Public Policy

TISED contributes to policy development by publishing white papers and writing briefs on global sustainability issues and on topics related to federal and provincial sustainability policies. Working with others, TISED mobilizes knowledge and finds applications for engineering and design in public policy. We want to share technical knowledge and practice in our work with goverments, industry and other key stakeholders towards the creation of sound policy.

Read more below about how engineers, architects, and urban planners can engage and influence policy through their work.   

How Engineering and Design can shape policy

What is Public Policy?

  • The result of actions that the government will take to respond to a specific problem. Public policy must be in response to issues the government deems important. These can also be reflective of issues that the public deems important as well (Source)
  • It sets out the ‘what and how’ of something that is to be done and may be expressed through laws, regulations, procedures, or expenditures (Source)
  • It is a decision, made by a publicly elected or designated body, which is deemed to be in the public interest. That decision is based on consideration of a range of options and the potential impact of each, including who benefits, who might be impacted negatively, associated costs and financing, and the time required for implementation (Source)
  • Public policy in engineering and design involves engineers, architects, and planners communicating technical issues in a way that is accessible to the public. Since developments in these disciplines have major impacts on public safety, health, the economy and the environment, it is important to communicate frequently and clearly (Source)

Public Policy Process

  1. Issues Framing: The need for policy change often arises from the emergence of an issue or a problem. The first step in the public policy process is to describe this problem in a clear, convincing manner. Stakeholders can have differing views on issues, and the way the issue is defined can have an impact on public perception. If the issue is framed in a compelling manner, this will have a positive impact on whether stakeholders can bring the issue to policy makers’ agendas.
  2. Agenda Setting: This is the process of getting government officials and policy makers engaged with the issue to get the issue onto the formal policy agenda that they will be addressing. With strong issue framing and persuasive evidence, this step brings the problem from the eyes of stakeholders to the eyes of government officials and policy makers.
  3. Policy Formulation: This step involves articulating the proposed actions into language for a law or policy. Since the wording can influence how the policy is perceived and implemented, written policies undergo multiple revisions before being published. In this stage, the goals and outcomes of the policy are clearly outlined alongside the activities and indicators through which the goals can be achieved and the outcomes measured.


Types of Public Policy

There are various types of public policy. The first is legislation. This is the law that is passed that establishes guidelines for members of the society to follow.  An example is the law that states that the drinking age in the USA is 21. The second element is the administrative acts that the governments performs to enforce the legislation. Referencing our earlier example, this stage is checking identification before people can purchase and consume alcohol.  The last element is judicial decisions. This is when the courts make decision that apply the legislation in specific situations.  An example of this is the decision related to drunk driving for people under 21 and increasing or decreasing the punitive measures.

Publications/activities that help shape policy

Some examples of potential actions include educating the public about your issue through the media, sending letters to appropriate authorities explaining the issue and requesting action, submitting a policy brief, presenting the issue at a public forum, and contacting your municipal, provincial, and federal government representatives.

Other examples include:

  • Consultation and engagement of groups and citizens by the government
  • Government initiated referenda
  • Legislative hearings
  • Elections
  • Royal Commissions
  • Town hall meetings
  • Surveys and opinion polls
  • Policy roundtables
  • Petitions, demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns or other advocacy strategies


How can we contribute to sound Public Policy?

We need to develop a detailed understanding of:

  1. The policymaking process  – what are the key influencing factors, and how do they relate to each other?
  2. The nature of the evidence that they have, or hope to get – is it credible, practical and operationally useful?
  3. All the other stakeholders involved in the policy area – who else can help to get the message across?

Public policy can only evolve and mature if we use our skills to have a greater say in local, national and even international governmental affairs.  We can engage with individuals or groups whose participation is required to influence a public policy. We can develop suggestions for actions that will allow our municipalities/province/country to achieve their vision. For instance, urban planners collect information about population, the economy, and the environment. This information allows them to understand whether an area is growing in population or shrinking and whether employers are moving into the city and creating new jobs or moving away. Planners look at whether the supply of houses is likely to be sufficient to meet the needs of residents over the next 20 years, whether the existing transportation system allows people to get to jobs, shopping, school, and recreational activities without safety problems, unacceptable delays, and increasing pollution. Where problems are identified, planners then strategize ways the city government can work with residents, businesses, and other units of government to solve those problems and achieve their vision for the future.

Tips on how to get more involved:

  • Get to know the policymakers, their agendas and their constraints
  • Identify potential supporters and opponents
  • Look out for – and react to – unexpected policy windows
  • Establish credibility over the long term
  • Provide practical solutions to problems
  • Establish legitimacy
  • Build a convincing case and present clear policy options
  • Package new ideas in familiar theory or narratives
  • Communicate effectively
  • Get to know the other stakeholders
  • Establish a presence in existing networks
  • Build coalitions with like-minded stakeholders
  • Build new policy networks
  • Get to know the donors, their priorities and constraints
  • Identify potential supporters, key individuals and networks

Sources: Overseas Development Institute, Australian Government, Design Intelligence