Public policy, like obscenity, is usually defined in practice by Justice Potter Stewart's maxim: “I don't know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.” On a superficial level, most definitions are in basic agreement and differences are primarily semantic. Overcoming the diversity of more specific definitions, the new Policy Studies Organization defines policy as “actual and potential government programs and actions designed to cope with various social problems.” More specifically, Robert Salisbury's definition states: “Public policy consists in authoritative or sanctioned decisions by governmental actors. It refers to the ‘substance’ of what government does and is to be distinguished from the processes by which decisions are made. Policy here means the outcomes or outputs of governmental processes.”
Mark V. Nadel is assistant professor of government at Cornell University. He is the author of The Politics of Consumer Protection.