How to influence public policy

Understanding how to assess policy effectiveness will help you make the right decisions for communities.
Understanding how to assess policy effectiveness will help you make the right decisions for communities.

Public policy is embedded in almost every aspect of our lives, from our everyday commute to decisions that affect national security. Public policy sets the parameters of the world we live in and affects the decisions we all make as individuals and communities. 

Being part of the process that creates or changes public policy allows you to bring about real, effective changes in areas that genuinely matter. 

Learning how to influence public policy is key to being able to help mould the decisions that can lead to those changes. Before you can influence public policy, however, you first have to understand the moving parts of the process and how to guide successful solutions.

The intricacies of developing public policy

It’s easy to think that public policy only involves government representatives making decisions about the way we live.

But, as Professor Brenton Prosser, Director of the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling who regularly teaches policy to experienced public sector leaders and officers, says, it’s more complicated than that.

‘Many stakeholders play a part in guiding government decisions through the complex system in which policy is delivered,’ Professor Prosser explains.

Developing public policy also has many layers beyond a minister‘s final decision. Various departments and directorates support the process by collecting evidence and information. 

Then, when delivering a policy, multiple stakeholders come into play. This includes the state and local governments, who decide how to implement the decisions, right down to the street-level bureaucrats who are practitioners that deliver the policy. 

Understanding these layers and breaking them down to see how the policy will affect each stakeholder is an important part of being an effective policy practitioner. And knowing how to identify the important stakeholders in these situations allows you to build influential relationships. 

The ‘how and why’ of public policy development

When you’re developing public policy, analysing its potential results will help you make sure it works as intended for the stakeholders and community. 

Effective analysis starts with ensuring the policy adheres to its original ‘why’. Why is the policy being developed and what issue will it address? Always check that people are using the right tools to reach the desired outcome and stay open to other suggestions and approaches. 

A woman in corporate attire thinking about the appropriate types of policy analysis

Having multiple opportunities for feedback and review helps policy developers to make better decisions. It also gives the various stakeholders a chance to offer influential input. However, good policy needs more than just consultation, it includes stakeholders in design.

Stakeholders from outside government often see things from a different perspective than those within it. This allows them to bring in novel ideas that hadn’t been considered before, thus helping to influence the way the public policy moves forward. It can improve equity and success, as well as reduce unintended consequences. 

Continuous evaluation

Once a public policy has been finalised and delivered, the process doesn’t stop there.

Determining how to best assess the effectiveness of policy is possibly one of the most important factors  in the cycle of developing public policy. 

Professor Prosser explains that policy evaluation needs to happen throughout the cycle. Evaluating policy impact at each stage allows decisions to be reassessed and modified as necessary.

‘You need to collect information and evidence at every stage for that information to remain valid. Asking someone about their service experience a year later won’t yield the quality feedback needed to evaluate that service’s impact,’ Professor Prosser says.

Using constant evaluation instead of waiting for a result can improve public policy programs throughout the life of their delivery, resulting in better outcomes. However, while the policy cycle approach can be useful, it is only one of many important tools used in the formulation of public policies. 

Additionally, assessing the impact on different stakeholders throughout the process helps identify any emerging consequences you might have otherwise missed. Instead of having people and communities miss out on vital support, you can suggest adjustments to ensure the policy achieves its intention. 

The need for different types of policy analysis

Policy analysis helps to evaluate whether policies are reaching their intended goal. 

But there’s no one right way to assess policy effectiveness and impacts. ‘You need to pick the right way for your policy's situation,’ explains Professor Prosser.  

Evaluating a government-driven policy will differ from one that relies on a more complex stakeholder network. As a policy-maker, you need to become adept with both approaches.

‘The most important thing students will learn is to build a toolkit of resources,’ Professor Prosser says. ‘This enables them to make smart decisions about how to evaluate a policy, given the context, situation and nature of a particular challenge.’

Our Master of Public Policy degree incorporates a wide range of units, including ‘Evidence-Based Policy Analysis’ and ‘Policy Analysis and Evaluation’, which will help you answer questions like:

  • ‘What is a policy evaluation?’
  • ‘Which evaluation method should I use?’ 
  • ‘How should I assess its effectiveness?’

These units will give you a solid understanding of the strengths of the various policy cycle approaches. It's not just about choosing the right public policy; it’s about making sure you’re using the right evaluation approach for each situation.

A woman and a man climbing down the steps talking about ways of developing public policy

Bringing policy design and evaluation together

Knowing how policies are created and understanding how to evaluate those policies are key topics within a Master of Public Policy degree. Bringing that knowledge together will help you influence how policies are developed and give you the right stepping stones to build your career.

Understanding how policy interplays with state and federal governments, for example, will enable you to influence policy development in the areas that interest you most. You can do this as a policy advocate and in leadership positions within these areas. 

Knowing the process also means understanding when and where you can have the biggest impact. That’s because:

  • you can target your research to the areas your evaluation has identified as most needing improvement
  • once you know who your research applies to, you can present it to those stakeholders and end-users in an accessible way 
  • connecting with policy-makers means you can provide them with what they need to move the policy forward 
  • seeing the political landscape from a wider perspective keeps your eyes open for potential changes in priority.

Of course, being a part of the process doesn’t always imply becoming a government official responsible for public policy. You can also influence public policy through your work in the non-government, health, social and intelligence sectors.

Choosing to study public policy broadens your career pathway across many industries - whether it be implementing the policy directly or as a business owner wanting to change the policy in your favour. 

A Master of Public Policy with the University of Canberra will help you influence policies to bring about the change you want to see. Beyond this, it will provide you with the skills needed to move those policies - and your career - forward.

Set yourself up for success

Embarking on a Master of Public Policy degree with us is about equipping yourself with information on the constantly evolving policy process. You’ll learn from industry experts about how policy works, what policy evaluation is and how to use it effectively to bring about the right changes.  

And what you learn may help to improve your own participation with policy in everyday life too. 

‘Learn it today, use it tomorrow,’ concludes Professor Prosser.

Use your influence to make the right changes

Being able to influence public policy means being able to make changes – whether those changes affect society as a whole or simply improve life in your local community. 

If you’re ready to start learning how to influence public policy with a Master of Public Policy, our Student Enrolment Advisers are ready to help. You can:

(We recommend first downloading our document checklist to make sure you have all the documents you need to support your application.)