Public policy is what public officials within government, and by extension the citizens they
represent, choose to do or not to do about public problems. Public problems refer to conditions
the public widely perceives to be unacceptable and therefore requiring intervention. Problems
such as environmental degradation, threats to workplace safety, or insufficient access to health
care services can be addressed through government action, private action (where individuals or
corporations take the responsibility), or a combination of the two.
Policy refers to a purposive course of action that an individual or group consistently follows in
dealing with a problem. Policy is a “standing decision characterized by behavioral consistency
and repetitiveness on the part of both those who make it and those who abide by it.” Whether in
the public or private sector, policies can also be thought of as the instruments through which
societies regulate themselves and attempt to channel human behavior in acceptable directions.
Policy outputs – the formal actions that governments take to pursue their goals.
Policy outcomes – the effects of such actions actually have on society.
Policies represent which of many different values are given the highest priority in any given
Politics is “the authoritative allocation of values for a society.”
Government refers to the institutions and political processes through which public policy choices
are made. These institutions and processes represent the legal authority to govern or rule a group
Politics concerns the exercise of power in society or in specific decisions over public policy.
Politics is used to refer to the processes through which public policies are formulated and
adopted, especially to the roles played by elected officials, organized interest groups, and
political parties – politics of policymaking. Politics can also be thought of as how conflicts in
society (such as those over rights to abortion services or immigration restrictions or gay
marriages) are expressed and resolved in favor of one set of interests or social values or another.
Politics in this case refers to the issue positions that different groups of people (gun owners,
environmentalists, health insurance companies, automobile companies) adopt and the actions
they take to promote their values. Politics is about influence and power in society as well as in
the process of policymaking within government. It concerns who participates in and influences
the decisions that governments make and who gains and who loses as a result.
Politics is about
“who gets what, when, and how.”
Public policy is not made in a vacuum. It is affected by social economic conditions, prevailing
political values and the public mood at any given time, the structure of the government, and
national and local cultural norms, among other variables.
Social, economic, political, governing, and cultural contexts of public policy.