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Encyclopedia > Policy
Look up policy in
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For policies regarding Wikipedia, see Wikipedia:List of policies or Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines.

A policy is a deliberate plan of action to guide decisions and achieve rational outcome(s). The term may apply to government, private sector organizations and groups, and individuals. presidential executive orders, corporate privacy policies, and parliamentary rules of order are all examples of policy. Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Wiktionary (a portmanteau of wiki and dictionary) is a multilingual, Web-based project to create a free content dictionary, available in over 150 languages. ... Policy-based design is a programming technique summarized as a compile-time equivalent of the Strategy pattern. ... The presidential seal was used by Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 and last modified in 1959 by adding the 50th star for Hawaii. ... A privacy policy is a disclaimer placed on a website informing users about how the website deals with a users personal information. ... Rules of order, also known as standing orders or rules of procedure, are the written rules of parliamentary procedure adopted by a deliberative assembly, which detail the processes used by the body to make decisions. ...

Policy may also refer to the process of making important organizational decisions, including the identification of different alternatives such as programs or spending priorities, and choosing among them on the basis of the impact they will have. Policies can be understood as political, management, financial, and administrative mechanisms arranged to reach explicit goals.


Definitions of policy

Definitions of policy and research done into the area of policy is frequently performed from the perspective of policies created by national governments, or public policy. Several definitions and key characteristics of policy have been identified within the framework of government policy. While many of these are broadly applicable to other organizations such as private companies or non-profit organizations, the government-focused origin of this work should be kept in mind.

According to William Jenkins in Policy Analysis: A Political and Organizational Perspective (1978), a policy is ‘a set of interrelated decisions taken by a political actor or group of actors concerning the selection of goals and the means of achieving them within a specified situation where those decisions should, in principle, be within the power of those actors to achieve’. Thus, Jenkins understands policy making to be a process, and not simply a choice.

According to Thomas Birkland in An Introduction to the Policy Process (2001), there is a lack of a consensus on the definition of policy. Birkland outlines a few definitions of policy (Table 1.3 on p. 21):

  • Clarke E. Cochran, et al.: "The term public policy always refers to the actions of government and the intentions that determine those actions".
  • Clarke E. Cochran, et al.: "Public policy is the outcome of the struggle in government over who gets what".
  • Thomas Dye: Public policy is "Whatever governments choose to do or not do".
  • Charles L. Cochran and Eloise F. Malone: "Public policy consists of political decisions for implementing programs to achieve societal goals".
  • B. Guy Peters: "Stated most simply, public policy is the sum of government activities, whether acting directly or through agents, as it has an influence on the life of citizens".

On the history of policy, Birkland wrote this:

While the study of politics has a long history, the systematic study of public policy, on the other hand, can be said to be a twentieth century creation. It dates, according to Daniel McCool, to 1922, when political scientist Charles Merriam sought to connect the theory and practices of politics to understanding the actual activities of government, that is public policy." (p.4) (see McCool, Daniel C. Public Policy Theories, Models, and Concepts: An Anthology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1995.)

Impact of policy

Intended Effects

The goals of policy may vary widely according to the organization and the context in which they are made. Broadly, policies are typically instituted in order to avoid some negative effect that has been noticed in the organization, or to seek some positive benefit.

Corporate purchasing policies provide an example of how organizations attempt to avoid negative effects. Many large companies have policies that all purchases above a certain value must be performed through a purchasing process. By requiring this standard purchasing process through policy, the organization can limit waste and standardize the way purchasing is done.

The State of California provides an example of benefit-seeking policy. In recent years, the numbers of hybrid vehicles in California has increased dramatically, in part because of policy changes that provide USD $1,500 in tax credits as well as the use of high-occupancy vehicle lanes to hybrid owners. In this case, the organization (state and/or federal government) created a positive effect (increased ownership and use of hybrid cars) through policy (tax breaks, benefits). Official language(s) English Capital Sacramento Largest city Los Angeles Area  Ranked 3rd  - Total 158,302 sq mi (410,000 km²)  - Width 250 miles (400 km)  - Length 770 miles (1,240 km)  - % water 4. ... A permanent, separated high-occupancy vehicle lane on I-91 in Connecticut A high occupancy vehicle (or HOV) is any vehicle with a driver and one or more (or sometimes two or more, or three or more) passengers. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Hybrid vehicle. ...

