Governing and making decisions

Postgraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

Judges, doctors, teachers, social workers, child protection staff, refugee employees, police, to mention a few, makes decision on behalf of the government that often are controversial and consequential, and have huge impact on individuals' lives. These public employees have authority by the government to exercise considerable power over individuals, such as sentence people to prison; expel migrant families and children from the country; grant unemployment benefit; give aid to re-training; remove a child at risk from his/her parents; decide to investigate a case or dismiss it, and the list can go on and on. For us individuals and citizens, these state agents, can facilitate an expansion of our freedom and ability to act, but it clearly also can be restrictive and intrusive for those that are in contact with the welfare state and public authorities. The possibilities these officials have to influence citizens lives are enormous, but we know far too little about how this discretionary power is regulated, exercised and justified.

What authority and power are officials granted through standards such as legislation and regulation? How well is the power exercised? How can we explain differences in discretionary decisions, and are difference always a problem? How are restrictions on citizens and individuals' freedom justified?What is the population's view on the ongoing polices and values underpinning our welfare state? Societies and states are at a crossroad in how citizens and individuals are treated and how their rights are respected and protected. There are backlashes on basic human rights and democratic institutions. Why is this happening? An interesting approach to better understand what is going on is the arguments from political scientist Bo Rothstein and others, stating that one reason for decline in trust and political turmoil is related to governments failure doing their job securing welfare for their citizens and residents. Too many people do not have sufficient quality in life and do not see a prosperous future for themselves and their children. They are experiencing that the state is failing them. A main goal for this course is to examine the role of welfare policies and practices to understand the legitimacy problems that we face in modern states.

We will examine the prevailing theories on the governing and exercise of decision making, exercise of discretion, and paternalism and connect them to ongoing contemporary debates and challenges in modern welfare states. Students will have the opportunity to engage in research projects, and be introduced to international researchers and research communities.

Learning Outcomes

The ambition is that students will achieve the following learning outcome regarding knowledge, skills and general competence:


  • Knowledge about the central theories on discretion
  • Knowledge about the central theories on paternalism
  • Familiar with the literature on main challenges in modern welfare state
  • Basic insight into decision making theories and motivation of actors
  • Rudimentary knowledge on population studies
  • Awareness of how international research projects are conducted


  • Ability to present the major theories on governing and making decisions in welfare states
  • Increased competency about the role and impact of discretion and how to regulate it
  • A better understanding of paternalism and its role in decision making  
  • Increased competence in discussing and reflecting on the relevance of the theoretical concepts for our understanding of the welfare state and its challenges
  • Improved skills to connect theory to empirical research issues in welfare states
  • Training in conducting an empirical research design and analyse results
  • Training in collaboration with peers to solve research questions

General competence

  • Analytical skills and competency in political science and public administration
  • Enhanced competence to discuss academic literature with peers and others
  • Improved ability to read scholarly literature instrumentally and critically
  • Improved ability to identify relevant research questions in social sciences
  • Improved competency to write analytical papers

ECTS Credits


Level of Study


Semester of Instruction

Spring, irregular
Required Previous Knowledge
Students must have completed a bachelor's degree in political science or an equivalent (subject to approval by the administration of the Department of Government), or a bachelor´s degree in Social Sciences, Pshycology or Law.
Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap
  • AORG325 (10 ECTS)
  • Access to the Course
    The course gives priority to students accepted to Master's programmes at the Department of Government. Students accepted to other master's programmes in Social Sciences, Psychology and Law can sign up if there are places left. Maximum students per course is fifteen (15) students. If the number of students registered for a course is five or less, the Department may consider offering the course in seminar format.
    Teaching and learning methods

    Lectures, discussions and guest lecturers

    At five or less registered students, course activities and teaching will be in the form of seminars and comprise lesser extent of activities than as outlined in the timetable.

    Compulsory Assignments and Attendance

    Submission and presentation of a reflection paper of a scientific paper, 800-1200 words. Comment on a reflection paper. Full attendance to no less than 80 % of the class meetings is required to be able to sit for exam.

    The compulsory assignment (written reflection paper, presentation, and comments) must be approved in order to take the exam. Approved compulsory assignments are valid in the current and following two semesters.

    Forms of Assessment

    Written essay on given topics that utilized literature from the course syllabus, approximately 4000 words (excluding the title page, table of contents, references, tables, and all attachments).

    The exam will be given in the language in which the course is taught. 
    The exam answer can be submitted in English, Norwegian, Swedish or Danish.

    Grading Scale
    Graded A-F
    Assessment Semester

    Assessment in teaching semester.

    A retake exam is arranged for students with valid absence according to § 5-5 in the UiB regulations.

    If there is a retake exam, this will be available for students with the follow results/absences:

    • Medical certificate/valid absence
    • Interruption during the exam
    • Fail/failed

    If you have the right to take a retake exam and a retake exam is arranged for students with valid absences, you can sign up yourself in Studentweb after 1. August.

    Reading List
    The reading list will be ready before 1 July for the autumn semester and 1 December for the spring semester. 
    Course Evaluation
    All courses are evaluated according to UiB's system for quality assurance of education.
    Programme Committee
    The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and courses.  
    Course Administrator
    Department of Government at the Faculty of Social Sciences has the administrative responsibility for the course and the study programme.