Policy Community

… a core concept used in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107

Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below, p. 260) defines policy community as “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.”

Pal builds on the work of Paul Pross (reference below), stating (p. 235-236):

“Paul Pross (1995) offered an early definition as well as a diagrammatic portrait of policy communities. Policy communities are “groupings of government agencies, pressure groups, media people, and individuals, including academics, who, for various reasons, have an interest in a particular policy field and attempt to influence it” (p. 265). Figure 6.1 displays what Pross called his “bubble diagram” of policy communities. Note that it divides the policy community in any given policy field into the “subgovernment” and the attentive public. Decisionmaking takes place in the subgovernment, which is dominated by large institutions, groups, and core government agencies. Players in the subgovernment, Pross argued, work to limit participation from outsiders. The attentive public are the outsiders whose main influence on the process is to generate ideas and discussion through conferences, publications, and occasional lobbying. In Pross’s view, the policy community is actually an insulating device to keep a grip on the process; indeed, he argued that most of the inside players in a policy community try to keep debate within the realm of the technical and routine.

Figure 6.1 shows a policy community in which the federal government is dominant, but the basic structure of core agencies in the subgovernment surrounded by other groups and agencies is generic.

There are several limitations to this way of thinking about policy communities. For one thing, it is largely static (though Pross was careful to argue that, in fact, policy communities are constantly in flux). For another, it does not travel well across policy fields. Some areas are dominated by government agencies and largely insulated from outside pressures – fiscal policy comes to mind. But many others are increasingly open to pressures from the attentive public, and that public is not prepared to be polite and keep policymaking at the level of routine. In social and educational policy, for example, fundamental assumptions about the role of governments and funding levels and service delivery are constantly being posed. Another problem is that in this model, foreign governments and foreign pressure groups are relegated to the margins. This metaphor is increasingly obsolete in a globalized world. Finally, the model does not capture varying relations among the actors. The bubbles are large or small, but the figure as a whole gives no idea of the connections (or lack thereof) among the players.

Some of these limitations have been addressed in more refined models of policy networks (to which Pross’s work is an important contribution).

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Implementing through Partners and Networks (core topic) in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107.


Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, Nelson Education, Toronto. See Beyond Policy Analysis – Book Highlights.

Pross, A. P. (1995). Pressure groups: Talking chameleons. In M. S. Whittington & G. Williams (Eds.), Canadian politics in the 1990s, (pp. 252-275). Toronto, ON: Nelson Canada.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 6 April 2017.

Image: Inovo, Embrace Uncertainty, at http://www.theinovogroup.com/summer-2015/, accessed 6 April 2017.