Pal’s Glossary of Conceptualizing Interests in Policymaking

… a core concept used in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101

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Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below, link to right) provides a glossary of the scholarly conceptions of interests in policymaking.

Pal writes (p. 227):

“What kind of conceptual lens can we use to understand the more complicated range of players and institutions involved in making policy, and how those players and institutions might change depending on circumstances and the policy issue at hand? In recent years the policy literature has placed great emphasis on policy communities and policy networks, two concepts that try to capture the degree to which any policy field or sector is populated by a host of government agencies, interest groups, associations, social movements, and other stakeholders, both domestically and globally. It has been argued that the nature of these policy communities and networks is crucial both to policy development and to implementation, especially in a globalized world. On the development side, governments need information that nongovernmental actors possess. On the implementation side, the more coherent the interests and organizations in a sector, the easier it is to implement a decision through partnerships, or the harder it is if stakeholders resist and oppose. In both cases, global public policy networks are becoming increasingly important.”

The conceptual lenses in Pal’s glossary are:

  • advocacy coalition – a wide range of actors, including government from all levels, officials, interest organizations, research groups, journalists, and even other countries, who share a belief system about a policy area and over time demonstrate some degree of coordinated activities
  • discourse coalition – a range of policy actors united by broad ideas about the policy field; ideas that include assumptions, images, rhetoric, and linguistic turns
  • epistemic community –  originally developed in the field of international relations, this concept tries to capture the influence of international groups of scientific experts on policymaking; for example, in the environmental field
  • global public policy network – quasi-official constellations of state actors, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations that do more than advocate, but develop and sometimes even implement policies and assist in global coordination
  • iron triangle – the stable and cozy relationships among congressional committees, executive agencies (primarily regulatory), and economic interest groups
  • issue network – offered as a critique of the “iron triangle” concept in that most policy subsystems were quite fluid and changing, with actors coalescing as necessary around issues, not policy sectors
  • policy community – the actors in a policy network, presumably those who share at least some common language and conceptual reference points but who may be opponents on the issue
  • policy network – a subset of actors in the policy community who have a consistently higher level of interest in the policy issue, and interact regularly
  • public interest groups – interest groups whose emphasis is on advocacy for “causes” and the public interest rather than economic lobbying social movement organizations
  • subgovernment – a generic concept that expresses the idea that policy does not get made in a single “system” but in subsystems that consist of microcosms of all the relevant political and institutional actors
Atlas topic, subject, and course

Interests and the Policy Process (core topic) in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101.


Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, pages 229-31 and 259-60, Nelson Education, Toronto. See Beyond Policy Analysis – Book Highlights.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 27 March 2017.

Image: Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, amalgamated from images on pages 229, 230, and 231, Nelson Education, Toronto.