Fact sheet

How can scientists have greater influence in policy making?

Policy Urban planning Research Science Evidence-based policy

Influencing policy making can be more a matter of influencing outside organisations than influencing the government.

How do we define policy and policy makers? Political scientists have debated this question, which can be quite complicated. Thomas Dye gave the most commonly assumed definition of public policy in 1972 when he said public policy is ‘what governments do, why they do it, and what difference it makes’. Indeed, most people attempting to influence policy do so by focusing their efforts on influencing political and bureaucratic leaders. Many traditional descriptions of policy making rest on the assumption that government makes policy because it reviews options, evidence and political and economic considerations and then produces an output that becomes the laws and rules through which resources, efforts and behaviour are directed.

It’s worth pointing out though that although legally the government of the day has authority for making policy, the reality may be very different. Many political scientists are quick to point out that thinking of the ‘government’ as an ‘actor’ can be dangerous. For them, government is better described as the ‘arena’ in which various interests, institutions and factions interact, negotiate and even do battle with each other to produce a final policy. In this model, different institutions have variable amounts of authority and influence. Official hierarchies rarely reflect the reality of authority in a policy making space.

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