University of Technology Sydney

15627 Foundations in Public Policy

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 2021 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


This subject is one of four core modules in the Graduate Certificate in Applied Policy (C11263), the Graduate Diploma in Applied Policy (C06121) and the Master of Applied Policy (C043223).

This subject examines the manifold resources policymakers use to maximise the responsiveness and effectiveness of policy processes and enhance its democratic credentials through presentation of case studies and discussions of their practical implications. The subject includes topical issues of behavioural public policy and the assessment of risk, the principles, techniques and uses of evidence in decision-making, and the means by which policymakers construct evidence bases and assemble alternative policy options. It describes resources for measuring performance, and selecting indicators that enable the monitoring of function and the improvement of policy outputs. It explores areas of evaluation and learning: whether evaluation helps improve public policy, and the basis on which policy evaluations are conducted; and the ways in which policy structures generate and use knowledge regarding the design, workings and impacts. It concludes with a consideration of the purposes and rationales of policies and policy systems and how different disciplines across the social sciences have attempted advancing our understanding of policy and policy learning.

Undertaking this subject, participants are able to:

  • Conceptualise the resources available for making policy within a framework that enables policymakers to track the various influences and demands, and provide a rational process through which they can consider their response.
  • Explain the circumstances under which policy actors might search for solutions from other countries for potential utilization in their own country aimed at delivering innovation and optimizing of approaches to common challenges.
  • Conceptualise and respond to demands for policymaking to deliver great co-ordination and coherence in terms of outputs across traditional administrative and social groupings and distinctions.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

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

1. Deliver an account of issues and challenges that confront policy makers when using evidence in the definition and analysis of policy problems and their construction of policy solutions.
2. Demonstrate an understanding of the issues involved in making decisions based on multiple, and often contradictory forms of evidence.
3. Describe, distinguish between and elaborate upon strategies and processes for the management of evidence and learning within policy structures and individual and group policymaking practice.

Contribution to the development of graduate attributes

Students successfully completing this subject have a greater understanding of resources for policymaking upon which professionals are able to draw in their day-to-day roles, and which will enable them to:

  1. Describe the role of science in public policy, how scientists and policy makers work together, and what kinds of criteria they to enable healthy joint working.
  2. Observe the barriers to policy learning across different jurisdictions and national boundaries, develop measures for overcoming obstacles through which policy learning becomes possible
  3. Detail means through which national and localised policymakers might contribute to joined-up policy solutions, and develop instruments for responding to crisis situations before they arise.
  4. Determine the types of policy problems that provisions for transparency are capable of addressing, and outline the relevant design features for ensuring the success of transparency provisions.

The term CAPRI is used for the five Design, Architecture and Building faculty graduate attribute categories where:

C = communication and groupwork

A = attitudes and values

P = practical and professional

R = research and critique

I = innovation and creativity

Course intened learning outcomes (CILOs) are linked to these categories using codes (eg. C-1, A-3, P-4, etc).

Teaching and learning strategies

This subject is run as an extended period of self-directed learning and two blocks of intensive seminars, workshops and facilitated 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:

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.

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.

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).

Applying theory to practice

Participants apply supra and subnational challenges, ideals and issue to issues of policy making practice across diverse policy portfolios to their own work situations and demonstrate this learning through the writing of a Policy Practice Report.

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, facilitated whole-of-class scholarly debates, and other methods included in the overall teaching/learning approach in order to promote peer learning.

Please note: For Autumn 2021, this subject will be delivered online, via a live video link (Zoom).

Content (topics)

During the course of the structured teaching/learning experiences, students address the following themes and issues that aggregate around decision making and the use of resources in policy making.

Module 1: Evidence and Constructing Policy Options

The notion of ‘evidence-based policy making’ began to gain momentum throughout the 1990s, with the modernisation agenda of new Blair Labour government elected in 1997. Under this notion, effective policymaking requires the assembly and coordination of reliable and informed evidence bases in an early stage of development. This Module introduces the role that science-based evidence plays in the development of policy options, considering the responses to evidence and considerations of what constitutes evidence may vary between stakeholders and also government agencies themselves.

Module 2: Behavioural Public Policy

Frustrations with economic approach, and its heavy emphasis on rational choice makers, have seen policy makers turn to the discipline of psychology and behavioural economics to refine the workings of public policy beyond the rational economic model. The basic building blocks of the behavioural approach are contained in the concepts of present bias and prospect theory. This Module introduces students to the emerging theme of behavioural public policy, which applies insights derived from the field psychology to frame and develop public policy. The module discusses the potential gains, limitations and controversies surrounding the use of behavioural insights in contemporary policy regimes. .

Module 3: Risk and Crisis Management

Today, risk-based policy-making has become a discipline with its own processes, methods and tools, for assessing and managing a board domain of range of institutional and societal harms. Risk is no longer the exclusive domain of business people, scientists and technocrats. The concept of risk is now a common currency for policymaking and evidence gathering. Drawing on the public administration literature, the module exposes students to contemporary approaches towards risk management in policymaking and offering appropriate policy responses to risk and crisis.

