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What is Public Policy Theory?

Desi C.
Desi C.

Public policy theory is the study or discussion of public policy. Public policy itself includes any policies that are concerned with the public, at the federal, state, or local government level. This field of study involves observing, analyzing, and often comparing actual public policy to theory, as opposed to actually participating in the creation of the policy. Because theory is not equal to knowledge or factual information, it is an imperfect study often involving debate and sometimes controversy.

This type of study is often designed for and built into college courses designed for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students. The number of courses, as well as the availability, truly depends upon the institution or university. Some universities have a limited number of public policy courses, whereas others have entire departments dedicated to the subject.

Early studies of public policy theory may focus on Plato.
Early studies of public policy theory may focus on Plato.

Students who are pursuing a degree in political science, government, international relations, public administration, or public policy are almost always required to enroll in and pass a public policy theory course. Other areas of study that either require or would benefit from a solid understanding of this topic include law studies, economics, and social science. A background in history and an understanding of the respective local or national political system is helpful prior to enrolling in a theory course.

Some of the areas that might be covered in a course include historical theories, as well as more recent theoretical concepts. Universities often break up public policy theory studies into time frames, giving students a closer look at the well-known thinkers of a particular time period. For example, early studies might focus on Machiavelli, Socrates, and Plato. Other courses might include theory and observations about public policy by more recent political scientists.

Career opportunities in public policy are numerous. A doctoral degree in a similar discipline, as well as experience in researching and publishing scholarly articles about the subject, would likely prepare a person to work as a professor in this field. Though a person does not necessarily need a background or education in the theory, it is helpful.

Public policy theory is often spoken about, but more often found in written form. Entire books, both school textbooks and those for the general population, are published on a yearly basis. Scholarly journals, such as the Journal of Public Administration, Research & Theory, provide researchers and professors an opportunity to be published and share their own theories about this important topic. Furthermore, there are websites dedicated to the discussion of public policy and the theories that support or disagree with the policies and laws that people live by.

Discussion Comments



As the internet bridges the world, the world will get to know itself on an intimate level. Knowing how to deal with the conflict that will necessarily arise from this kind of conflict will require some solid sets of ideas on public policy in a rapidly changing and shrinking world.



I don't think that people can be easily be put into mathematical or scientific categories. Reducing human behavior to a matter of algorithms ignores many key details about who we are as humanity. We are much more than machines. A good public policy will take into account the fact that cultures have trouble understanding cultures and people have trouble understanding people, even themselves.


Operations management and forming of key alliances or strong economic ties are being formulated into interpersonal algorithms. Understanding the political economy as a science involving multiple human character is an important part of shaping public policy. As we come to understand key sociological and cognitive biases, we are enabled to win friends and influence people on a broad cross-cultural scale. Shaping a good public policy is the key to bridging the world in the near future.

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    • Early studies of public policy theory may focus on Plato.
      By: Dimitrios
      Early studies of public policy theory may focus on Plato.