Unintended Effects

Policies frequently have side effects or unintended consequences. Because the environments that policies seek to influence or manipulate are typically complex adaptive systems (e.g. governments, societies, large companies), making a policy change can have counterintuitive results. For example, a government may make a policy decision to raise taxes, in hopes of increasing overall tax revenue. Depending on the size of the tax increase, this may have the overall effect of reducing tax revenue by causing capital flight or by creating a rate so high, citizens are disincentivized to earn the money that is taxed. (See the Laffer curve) For the Law of unintended consequences, see Unintended consequence Unintended Consequences by John Ross, 1996 Unintended Consequences is a novel by author John Ross, first published in 1996 by Accurate Press. ... Complex adaptive systems, are a special case of complex systems. ... Seen in Asian markets in the 1990s capital flight is when assets and/or money rapidly flow out of a country. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ...

The policy formulation process typically includes an attempt to assess as many areas of potential policy impact as possible, to lessen the chances that a given policy will have unexpected or unintended consequences. Because of the nature of some complex adaptive systems such as societies and governments, it may not be possible to assess all possible impacts of a given policy.

Policy cycle

In political science the policy cycle is a tool used for the analysing of the development of a policy item. It can also be referred to as a "stagist approach". One standardised version includes the following stages: The Politics series Politics Portal This box:      Political Science is the field concerning the theory and practice of politics and the description and analysis of political systems and political behaviour. ...

  1. Problem identification
  2. Agenda setting
  3. Policy formation
  4. Decision-making
  5. Policy implementation
  6. Policy analysis and evaluation (continue or terminate)

An eight step policy cycle is developed in detail in The Australian Policy Handbook by Peter Bridgman and Glyn Davis: Look up Agenda in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Look up Implementation in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Glyn Davis (born 1959) is an Australian academic who is currently the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. ...

  1. Issue identification
  2. Policy analysis
  3. Policy instrument development
  4. Consultation (which permeates the entire process)
  5. Coordination
  6. Decision
  7. Implementation
  8. Evaluation

The Bridgman & Davis model is heuristic and iterative. Look up Implementation in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Evaluation is the systematic determination of merit, worth, and significance of something or someone. ... Look up Heuristic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Iteration is the repetition of a process, typically within a computer program. ...

Policy content

Policies are typically promulgated through official written documents. Such documents have standard formats that are particular to the organization issuing the policy. While such formats differ in terms of their form, policy documents usually contain certain standard components including: Promulgation is the act of formally proclaiming new legislation to the public. ...

 Purpose Statement 
  • A purpose statement, outlining why the organization is issuing the policy, and what its desired effect is.
  • A applicability and scope statement, describing who the policy affects and which actions are impacted by the policy. The applicability and scope may expressly exclude certain people, organizations, or actions from the policy requirements
  • An effective date which indicates when the policy comes into force. Retroactive policies are rare, but can be found.
  • A responsibilities section, indicating which parties and organizations are responsible for carrying out individual policy statements. These responsibilities may include identification of oversight and/or governance structures.
  • Policy statements indicating the specific regulations, requirements, or modifications to organizational behavior that the policy is creating.

Some policies may contain additional sections, including An ex post facto law (from the Latin for from something done afterward) or retroactive law, is a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences of acts committed or the legal status of facts and relationships that existed prior to the enactment of the law. ... Look up oversight in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

  • Background indicating the reasons and history that led to the creation of the policy, which may be listed as motivating factors
  • Definitions, providing clear and unambiguous definitions for terms and concepts found in the policy document.

Policy typology

Policy addresses the intent of the organization, whether government, business, professional, or voluntary. Policy is intended to affect the ‘real’ world, by guiding the decisions that are made. Whether they are formally written or not, most organizations have identified policies. Intent in law is the planning and desire to perform an act. ...

Policies may be classified in many different ways. The following is a sample of several different types of policies broken down by their effect on members of the organization.