Module 4: Target setting and Measuring Performance/Policy Evaluation

Measuring and monitoring performance is an important and ongoing stage in the policy process. Information gather during this phase is critical to judging the success or failure of policy and the need for modification and improvement. However, measuring performance also brings major challenges of selecting the right indicators and measures that enable the function and improvement of policy outputs. Policymakers need to think careful about the motivations of stakeholders at all levels to avoid problems of ‘gaming’ and perversities of compliance. This Module considers the role and pitfalls of using measures and target regimes for improving policy implementation and service delivery, enhancing transparency and accountability of policy, and evaluating and improving the performance of policy

Policy evaluation is about using evaluation principles and methods to examine the content, implementation or impact of a policy. Evaluation is the activity through which we develop an understanding of the merit, worth, and utility of a policy. Among the major objectives of policy evaluation are achieving efficient and high-quality public services, shifting to a performance-based appreciation of the success of policy, and, demonstrating the transparency and accountability of policy to citizens. This Module explores how policies are evaluated and whether evaluation helps improve public policy. It also considers the basis on which evaluations of policy are conducted.


Assessment task 1: Essay


Drawing on the literature, students explore how resources identified in selected resource modules demonstrate their understanding of policy.


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

Assessment task 2: Policy Resource Report


This task enables students to demonstrate thier understanding of the application of key resources to 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.3, I.1, P.1, R.1 and R.4

Type: Report
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 60%

3,000 words

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 15627 Foundations in Public Policy 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:

Bardach, E. A practical guide for policy analysis: The eightfold path to more effective problem solving, CQ press.- , pp. 11-31 (‘Steps Two and Three’), Part 2.

Behn, R (2003) ‘Why measure performance? Different Purposes require different measures’ Public Administration Review, 63(5): 586-608

Benartzi, Shlomo, and Richard H. Thaler, “Behavioral Economics and the Retirement Savings Crisis,” Science, March 8, 2013, 1152 – 1153.

Bevan, RG and Hood, C (2006) ‘What’s measured is what matters’ Public Administration 84(3): 527-38

Boin, A and van Eeten (2013) ‘The Resilient Organization’ Public Management Review, 15(3): 429-45.

Boaz, A and Pawson, Ray (2005) ‘The perilous road from evidence to policy: five journeys compared’ Journal of Social Policy, Apr 2005 43(2): 175-94

Boyne, GA and Chen, AA (2007) ‘Performance Targets and Public Service Improvement’ Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 17(3): 455-77

Bovens, M, Hart, PT, and Kuipers, S (2008) The Politics of Policy Evaluation. In Moran, M, Rein, M, and Goodin, RE (Editors), The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press), chapter 15.

Carpenter, D. P. 2002. ‘Groups, the Media, Agency Waiting Costs, and FDA Drug Approval’, American Journal of Political Science, 46(3), 490–505.

Chan, HY (2013) ‘Crisis Politics in Authoritarian Regimes’ Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 21(4): 200-10.

Cronqvist, H. & Thaler, R.H. (2004). Design choices in privatized social-security: Learning from the Swedish experience. The American Economic Review, 94, 424-428.

Colebatch, HK (2010) 'Valuing Public Value' Australian Journal of Public Administration 69(1): 66-78.

Collingridge, D and Reeve, C (1986) Science Speaks to Power: The Role of Experts in Policy (London: Frances Pinter) Chapter 1

Haisley, E., Volpp, K., Pellathy, T. & Loewenstein, G. (2012). The Impact of Alternative Incentive Schemes on Completion of Health Risk Assessments. American Journal of Health Promotion. 26(3), 184-188.

Head, BW (2010) "Reconsidering evidence-based policy: Key issues and challenges" Policy and Society 29(2): 77-94

Hogwood and Gunn (1985) Policy Analysis for the Real World pp 219-240 McConnell, A (2010) ‘Policy Success, Policy Failure and Grey Areas in-between’ Journal of Public Policy 30(3): 345-62.

Hood, C and Dixon, R (2010) 'The political pay-off from performance target-systems' Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 20: i281-98.

Hood, C (2012) ‘Public Management by Numbers as a Performance-Enhancing Drug ‘Public Administration Review, 72(s1): s85-s92.

Hood, C (2007) ‘Public Service Management by Numbers: Why does it vary? Where has it come from? What are the Gaps and the Puzzles?’ Public Money & Management 27(2): 95-102

Lindblom, C.E. and Cohen, D.K., 1979. Usable knowledge: Social science and social problem solving, Yale Univ Pr. Chapters 1 and 2.

Madrian, Brigitte C. (2014). Applying Insights from Behavioral Economics to Policy Design. Annual Review of Economics.

Moynihan, D (2012) ‘A Theory of Culture Switching’ Public Administration, 90(4): 851-68.

Perrow, C (1984) Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technology, (New York, Basic Books), chapter 3.

Pidgeon, N and O’Leary, M (2000) ‘Man-made disasters: why technology and organizations (sometimes) fail’ Safety Science 34: 15-30.