Learning Policy, Doing Policy

Learning Policy, Doing Policy

Interactions Between Public Policy Theory, Practice and Teaching

Edited by: Trish Mercer, Russell Ayres, Brian Head, John Wanna orcid

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When it comes to policymaking, public servants have traditionally learned ‘on the job’, with practical experience and tacit knowledge valued over theory-based learning and academic analysis. Yet increasing numbers of public servants are undertaking policy training through postgraduate qualifications and/or through short courses in policy training.

Learning Policy, Doing Policy explores how policy theory is understood by practitioners and how it influences their practice. The book brings together insights from research, teaching and practice on an issue that has so far been understudied. Contributors include Australian and international policy scholars, and current and former practitioners from government agencies. The first part of the book focuses on theorising, teaching and learning about the policymaking process; the second part outlines how current and former practitioners have employed policy process theory in the form of models or frameworks to guide and analyse policymaking in practice; and the final part examines how policy theory insights can assist policy practitioners.

In exploring how policy process theory is developed, taught and taken into policymaking practice, Learning Policy, Doing Policy draws on the expertise of academics and practitioners, and also ‘pracademics’ who often serve as a bridge between the academy and government. It draws on a range of both conceptual and applied examples. Its themes are highly relevant for both individuals and institutions, and reflect trends towards a stronger professional ethos in the Australian Public Service. This book is a timely resource for policy scholars, teaching academics, students and policy practitioners.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Mar 2021
ANU Press
Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG)
Social Sciences: Politics & International Studies, Social Policy & Administration

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Part 1. Theorising, teaching and learning about policymaking

  1. Public policy theory, practice and teaching: Investigating the interactions (PDF, 0.3MB)Trish Mercer, Russell Ayres, Brian Head and John Wanna doi
  2. A quixotic quest? Making theory speak to practice (PDF, 0.3MB)David Threlfall and Catherine Althaus doi
  3. What can policy theory offer busy practitioners? Investigating the Australian experience (PDF, 0.5MB)Trish Mercer doi
  4. Delivering public policy programs to senior executives in government—the Australia and New Zealand School of Government 2002–18 (PDF, 0.2MB)John Wanna doi
  5. How do policy professionals in New Zealand use academic research in their work? (PDF, 0.3MB)Karl Löfgren and Sarah Hendrica Bickerton doi
  6. The dilemmas of managing parliament: Promoting awareness of public management theories to parliamentary administrators (PDF, 0.3MB)Val Barrett doi

Part 2. Putting policymaking theory into practice

  1. Public policy processes in Australia: Reflections from experience (PDF, 0.2MB)Meredith Edwards doi
  2. Using the policy cycle: Practice into theory and back again (PDF, 0.3MB)Russell Ayres doi
  3. Succeeding and failing in crafting environment policy: Can public policy theories help? (PDF, 0.2MB)Kathleen Mackie doi
  4. Understanding the policymaking enterprise: Foucault among the bureaucrats (PDF, 1.0MB)Craig Ritchie doi
  5. The practical realities of policy on the run: A practitioner’s response to academic policy frameworks (PDF, 0.9MB)Louise Gilding doi
  6. Documenting the link between policy theory and practice in a government department: A map of sea without any land (PDF, 0.4MB)Andrew Maurer doi

Part 3. How can theory better inform practice and vice versa?

  1. Taking lessons from policy theory into practice (PDF, 0.2MB)Paul Cairney doi
  2. Synthesising models, theories and frameworks for public policy: Implications for the future (PDF, 0.2MB)Allan McConnell doi
  3. Public policy theory, practice and skills: Advancing the debate (PDF, 0.2MB)John Wanna, Russell Ayres, Brian Head and Trish Mercer doi


‘The emergent relationship between theory and practice in policymaking is a type of ‘Gordian knot’, and cutting the knot is not the solution. Policy practitioners will always need ‘frameworks’ of one kind or another to guide action, but those devices must also valorise agency in a policy world where public servants are instrumental actors contending with hard occupational constraints. The enduring value of this book – for researchers, teachers and practitioners of policy – is that it illuminates these ambiguities by expertly collating, and sympathetically curating, equally valuable insider and outsider perspectives.’

–Michael Di Francesco, Economic Record, September 2021.

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