Teaching Policy Process Analysis (1)

This summer term I am teaching an under-graduate seminar on policy process theories and wanted to spice it up a little by making the seminar more research focused. This led to a more elaborate seminar design featuring alternating theory- and research sessions, the continuous analysis of a real German policy process, and the iterative execution of small research processes by the students – with the ultimate aim of a first empirical term paper to be written over the summer break.

Together with my teaching assistant, Kathrin Hartmann, I will report over the coming months on this extra-ordinary teaching experience in a mini-series on this blog. This first episode will deal with the structure and background of the seminar while latter episodes cover individual sessions or the tutorials on term paper writing by Kathrin Hartmann.

Kathrin Hartmann (center) tutoring a small group of students

The core idea of the seminar is to introduce the students to the analysis of policy processes by teaching core policy process theories and to give them the chance to directly apply them in a structured setting. To achieve this the seminar proceeds along the stages of the policy process (Agenda-Setting, Decision-Making, Implementation, Evaluation) – but not just theoretically but quite practically by researching step by step the recently introduced road user charge in Germany (“PKW-Maut”).

For each stage, one or two theories of the policy process have been selected. In the first session on a theory, the theory itself is discussed and we develop together a research question for our selected policy process, evaluate the state of the literature (to an extent), and define a hypothesis. Based on these first three steps of the research process, the students engage in the following session in a structured analysis. This is facilitated by the use of  very limited research questions, narrow hypotheses, simple methods and carefully prepared data.

Gathering the results of the 2nd session

A huge advantage of the seminar – and one of the main reasons why the seminar can be offered in this way – is the presence of my TA, Kathrin Hartmann. The seminar is supported by a small grant from a program specifically designed to promote empirical research by students in their first or second semester and to especially encourage female students in pursuing an academic career.

Kathrin Hartmann offers a range of services to the seminar and the students by preparing data for the research sessions, assisting the student research groups in the seminar, offering individual mentoring, and by organizing and executing voluntary tutoring sessions on term paper writing over the course of the summer.

In sum, the seminar is intend to teach policy process analysis and by doing so to introduce the students to the world of empirical political science research at the same time. To be continued…

Helge Staff