We hear a lot of people talk about public policy, whether it’s in conversations surrounding politics, climate change, health, or other topics. However, have you ever really stopped and asked what is it and why it matters?


Even if you don’t consider yourself politically involved, public policy isn’t something that should be overlooked or dismissed. In fact, public policy plays a big role in your own day-to-day life.


So, just what is public policy? Keep reading to learn more about what it is and why it’s so important.


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Public Policy Defined


Before we get into more details about explaining public policy and how it works, it’s important that we define it to have a clear understanding.


Essentially, public policy is a set of laws, guidelines, and actions decided and taken by governments in order to work in favor of the public. Public policy can dictate things such as: which laws are passed, where funding goes, and which topics concern the general public.


That being said, public policy isn’t simply fulfilling campaign promises. Often, policies are debated and negotiated between parties with different interests, and can also involve parties that aren’t in the government themselves, such as experts in fields like science, health, or the climate. In general, public policies are shaped over a number of years and there are several institutions that will contribute to the formation and details of a specific policy.


Public policy is there to influence how other important decisions are made, and it’s usually formed as a response to a specific issue that is of interest to the public. Public policy is supposed to offer some sort of solution to a problem.


For example, legalizing same-sex marriage is meant to respond to the issue that all members of a society should be treated equally, so implementing this policy does good for the public overall.


What is Public Health Policy?


Recently, in the news, there has been a lot of talk about public health policy due to the ongoing pandemic. Many news outlets and politicians have been discussing existing public health policies and what new policies should be implemented to help the public stay safe.


Public health policy deals with the different laws and guidelines that are in place and are meant to keep a population healthy. Aside from having access to health services, good healthcare comes from public programs and policies that are put in place to protect the public and improve a population’s overall health. Public policies can be created on different levels, such as for communities, for states, and even nationwide.


Some examples of public policy include informing the public about making healthy choices, such as what they eat, physical activity, and consequences about smoking. Policies can also work to prevent the spread of diseases, like the mask mandates and other public policies we’ve seen during the COVID-19 outbreak.


Why is Public Policy Important?


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Public policy plays a crucial role in forming the guidelines and principles of a society, so they’re a necessary part of governing and politics.


Since public policy is formed as a collective effort between governments, institutions, and even regular citizens, it’s an important and effective way to have your voice heard. Since politicians and parties change every few years, so do the positions and views held by the majority or by those in office. Of course, politicians can be voted out and removed from power, but the public policies they uphold are more difficult to remove.


This can be for better or for worse, but public policies can outlast governments and politicians long after they’re out of power, so it’s important to use your vote carefully so that you support people who want to influence the policies that matter to you most.


Examples of Public Policy


There are many different types of public policy, so a good way to get a better understanding of this topic as a whole is to look at a few different examples of them.

Here are just a few examples of public policy that affect many people’s day-to-day lives:




When state or national governments set restrictions on abortion or acceptance of it, this is based on public policy. For laws that govern abortion, the public policy could dictate that life begins at conception, or on the other hand, that women should be autonomous over their bodies. The governing policy will influence the outcome of abortion laws.


Gun Rights


Gun rights are also influenced by public policy. When there are strict gun laws in effect, it’s based on public policy that indicates that keeping guns away from criminals, children, or mentally ill citizens is more important than the right to bear arms. By contrast, those states with more relaxed gun laws have public policies that place the right to bear arms as more important than other laws and that owning guns doesn’t effectively stop or prevent violence.




Progressive tax systems are also based on public policy. For example, when it’s mandated that those who earn more should pay a higher rate of taxes compared to those who earn less, this is based on public policies.




Laws such as the one that protects workers as well as things like the minimum wage rate or the number of hours an employee can work is all based on public policy. Public policies are crafted in order to ensure that workers aren’t exploited by their employers and to protect their rights.


The Bottom Line


By now, you should be able to confidently answer the question of what is public policy.


Hopefully, you’ve gained a better understanding of the different types of policies that govern us and why they’re important to the functioning of society.


Access to higher education isn’t a public policy adopted in most of the world, but at University of the People (UoPeople), we believe that it should be. It is part of our core values and our mission to provide as many people as possible with higher education by offering remote and tuition-free degrees from our US-accredited online university.