Distributive policies

Distributive policies extend goods and services to members of an organization, as well as distributing the costs of the goods/services amongst the members of the organization. Examples include government policies that impact spending for welfare, public education, highways, and public safety, or a professional organization's policy on membership training. Welfare is financial assistance paid by taxpayers to groups of people who are unable to support themselves, and determined to be able to function more effectively with financial assistance. ... // Public education is education mandated for the children of the general public by the government, whether national, regional, or local, provided by an institution of civil government, and paid for, in whole or in part, by taxes. ... A highway is a major road within a city, or linking several cities together. ...

Regulatory policies

Regulatory policies, or mandates, limit the discretion of individuals and agencies, or otherwise compel certain types of behavior. These policies are generally thought to be best applied in situations where good behavior can be easily defined and bad behavior can be easily regulated and punished through fines or sanctions. An example of a fairly successful public regulatory policy is that of a speed limit.

Constituent policies

Constituent policies create executive power entities, or deal with laws.

Miscellaneous policies

Policies are dynamic; they are not just static lists of goals or laws. Policy blueprints have to be implemented, often with unexpected results. Social policies are what happens ‘on the ground’ when they are implemented, as well as what happens at the decision making or legislative stage.

When the term policy is used, it may also refer to:

  • Official government policy (legislation or guidelines that govern how laws should be put into operation)
  • Broad ideas and goals in political manifestos and pamphlets
  • A company or organization’s policy on a particular topic. For example, the equal opportunity policy of a company shows that the company aims to treat all its staff equally.

There is often a gulf between stated policy (i.e. which actions the organization intends to take) and the actions the organization actually takes. This difference is sometimes caused by political compromise over policy, while in other situations it is caused by lack of policy implementation and enforcement. Implementing policy may have unexpected results, stemming from a policy whose reach extends further than the problem it was originally crafted to address. Additionally, unpredictable results may arise from selective or idiosyncratic enforcement of policy.

Types of policy include:

  • Causal (resp. non-causal)
  • Deterministic (resp. stochastic, randomized and sometimes non-deterministic)
  • Index
  • Memoryless (e.g. non-stationary)
  • Opportunistic (resp. non-opportunistic)
  • Stationary (resp. non-stationary)

These qualifiers can be combined, so for example you could have a stationary-memoryless-index policy.

Types of policy

In government, domestic policy is the counterpart of foreign policy; it consists of all government policy decisions, programs, and actions that primarily deal with internal matters, as opposed to relations with other nation-states. ... Education policy refers to the collection of rules, both stated and implicit, or the regularities in practice that govern the behavior of persons in schools. ... Economic policy refers to the actions that governments take in the economic field. ... Energy policy is the manner a given entity (often governmental) has decided to address issues of energy development including energy production, distribution and consumption. ... Environmental policy refers to the laws, regulations, and other policy mechanisms concerning environmental issues and sustainability. ... A countrys foreign policy is a set of political goals that seeks to outline how that particular country will interact with other countries of the world and, to a lesser extent, non-state actors. ... This article is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... This article is considered orphaned, since there are very few or no other articles that link to this one. ... Macroeconomics is a branch of economics that deals with the performance, structure, and behavior of the economy as a whole (Snowden and Vane 2002). ... Tax rates around the world Tax revenue as % of GDP Economic policy Monetary policy Central bank   Money supply Fiscal policy Spending   Deficit   Debt Trade policy Tariff   Trade agreement Finance Financial market Financial market participants Corporate   Personal Public   Banking   Regulation        Monetary policy is the process by which the government, central bank... Public policy or ordre public is the body of fundamental principles that underpin the operation of legal systems in each state. ... Social policy is the study of the welfare state, and the range of responses to social need. ... Urban planning is concerned with the ordering and design of settlements, from the smallest towns to the worlds largest cities. ...

Other uses of the term policy

  • In enterprise architecture for systems design, policy appliances are technical control and logging mechanisms to enforce or reconcile policy (systems use) rules and to ensure accountability in information systems.
  • In insurance, policies are contracts between insurer and insured used to indemnify (protect) against potential loss from specified perils. While these documents are referred to as policies, they are in actuality a form of contract - see insurance contract.
  • In gambling, policy is a form of an unsanctioned lottery, where players purport to purchase insurance against a chosen number being picked by a legitimate lottery. Or can refer to an ordinary Numbers game
  • In artificial intelligence planning and reinforcement learning, a policy prescribes a non-empty deliberation (sequence of actions) given a non-empty sequence of states.

