What is Public Policy?

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  • Originally Written By: Venus D.
  • Revised By: Bott
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 25 May 2020
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Public policy is an attempt by a government to address a public issue by instituting laws, regulations, decisions, or actions pertinent to the problem at hand. Numerous issues can be addressed by public policy including crime, education, foreign policy, health, and social welfare. While public policies are most common in the United States, several other countries, such as those in the United Kingdom, implement them as well. The process to create a new public policy typically follows three steps: agenda-setting, option-formulation, and implementation; the time-line for a new policy to be put in place can range from weeks to several years, depending on the situation. Public policies can also be made by leaders of religious and cultural institutions for the benefit of the congregation and participants, and the term can also refer to a type of academic study that covers topics such as sociology, economics, and policy analysis.

The Process

When new public policies are created, there are generally three key things involved in the process: the problem, the player, and the policy. The problem is the issue that needs to be addressed, the player is the individual or group that is influential in forming a plan to address the problem in question, and the policy is the finalized course of action decided upon by the government. Typically the general public will make the government aware of an issue through writing letters and emails, or making phone calls, to local government leaders; the issue is then brought forward during government meetings and the process for creating new public policies begins.

The rational model for the public policy-making process can typically be divided into three steps: agenda-setting, option-formulation, and implementation. Within the agenda-setting stage, the agencies and government officials meet to discuss the problem at hand. In the second stage, option-formulation, alternative solutions are considered and final decisions are made regarding the best policy. Consequently, the decided policy is implemented during the final stage; in most cases, once public policies are in place, they are widely open to interpretation by non-governmental players, including those in the private sector. Implied within this model is the fact that the needs of the society are a priority for the players involved in the policy-making process; also, it is believed that the government will follow through on all decisions made by the final policy.

Unfortunately, those who frame the issue to be addressed by policy often exert an enormous amount of influence over the entire process through their personalities, personal interests, political affiliations, and so on. The bias is extenuated by the players involved. The final outcome of the process, as well as its implementation, is therefore not as effective as that which could result from a purely rational process. Overall, however, public policy continues to be a vital tool in addressing social concerns.


In 1993, due to ineffective healthcare policies, the Clinton administration in the US sought to implement a policy that would bring about a national healthcare system. As part of the policies being considered, the US federal government would protect the healthcare consumer’s rights, consumers would be able to form alliances to obtain better healthcare prices, and caregivers would be required to provide fair healthcare packages. Players involved in the policy-making process included lobbying groups and politicians. While some changes were made to healthcare provisions by legislators, the policies advocated by the Clinton administration were not put into effect as result of political differences.

In 2010, US president Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law; this health care reform and public policy is meant to offer all American citizens health insurance that is easier to afford. The policy implemented several changes in health care that no longer allow health insurance companies to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, nor can they drop coverage when insurance carries become ill. Several years elapsed before the policy was finally passed, and the final stages of the policy are planned to be put in place in 2014.

As an Academic Study

The study of public policy began in 1922, when Charles Merriam, a political scientist, sought to build a link between political theory and its application to reality. Most studies of public policy focus on areas that apply to problems within government management, administration, and operations; some of these topics include economics, program evaluation, sociology, political economy, and public management. Most college degrees on this topic are offered only as master's or doctorate degrees, and the course of study may vary between universities. /p>

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Discuss this Article

Post 87

Highlight and explain the various interrelationship between public policy processes.

Post 86

"Public policies can also be made by leaders of religious and cultural institutions for the benefit of the congregation and participants..."

I might disagree (although I can understand the point) that public policy is created by social groups (religious and cultural institutions), because they do not have the power and backing of the government. Participation is voluntary in these organizations and not the specific domain and charter of a government.

The right to participate in these organizations might be protected by civil rights, but the policies enacted by a social group are not applicable across the citizenry as a whole and, therefore, are not public policy. This type of regulation is private policy. What do you think?

Post 84

"Public policy is whether government chooses to do or not to do." Explain.

Post 83

Explain how public policy affects a business' decision making?

Post 82

What is public policy and what are its major components? How should the government formulate public policy? Why is public police not being implementing in Pakistan?

Post 81

I would like to know more about Foreign policy and other dimensions and scope.

Post 79

What is the importance of public policy management to public administration practitioners?

Post 78

What would be the three well known examples of public policy?

Post 77

What is management policy formulation?

Post 72

What is the structure of public policy formulation and implementation?

Post 71

What I just contributed is also reflected in the use of language in American law. Before the thirties, most everything related to "Public Law." Next thing we knew, everything was about "Public Policy." There is something terribly strange (and unsettling)about this kind of development.

Post 70

In my view, public policy is a kind of sloppy governance, which is working outside of actual law provisions, and is often unconstitutional. Instead of changing the law, these “policy makers” determine what are “problems,” then craft measures -- generally Executive Branch provisions -- not by means of legitimate legislated law. This approach spawns all kinds of questionable institutions, such as administrative tribunals and agencies and even work contracted out to private industry (like parking enforcement people actually being employees of a large corporation like Lockheed, not really pubic employees, which represents unconstitutional delegation of power). It also means that government has expanded to unheard of dimensions over the last few decades. Most of this junk (representing abuse of power and

irregular, if not unconstitutional, forms and practice) should be tossed out the door.

