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Systemic change that makes a difference in people’s lives often begins at the policy level. Policies dictate all manner of public life, from the healthcare we receive to environmental protection regulations.

If you have strong convictions to assess social issues and implement effective policies, you might find yourself choosing between a master of public administration (MPA) and a master of public policy (MPP). But what is public administration, and how does it differ from public policy? The latter creates solutions to social problems, and the former brings those solutions to fruition.

Keep reading to gain a better understanding of public policy vs. public administration and which area of study best aligns with your career goals.

Public Policy vs. Public Administration

Public policy and public administration work in tandem to enact social change. People who work as analysts, researchers or administrators aim to better their communities, and therefore the world, by crafting policy and influencing public affairs. Government organizations, nonprofits and certain for-profit businesses employ both MPA and MPP graduates.

What is Public Policy?

Public policy informs how a government or nonprofit organization engages and responds to different social issues. A considerable amount of research, analysis and advocacy goes into creating policies that can either become enacted or fall by the wayside, depending on a governing body’s decision.

Professions in public policy vary in focus and scope. Community-centric public policy professionals, such as community advocates, engage with local populations to create supportive programs and learn about pressing social issues that can inform public policy. Policy analysts and researchers gather qualitative and quantitative data to evaluate existing policies and create new ones to better meet societal needs.

You do not need to work in government to impact public policy. Public policy experts who influence which laws come to pass can work for a variety of organizations, including small nonprofits, think tanks and large corporations.

What is Public Administration?

Public administrators implement policies. A simplified way to look at the difference between public policy and public administration is creating versus managing. Public administration professionals identify the most efficient methods to help government organizations, businesses and nonprofits achieve policy directives. Public administrators must be adept at planning, organizing and overseeing change.

As a public administrator, you may work within the government. This work could entail running a new program in response to a policy change, becoming chief of staff to a congressperson or any number of other roles. You might also work at a corporation as a government relations manager to ensure the corporation complies with policy standards, such as minimum wage or environmental regulations.

Other professions within the realm of public administration can include nonprofit management, community management and urban planning.

What is a Public Policy Degree?

An MPP program includes studies in political science, sociology and data analytics. In a master’s in public policy program, you learn to perform in-depth studies of societal issues to understand how policies can help alleviate said issues. Public policy, as data-centric as it seems, also requires a fair amount of creativity and collaboration to determine the best solutions.

Expect to take courses such as micro and macroeconomics, policy analysis, statistics and program evaluation as part of an MPP program. Public policy equips you with a diverse skill set that applies to various careers, such as political advisor or senior researcher at a think tank. At the end of your master’s program, your ability to analyze complex data and mastery of critical thinking makes you a top prospect for any employer.

What is a Public Administration Degree?

A graduate-level public administration degree prepares you for MPA jobs, which involve managing varied sets of policies, programs and people.

As a public administrator, you are responsible for leading change and ensuring compliance with all aspects of a new program or policy. To prepare you for this role, courses in an MPA program may include human resources administration, business ethics, change management and program implementation and evaluation.

Problem-solving, project management and communication skills are essential for any public administrator. Most graduates find employment as upper-level managers within government offices and programs or leading human resources departments in nonprofits. Advanced administration skills are sought after by all types of public service organizations.

Which Path Is Right for You?

Both public policy and public administration contribute to the betterment of society. Deciding which program is right for you takes time and careful consideration of your skills and career goals. Where do you want to grow? Do you want to develop your task and research-oriented skills or your leadership and management skills?

If poring over pages of in-depth analyses and speaking with constituents energizes you, you may consider public policy. On the other hand, if creating management structures and systems and implementing change is of greater interest, you might pursue public administration. Envisioning which role you’d like to fill upon graduation and working backward is another helpful exercise.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Public Policy vs. Public Administration

Which is better, MPA or MPP?

Neither an MPA nor an MPP is better than the other. Each program prepares students for different roles within government or nonprofit organizations. An MPA prepares learners to implement policies and lead groups of people; an MPP teaches specific skills to analyze data and recommend solutions to society’s greatest challenges.

Do public administrators implement public policy?

Yes, public administrators can implement public policy depending on their role and area of expertise. A public administrator who works in government may oversee and manage the implementation of a new or evolving policy. Other administrators may ensure an organization follows a policy’s directives or determine how a policy could impact its stakeholders.

What is the relationship between public administration and policy analysis?

Public administration decides the best way to put a policy into practice, while policy analysis uses data and social sciences to evaluate and inform policies. Administrators also ensure policies can translate into achievable goals.


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