The Public Policy Process

In the section on why we need government, several different kinds of public policies are discussed. Public policies are most often established by legislation, but they can also be created by an executive order, a bureaucratic regulation, a city ordinance or even a court decision. Public policies are generally aimed at one or more of the following:

Reconciling conflicting claims for scarce resources
Encouraging or fostering cooperation that would probably not occur without government influence or encouragement
Prohibiting morally unacceptable behavior
Protecting the rights of individuals
Providing direct benefits to citizens

Capturing the nature and scope of public policy in a sentence or two is difficult. Some of the more widely accepted (or at least frequently repeated) descriptions include:

"The authoritative allocation of values for a society."
"The process of deciding who gets what, when, where and how."
Or more simply, "What the government chooses to do or not to do about a specific problem."

All of these definitions are useful, but none of them is obviously better than the others. In fact, each captures an important aspect of the public policy making process, a process which is too complicated to be adequately summarized in just a sentence or two. What can be stated clearly and succinctly about public policy, however, is that it is an integral part of our everyday lives. Public policies of all kinds establish the boundaries of our freedoms and color the contours of our interactions with other people in our political, social and economic systems.

Reasearch and Study Helps

What is a recess appointment?

Facts & Figures

National Center for Policy Analysis

Headlines & Editorials

Public Policy on the Web

Policy "Think Tanks"
Heritage Foundation
The Cato Institute

The Urban Institute

The Brookings Institute