Enterprise Architecture is the practice of applying a comprehensive and rigorous method for describing a current and/or future structure and behavior for an organizations processes, information systems, personnel and organizational sub-units, so that they align with the organizations core goals and strategic direction. ... Policy appliances are technical control and logging mechanisms to enforce or reconcile policy rules (informaton use rules) and to ensure accountability in information systems. ... Information System (example) Information System (IS) is the system of persons, data records and activities that process the data and information in a given organization, including manual processes or automated processes. ... Insurance, in law and economics, is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent loss. ... Look up Indemnity in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A contract is a legally binding exchange of promises or agreement between parties that the law will enforce. ... An Insurance contract determines the legal framework under which the features of an insurance policy are enforced. ... Caravaggio, The Cardsharps, c. ... Insurance, in law and economics, is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent loss. ... A lottery is a popular form of gambling which involves the drawing of lots for a prize. ... The numbers game, or policy racket, is an illegal lottery played mostly in poor neighborhoods in U.S. cities, wherein the bettor attempts to pick three or four digits to match those that will be randomly drawn the following day. ... Garry Kasparov playing against Deep Blue, the first machine to win a chess game against a reigning world champion. ...

See also

This article is about the institution. ... Policy analysis is the systematic evaluation of alternative means of achieving social goals. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... In 1978, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developments (HUDs) Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) established HUD USER, an information source for housing and community development researchers, academics, policymakers, and the American public. ... The Politics series Politics Portal This box:      Political Science is the field concerning the theory and practice of politics and the description and analysis of political systems and political behaviour. ... Program evaluation is essentially a set of philosophies and techniques to determine if a program works. It is a practice field that has emerged, particularly in the USA, as a disciplined way of assessing the merit, value, and worth of projects and programs. ... The Politics series Politics Portal This box:      Public administration can be broadly described as the study and implementation of policy. ... Public health is concerned with threats to the overall health of a community based on population health analysis. ... Public policy schools teach students policy analysis, public policy, public administration, and public affairs. ... Public services is a term usually used to mean services provided by government to its citizens, either directly (through the public sector) or by financing private provision of services. ... The Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse (RBC) collects, processes, assembles, and disseminates information on existing barriers that inhibit the production and conservation of affordable housing. ... John Lockes writings on the Social Contract were particularly influential among the American Founding Fathers. ... ... Professional social workers are concerned with social problems, their causes, their solutions and their human impacts. ...


  • Blakemore, Ken (1998) Social Policy: an Introduction
  • Bridgman, Peter & Davis, Glyn (2004) The Australian Policy Handbook (3rd ed) Sydney: Allen & Unwin
  • Müller, Pierre, Surel Yves, (1998) L'analyse des politiques publiques. Paris.
  • Theodore J. Lowi (1964), American Business, Public Policy, Case-Studies, and Political Theory, World Politics 16: 687-713.
  • Laure Paquette, Analyzing National and International Policy, Rowman Littlefield, 2002.
  • Theodore J. Lowi (1968), Four Systems of Policy, Politics, and Choice, Public Administration Review 33: 298-310.
  • Theodore J. Lowi (1985), The State in Politics, in Roger Noll (a cura di), Regulatory Policy and the social Sciences, Berkeley, UCP, pp. 67-110
  • Robert Spitzer, Promoting Policy Theory: Revising the Arenas of Power, Policy Studies Journal 15 (June 1987): 675-689.
  • Aynsley Kellow, Promoting Elegance in Policy Theory: Simplifying Lowi’s Arenas of Power, Policy Studies Journal 16 (Summer 1988): 713-724.
  • Douglas D. Heckathorn; Steven M. Maser (1990), The Contractual Architecture of Public Policy: A Critical Reconstruction of Lowi's Typology, The Journal of Politics, Vol. 52, No. 4. , pp. 1101-1123.
  • Smith K. B. (2002), Typologies, Taxonomies, and the Benefits of Policy Classification , Policy Studies Journal, vol. 30, pp. 379-395-
  • George D. Greenberg et al, Developing Public Policy Theory: Perspectives from Empirical Research, American Political Science Review 71 (December 1977): 1532-1543.
  • Thomas R. Dye (1976) Policy Analysis University of Alabama Press.

External links

Policy studies



Policy analysis and organizations






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