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Public Policy: Getting Started

This guide is intended to be a starting point for public policy research.

What is Public Policy?

Broadly, we might say that a public policy is simply what government (any public official who influences or determines public policy, including school officials, city council members, county supervisors, etc.) does or does not do about a problem that comes before them for consideration and possible action.

Specifically, public policy has a number of key attributes:

  • Policy is made in response to some sort of issue or problem that requires attention.
  • Policy is what the government chooses to do (actual) or not do (implied) about a particular issue or problem.
  • Policy might take the form of law, or regulation, or the set of all the laws and regulations that govern a particular issue or problem.
  • Policy is made on behalf of the "public."
  • Policy is oriented toward a goal or desired state, such as the solution of a problem.
  • Policy is ultimately made by governments, even if the ideas come from outside government or through the interaction of government and the public.
  • Policymaking is part of an ongoing process that does not always have a clear beginning or end, since decisions about who will benefit from policies and who will bear any burden resulting from the policy are continually reassessed, revisited and revised.

Policy analysis emerged to both better understand the policymaking process and to supply policy decision makers with reliable policy-relevant knowledge about pressing economic and social problems. Handbook of Public Policy Analysis : Theory, Politics, and Methods

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Getting Started: Handbooks

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