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What is Public Policy?

By Venus D.
Updated May 23, 2024
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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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Discussion Comments
By anon1002400 — On Nov 14, 2019

Highlight and explain the various interrelationship between public policy processes.

By anon973718 — On Oct 13, 2014

"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?

By indradangi — On Apr 01, 2014

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

By indradangi — On Apr 01, 2014

Explain how public policy affects a business' decision making?

By anon942558 — On Mar 28, 2014

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?

By Mitra — On Mar 07, 2013

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

By anon316517 — On Jan 29, 2013

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

By anon316430 — On Jan 28, 2013

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

By d23 — On Sep 11, 2012

What is management policy formulation?

By anon257661 — On Mar 28, 2012

What is the structure of public policy formulation and implementation?

By DrTCH — On Mar 27, 2012

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.

By DrTCH — On Mar 27, 2012

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.

By anon256375 — On Mar 21, 2012

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

By anon241204 — On Jan 17, 2012

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

By anon235543 — On Dec 18, 2011

what is the role of law enforcers in public policy?

By anon235271 — On Dec 16, 2011

What are the options for development of public policy?

By anon184747 — On Jun 09, 2011

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

By anon160767 — On Mar 17, 2011

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

By anon155736 — On Feb 24, 2011

What are some limitations to public policy analysis?

By anon152132 — On Feb 12, 2011

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

By anon149460 — On Feb 04, 2011

what is the significance of public policy?

By anon145148 — On Jan 22, 2011

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

By anon131084 — On Dec 01, 2010

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

By anon115345 — On Oct 01, 2010

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

By anon97728 — On Jul 20, 2010

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

By anon95944 — On Jul 14, 2010

I want know more about public policy and the

types, the advantages, examples and more about it.

By anon93648 — On Jul 05, 2010

what are the forms of public policy?

By anon92181 — On Jun 26, 2010

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

By anon92058 — On Jun 25, 2010

what does nigeria's public policy entail?

By Lindsy91 — On Jun 19, 2010

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.

By anon85490 — On May 20, 2010

In summary, what is public policy all about?

By anon78143 — On Apr 17, 2010

What entails pro-poor health policy formulation?

By anon71903 — On Mar 20, 2010

public policy is something that needs supervision even after implementation.

By anon70157 — On Mar 12, 2010

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

By anon65271 — On Feb 12, 2010

what are the main public policies in south africa?

By anon62781 — On Jan 28, 2010

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

By anon62519 — On Jan 27, 2010

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

By anon53880 — On Nov 25, 2009

Why study public policy?

By anon49786 — On Oct 22, 2009

What does public policy mean for the individual?

By anon44511 — On Sep 08, 2009

what are the features of public policy?

By anon44509 — On Sep 08, 2009

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

By anon44332 — On Sep 07, 2009

What is the rationale of public policy?

By anon44038 — On Sep 03, 2009

what is the framework of public policy?

By anon42991 — On Aug 25, 2009

How important is the public policy in Cambodia?

By anon40971 — On Aug 12, 2009

how are empirical methods used for the policy making process?

By CannonMPA — On Jul 20, 2009

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


By anon37177 — On Jul 17, 2009

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

By anon35458 — On Jul 05, 2009

empirical methods would improve the making of policy

By ananda — On Jun 24, 2009

How are empirical methods used for the policy making process?

By legalsandy — On May 25, 2009

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!!

By anon31739 — On May 11, 2009

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

By anon29686 — On Apr 06, 2009

How does public policy affect education?

By Chirs4317 — On Mar 24, 2009

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?

By siopao81 — On Mar 24, 2009

What are the limits on public policy?

By siopao81 — On Mar 24, 2009

What are the limits of public policy in The Philippines?

By tazama2009 — On Mar 03, 2009

What are the limitations of public policy in African countries?

By tazama2009 — On Mar 03, 2009

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

By anon27107 — On Feb 24, 2009

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

By anon21830 — On Nov 22, 2008

what is the political influence on public policy?

By anon21324 — On Nov 13, 2008

what is the history of the word policy???

By jessezimmer — On Oct 23, 2008

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....

By jessezimmer — On Oct 22, 2008

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

By anon19103 — On Oct 06, 2008

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

By anon14840 — On Jun 25, 2008

what is the significance of public policy?

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