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Decision Making and Rational Choice



The aim of this course is to introduce students to the rational choice approach to understanding collective decision making. Rational choice theory is based on a simple set of assumptions and an analytical method that, when applied rigorously, has produced revolutionary insights about public life and has changed the way we think about collective action, political and economic institutions, policy making and international relations. The course will present the basics of rational choice theory and some of its applications for the analysis of voting, co-operation, and institutional design and effects. Students will learn the necessary skills to apply the theory in their own research.

Learning objectives

  • students understand the logic of rational choice analysis of collective decision making

  • students are able to apply skills to critically analyse collective decision making

  • students are able to apply the major accomplishments of rational choice theory (e.g. the effects of different voting arrangements, the effect of legislative institutions, the logic of coalition formation) to decision-making processes in the public sector.



Methods of instruction

This course consists of lectures and self study.

Study load

  • total study load: 140 hours – contact hours: 14 hours (7 weeks, 2 hrs per week lecture) – self-study hours: 126 hours (preparing for lectures, studying literature, preparing weekly assignments, preparing graded mid-term assignment, final paper)

Method of assessment

Each week students will have to work on small assignments. The assignments include answering a short set of questions, linking the theoretical discussions with the practice of decision-making. Submitting all assignments on time is a necessary condition for passing the course. Assignment 2, 3, 4 and 6 are pass/fail. In case of a failed assignment a retake is necessary. Assignment 5 is a graded assignment. The grade for assignment 5 counts for 20% of the total grade. In case of an insufficient grade for assignment 5 a retake is necessary. The assessment will also be based on a final paper. The final paper should analyze a completed decision-making process (e.g. the adoption of a new municipal policy, a change in a national law, or negotiations of a new international agreement) with the help of the concepts and methods discussed in class. The paper counts for 80% of the total grade. Both grades for assignment 5 and the final paper need to be sufficient.


Yes. The page of the course is available from a week before the course starts

Other course materials/literature

Shepsle, K.A. (2010) Analyzing Politics: Rationality, Behavior, and Institutions. 2nd edition. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company.


Registration for every course and exam in USIS is mandatory. For courses, registration is possible from four weeks up to three days before the start of the course. For exams, registration is possible from four weeks up to ten days before the date of the examination.


Dr. Sarah Giest, email: