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Public Policy Analysis: Comparative Social Policy


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Research Design (any major)

  • Introduction to Comparative Politics (or permission from instructor, especially for non-GED majors)

Recommended course(s):



Why do countries have very different approaches to social policy? What factors explain the emergence of different welfare states? Whom do social policies protect and why does that vary across countries? When do policy-makers pursue welfare state reforms? What is the effect of globalization on social policy? How can policy-makers address new social risks? Why do individual attitudes towards welfare states vary dramatically across countries? These types of questions will guide our comparative analysis of social policy across countries.

In this course, we study the formation of welfare states and the politics of social policy to understand how different countries address social risks. We explore differences in institutions and policies across countries, as well as the variation in the actors involved in social policy-making. We also compare across policy areas associated with the welfare state, including pensions, unemployment, health, family policy, long-term care, social assistance, and housing. The course draws on a range of datasets about social policy generosity, its political salience, individual attitudes, and more to study the causes and consequences of various approaches to social policy across countries, policy areas, and time.

The course will consist of workshops that focus on practicing policy evaluation and recommendations, as well as developing your own policy analysis project that you work on throughout the block. We will practice how to use evidence and write for policy impact in the field of social policy.

While much of the academic literature on welfare states is based on Western European cases, we will analyze policies across a diverse range of countries, which is driven by the set of countries selected by participants where one participant will serve as our in-house expert on a specific country. We will explore the actors and factors that drive social policy across countries and experience the analytical value of researching policy through comparative analysis.

Course Objectives


  • Understand the components of the welfare state and the factors that influence social policy

  • Compare alternative theories of social policy formation

  • Develop deep case knowledge of one country’s welfare state institutions and social policies


  • Analyze existing social policies and related data through comparison across countries

  • Design a policy relevant research project that applies evidence-based policymaking

  • Evaluate policy alternatives and formulate recommendations

  • Write effectively for policy impact targeted at non-academic audiences


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The first part of the course is based on interactive discussions of the readings and application of the theories to case studies. The second half of the course will be based on workshops and group work to practice evaluating and design policy recommendations based on case study examples, presentations by student country experts, and analysis of data related to social policy.

Assessment Method

  • Participation and engagement in class – 10%, Weeks 1-7 (Learning outcomes 1-4)

  • Position paper – 10%, Reflection shared with class positioning the readings in the literature in weeks 2-4 (Learning outcomes 1-2)

  • Country expert reports and case application presentation – 10%, Weeks 1-4 (Learning outcomes 3)

  • Policy problem description paper – 30%, Week 5 (Learning outcomes 5-7)

  • Policy alternatives summary and peer feedback – 10%, Week 7 (Learning outcome 5-7)

  • Policy brief and response to feedback – 30%, Week 8 (Learning outcome 5-7)

Reading list

Eugene S. Bardach and Eric M. Patashnik, A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving, 6 edition (Washington, D.C: CQ Press, 2019).

All other readings will be posted as links on Brightspace page.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,



Preparation for first session:
Check Brightspace for reading and read the syllabus.