on the Prospects for Genuine Democracy in Developing Countries. In (ed.) Daniele Archibugi, Debating Cosmopolitics. Verso Press, pp. 117-140

Rixen, T. (2011) Tax Competition and Inequality: The Case for Global Tax Governance. Global Governance 17, pp. 447-467.

Rubenstein, J. (2014) The Misuse of Power, Not Bad Representation: Why It Is Beside the Point that No One Elected Oxfam. The Journal of Political Philosophy 22 (2) pp. 204-230

Slaughter, A. (2003) Global Government Networks, Global Information Networks, and Disaggregated Democrac. Michigan Journal of International Law 24, pp. 1041-1076.