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Theories & Theorists for Public Policy & Administration: Public Policy & Administration Theories

Popular Public Policy & Administration Theories

Below you will find a list of commonly used Public Policy & Administration theories, as well as two examples of Walden dissertations utilizing each theory. This is not a comprehensive list of theories, only a small selection. Please consult your faculty if you'd like to utilize a different theory. 

You can search for more information on each theory by following the steps outlined in the following Quick Answer:

Quick Answer: How do I find information on a specific theory?


Narrative Policy Framework: explains how policy narratives, or the stories that policymakers use to explain issues and policy solutions, shape the policy process and outcomes.

Policy Feedback Theory: explains how policies can have long-term effects on political institutions, social structures, and individual behavior; posits that policies can create feedback loops that influence future policy decisions and social outcomes.

Lipsky’s Street Level Bureaucrat Theory: focuses on the role of frontline government workers, or "street-level bureaucrats," in shaping policy outcomes; posits that these frontline workers, who are responsible for implementing policies and interacting with citizens on a daily basis, have significant discretionary power that can influence the success or failure of policy initiatives.

Pfeffer & Salancik’s Resource Dependence Theory: explains how organizations depend on external resources and how this dependence can affect their behavior and decision-making; posits that organizations are dependent on resources such as money, information, and technology to survive and succeed.

Schneider and Ingram's Theory of Social Construction and Policy Design: highlights the importance of understanding how social constructions, power dynamics, and framing influence the policy process and encourages a more nuanced and contextual understanding of policymaking, moving beyond traditional rational-choice models to consider the broader social and cultural influences on policy outcomes.

Advocacy Coalition Framework: emphasizes the role of policy subsystems, coalitions of actors with shared beliefs and interests, and their influence on policy change, and explores how policy actors with different beliefs and preferences interact and compete within the policymaking process.

Public Choice Theory: applies economic principles to the analysis of political decision-making and examines how individuals and groups pursue their self-interest in the political arena, with a focus on the impact on policy outcomes.

Polarities of Democracy: a critical theory perspective of pursuing positive social change by overcoming the forces of institutional oppression and violence (environmental, economic, and militaristic) that threaten the survival of the human species.