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Politics of the Policy Process: Comparative Social Policy


Admission requirements

Required 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 role of the state, markets, and communities in promoting health and well-being? How can policy-makers address new social risks? 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 and health policy-making. We also compare across policy areas associated with the welfare state. The course draws on a range of evidence about social policy generosity, its political salience, and various indicators to measure outcomes of social policy across countries, policy areas, and time.

The course will consist of workshops that focus on practicing policy analysis and recommendations, as well as developing your own policy analysis project that you work on in pairs throughout the block. The in-class workshops will focus on health care policies and active labor market policies. Participants, together in pairs, can choose from any social policy field, including pensions, social assistance, long-term care, housing, and beyond for their policy analysis projects. 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


  1. Understand the components of the welfare state and the factors that influence social policy
  2. Compare alternative theories of social policy formation
  3. Develop deep case knowledge of one country’s welfare state institutions and social policies

4. Analyze existing social policies and related data through comparison across countries
5. Design a policy relevant research project that applies evidence-based policymaking
6. Evaluate policy alternatives and formulate recommendations
7. Write effectively for policy impact targeted at non-academic audiences


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 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 designing policy recommendations based on case study examples, reviewing student country experts, and analysis of data related to social policy.

Assessment Method

  • Engagement and role as country expert in class – 10%, Weeks 1-7 (Learning outcomes 1-4)

  • Concept project – 15%, Weeks 2-3 (Learning outcomes 1-2)

  • Policy problem description paper – 30%, Week 4 (Learning outcomes 5-7)

  • Policy alternatives summary and peer feedback – 10%, Week 6 (Learning outcome 5-7)

  • Policy brief and response to feedback – 20%, Week 8 (Learning outcome 5-7)

  • Individual reflection on project – 15%, Week 8 (Learning outcome 5-7)

The last four assessments are steps in an integrated policy analysis project.

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). Earlier versions are fine.

  • Daniel Béland and Rianne Mahon, Advanced Introduction to Social Policy, 2nd Edition (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2023). Important to have the second edition!

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,


Dr. Kristin Makszin,


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