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Public policy is the principled guide to action taken by the administrative executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. The foundation of public policy is composed of national constitutional laws and regulations. Further substrates include both judicial interpretations and regulations which are generally authorized by legislation. Strong public policy should solve problems efficiently and effectively, serve justice, support governmental institutions and policies, and encourage active citizenship.
Other scholars define it as a system of "courses of action, regulatory measures, laws, and funding priorities concerning a given topic promulgated by a governmental entity or its representatives." Public policy is commonly embodied "in constitutions, legislative acts, and judicial decisions."
In the United States, this concept refers not only to the result of policies, but more broadly to the decision-making and analysis of governmental decisions. As an academic discipline, public policy is studied by professors and students at public policy schools of major universities throughout the country. The U.S. professional association of public policy practitioners, researchers, scholars, and students is the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.
Government actions: the process of public policy making
Public policy making can be characterized as a dynamic, complex, and interactive system through which public problems are identified and countered by creating new public policy or by reforming existing public policy. Public problems can originate in endless ways and require different policy responses (such as regulations, subsidies, quotas, and laws) on the local, national, or international level.
Public policy making is a continuous process that has many feedback loops. Verification and evaluation are essential to the functioning of this system. The public problems that influence public policy making can be of economic, social, or political nature. Each system is influenced by different public problems and thus requires different public policy.
In public policy making, numerous individuals and interest groups compete and collaborate to influence policymakers to act in a particular way. The large set of actors in the public policy process, such as politicians, civil servants, lobbyists, domain experts, and industry representatives, use a variety of tactics and tools to advance their aims, including advocating their positions publicly, attempting to educate supporters and opponents, and mobilizing allies on a particular issue. Many actors can be important in the public policy process, however, government officials ultimately choose the ‘public policy’ in response to the public issue or problem at hand. In doing so, government officials are expected to meet public sector ethics and take the needs of all stakeholders into account.
Since societies have changed in the past decades the public policy making system changed too. Today public policy making is increasingly goal-oriented, aiming for measurable results and goals, and decision-centric, focussing on decisions that must be taken immediately. Furthermore, mass communications and technological changes have caused the public policy system to become more complex and interconnected. These changes pose new challenges to the current public policy systems and pressure them to evolve in order to remain effective and efficient.
As an academic discipline
As an academic discipline, public policy brings in elements of many social science fields and concepts, including economics, sociology, political economy, program evaluation, policy analysis, and public management, all as applied to problems of governmental administration, management, and operations. At the same time, the study of public policy is distinct from political science or economics, in its focus on the application of theory to practice. While the majority of public policy degrees are master's and doctoral degrees, several universities also offer undergraduate education in public policy.
Policy schools tackle policy analysis differently. The Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago has a more quantitative and economics approach to policy, the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon uses computational and empirical methods, while the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has a more political science and leadership based approach. The Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs provides traditional public policy training with multidisciplinary concentrations available in the environmental sciences and nonprofit management. Moreover, the University of Illinois at Chicago offers public policy training that emphasizes the stages of decision-making in formulating policy (e.g. agenda setting), as well as the importance of framing effects and cognitive limits in policy formation.
The Post Graduate Programme in Public Policy and Management course offered by Indian Institutes of Management is a multidisciplinary course with special emphasis on select policy areas such as health policy, environment policy and developed on Economic and Quantitative approach. School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University was the first to start Masters in Public Policy and Governance which is interdisciplinary in nature. The Jindal School of Government and Public Policy in India offers an interdisciplinary training in public policy with a focus on the policy making processes in developing and BRIC countries. The Takshashila Institution in India offers a semester-long graduate certificate in public policy instead, focusing on developing public policy as an academic discipline in India as well as making public policy education accessible to working professionals. In Europe, the LUISS School of Government offers a multidisciplinary approach to public policy combining economics, political science, new public management, and policy analysis, while the French institute of political studies Sciences Po complements these core disciplines with organizational sociology, human security, political economy, and leadership.
Traditionally, the academic field of public policy focused on domestic policy. However, the wave of economic globalization which occurred in the late 20th and early 21st centuries created a need for a subset of public policy that focuses on global governance, especially as it relates to issues that transcend national borders such as climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and economic development. Consequently, many traditional public policy schools had to tweak their curricula to adjust to this new policy landscape, as well as developed whole new ones. The School of International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University, for example, was created as a response to a new transnational landscape. The School of International Affairs is grounded on international policy making, offering interdisciplinary training from various fields, such as law, political science, international relations, geography, sociology, and economics.
Feminist politics and public policy
Public policy can be seen through different viewpoints; the feminist viewpoint helps to identify a more broad range of issues in turn providing a better scope to public policy. The study of feminist politics and public policy lends itself to more than just the male perspective. Feminist policy often takes a global approach “how will this policy be equal and inclusive”  is it responsive to the needs of these groups and the general public.
In feminist analysis of public policy, scholars tend to consider issues such as the welfare state, which focuses on labour practices, wages, employment and unemployment. The early scholarship on the welfare state neglected efforts of women in social feminist organizations to help protect women and children who were not in the workforce. Gelb suggest that there are “political opportunity structures” to help influence policy makers. These structures are created by feminist movements and organizations that became professionalized interest groups focused on lobbying, while building coalitions with other organizations to influence central policy makers.
Gendered analysis has assisted public policy by bringing forth real life issues women face visible to the public sphere; issues such as pay equity, maternity and parental leave, childcare, domestic violence, sexual assault, parental leave and domestic violence, each one of public concern. Analytically, this broadens public policy by encompassing more than just the male perspective. A new policy in effect in the UK in 2015 grants the new mother and father are able to “take time off together or in turns and have a legal right to request flexible working hours”. When compared to the previous policies this recognizes the need for flexibility and the opportunity for fathers to play a larger role in caring for their children. This policy allows women to continue their roles in the workplace despite motherhood.
- Advocacy evaluation
- Eightfold Path (policy analysis)
- Harold Lasswell
- List of public policy topics by country
- List of public administration schools
- Mandate (politics)
- Overton window
- Public comment
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