Political scientists who are policy scholars often trace their lineage back to the pioneering work of Lerner and Lasswell (1951). But public policy did not emerge as a significant subfield within the discipline of political science until the late 1960s or early 70s. This resulted from at least three important stimuli: (1) social and political pressures to apply the profession's accumulated knowledge to the pressing social problems of racial discrimination, poverty, the arms race, and environmental pollution; (2) the challenge posed by Dawson and Robinson (1963), who argued that governmental policy decisions were less the result of traditional disciplinary concerns such as public opinion and party composition than of socioeconomic factors such as income, education, and unemployment levels; and (3) the efforts of David Easton, whose Systems Analysis of Political Life (1965) provided an intellectual framework for understanding the entire policy process, from demand articulation through policy formulation and implementation, to feedback effects on society.
Over the past twenty years, policy research by political scientists can be divided into four types, depending upon the principal focus:
1. Substantive area research. This seeks to understand the politics of a specific policy area, such as health, education, transportation, natural resources, or foreign policy. Most of the work in this tradition has consisted of detailed, largely atheoretical, case studies. Examples would include the work of Derthick (1979) on social security, Moynihan (1970) on antipoverty programs, and Bailey and Mosher (1968) on federal aid to education. Such studies are useful to practitioners and policy activists in these areas, as well as providing potentially useful information for inductive theory building. In terms of the profession as a whole, however, they are probably less useful than theoretical case studies—such as Pressman and Wildavsky (1973) on implementation or Nelson (1984) on agenda-setting—which use a specific case to illustrate or test theories of important aspects of the policy process.
2. Evaluation and impact studies. Most evaluation research is based on contributions from other disciplines, particularly welfare economics (Stokey and Zeckhauser 1978; Jenkins-Smith 1990). Policy scholars trained as political scientists have made several contributions. They have broadened the criteria of evaluation from traditional social welfare functions to include process criteria, such as opportunities for effective citizen participation (Pierce and Doerksen, 1976). They have focused attention on distributional effects (MacRae, 1989). They have criticized traditional techniques of benefit-cost analysis on many grounds (Meier, 1984; MacRae and Whittington, 1988). Most importantly, they have integrated evaluation studies into research on the policy process by examining the use and non-use of policy analysis in the real world (Wildavsky, 1966; Dunn, 1980; Weiss, 1977).
3. Policy process. Two decades ago, both Ranney (1968) and Sharkansky (1970) urged political scientists interested in public policy to focus on the policy process, i.e. the factors affecting policy formulation and implementation, as well as the subsequent effects of policy. In their view, focusing on substantive policy areas risked falling into the relatively fruitless realm of atheoretical case studies, while evaluation research offered little promise for a discipline without clear normative standards of good policy. A focus on the policy process would provide opportunities for applying and integrating the discipline's accumulated knowledge concerning political behavior in various institutional settings. That advice was remarkably prescient; the first paper in this symposium attempts to summarize what has been learned.
Policy design. With roots in the policy sciences tradition described by deLeon (1988), this approach has recently focused on such topics as the efficacy of different types of policy instruments (Salamon 1989; Linder and Peters 1989). Although some scholars within this orientation propose a quite radical departure from the behavioral traditions of the discipline (Bobrow and Dryzek 1987), others build upon work by policy-oriented political scientists over the past twenty years (Schneider and Ingram 1990) while Miller (1989) seeks to integrate political philosophy and the behavioral sciences.