As a matter of fact, when I hear a radio or television guest addressed as being associated with some pubic policy think tank, I am ready to change the channel. This stuff is like unto what folks suffered through in the Iron Curtain countries: lots of oppressive bureaucracy, not answerable to the electorate.

What the hell is an “administrative law judge?” He is a quasi-judge associated with a Title I (Executive Branch) tribunal, which is like raising fish with dog heads -- an interesting development, but hardly proper. Courts in the United States are supposed to be Title III courts. Anything else is total weirdness (and, yes, unconstitutional).

There is a parallel here with how the Federal Government (actually, the National Government)controls/regulates virtually everything in our lives today, under the “necessary and proper” and “commerce” clauses. This is way out of control.

Post 69

How can you measure whether a public policy is good or bad?

Post 66

Is public policy the most important in determining an individual's economic status?

Post 65

what is the role of law enforcers in public policy?

Post 64

What are the options for development of public policy?

Post 63

They aren't going to answer your homework questions, kids. Stop asking.

Post 62

what are the challenges of policy formation and adaption of an organization in developing countries?

Post 60

What are some limitations to public policy analysis?

Post 59

broad-based consultation anchoring on the issues and concerns and the needs can effectively support in the implementation of the policy.

Post 58

what is the significance of public policy?

Post 56

Why is the study of public policy formation important to the students who study public administration?

Post 54

what is the rationale for public policy making? Please respond in your earliest convenience. Thanks

Post 52

After reading all the above I conclude that public policy is determined by the entity who is most influential in the instant situation. --BDFN

Post 51

discuss how public policy allows government to intervene on behalf of the powerless (Phil. government).

Post 49

I want know more about public policy and the

types, the advantages, examples and more about it.

Post 48

what are the forms of public policy?

Post 47

What are the major elements of public policy-making cycle? How do the various interested parties interact in the formulation process?

Post 46

what does nigeria's public policy entail?

Post 45

What are some of the challenges of introducing a rational model of public policy making in the public sector? Please respond promptly. I've got an assignment on this.

Post 43

In summary, what is public policy all about?

Post 40

What entails pro-poor health policy formulation?

Post 39

public policy is something that needs supervision even after implementation.

Post 38

Public Policy is obviously corrupt. how do we fix this?

Post 37

what are the main public policies in south africa?

Post 36

can we consider indian case of reservation policy is public policy?

Post 35

the questions posted are so educative, i feel it is worth getting the presentations on them.

Post 32

Why study public policy?

Post 31

What does public policy mean for the individual?

Post 29

what are the features of public policy?

Post 28

what does public policy entail and how different is a policy from programmes and projects.

Post 27

What is the rationale of public policy?

Post 26

what is the framework of public policy?

Post 24

How important is the public policy in Cambodia?

Post 23

how are empirical methods used for the policy making process?

Post 22

To me,public policy will always take on the acronym coined by Luther Gullick: POSDCORB. That stands for planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and budgting. Just in case any of you thought I forgot to word for the letter "O". I didn't. It the second half of Co-Ordinating.

Randy Cannon, MPA

A Public Policy Advocate

Post 21

is the Premdass model on public policy developed in Trinidad and Tobago by professor Premdass relevant to modern day policy making process?

Post 20

empirical methods would improve the making of policy

Post 19

How are empirical methods used for the policy making process?

Post 17

what about an attorney for a certain commission, who advises a city government that an action is against public policy - and then two years later, after political pressure is put on him, he advises his commission client that it's OK to do the same thing he told the city government was against public policy two years earlier!!

Post 16

we know public policies are made on the basis of public welfare, but in our country like Pakistan policies are made only for the elite class, meaning during the policy making process, policy makers give priority to elite interests. why is this? also tell me what is the impact of public policy on the lifestyle of the general masses?

mohd ayob

Post 15

How does public policy affect education?

Post 14

What is the definition of policy implementation? How can policy implementation improve better cooperation within the various elements of the criminal justice system? What opportunities for improvement would you recommend for successful policy implementation?

Post 13

What are the limits on public policy?

Post 12

What are the limits of public policy in The Philippines?

Post 11

What are the limitations of public policy in African countries?

Post 10

Why do public policy implementation and project level differ from original public policy?

Post 9

what are the stages involved in designing and implementation of public policy?

Post 8

what is the political influence on public policy?

Post 7

what is the history of the word policy???

Post 6

He has already answered it, I was just trying to relate a question that might be on my quiz....well basically I was just writing that because I can't find my paper and that's the only one I remember....

Post 4

What is public policy and how is it made? Explain the stages of the process, how they interact and the types of policy.

Post 3

How has the internet affected the preparation and dissemination of public policy?

Post 1

what is the significance of public policy?

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