Policy Atlas:About

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PolicyAtlas is a non-partisan, user-contributed project to develop an encyclopedia of public policy solutions ("the Atlas"). The goal of the Atlas is to improve the information available to all levels of public policymakers, thereby leading to the adoption and design of superior public policies and better lives for all who are governed.

Features of the Atlas

PolicyAtlas.org is designed much like Wikipedia, with both featuring encyclopedic content in the form of individual policy articles. Like Wikipedia, it also operates using open source software called MediaWiki. However, unlike Wikipedia, it also includes a number of more useful and distinct features, as summarized below:

1. New taxonomies for classifying public policies

At present, PolicyAtlas is not aware of any other comprehensive and effective classification of existing public policies. By newly mapping high-level policy areas, policy types, policy stakeholders, and policy goals, we hope to facilitate greater understanding of the entire landscape of public policy and the interconnections between its components. Such mapping is intended to facilitate greater awareness, selection, and researching of public policies in ways that current resources do not allow.

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2. Greater and more useful policy information

Current sites such as Wikipedia often have articles devoted to policy issues, but these articles typically focus on the history of a policy or issue and some examples of a policy’s existence in a few countries. PolicyAtlas goes several steps further, informing policymakers as to the potential goals of the policy, its tradeoffs, examples of adopting jurisdictions, types of stakeholders who may support or oppose the policy, and the research and resources necessary for a policymaker to evaluate and implement the policy.

3. Tools for sorting and analyzing policies

Unlike Wikipedia, PolicyAtlas uses a more sophisticated software extension known as Semantic MediaWiki. This extension is a powerful tool that allows for advanced querying and the automatic generation of lists and tables populated with information on the Atlas. As the Atlas content grows, this feature will allow for more targeted policy queries, reducing the time required to use the Atlas and making it even more time-efficient for busy readers. For example, already, a user can quickly retrieve all policies that meet a specific policy goal (E.g., “Increase the efficiency of automobile traffic”) with the click of a button. Eventually, users will also be able to filter their searches and screen for policies that meet certain other individual-specific criteria, increasing the likelihood that a policy will be viable for, as an example, a local government seeking education policies for urban areas that is not marked as being opposed by the teacher unions.

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4. Conceptual, executive-level policy framing

Whereas most sources emphasize public policies as individual case studies in specific jurisdictions, the Atlas intends to identify discrete policy concepts and examine the commonalities and differences in how they may be implemented. By working backward to generalize public policy concepts and then linking the user to specific examples of its use, the Atlas makes it easier for a jurisdiction facing similar problems to explore how it might adopt and tailor the policy to its own jurisdictional context. In addition, by writing each article in a manner that is comprehensive but concise and technical but not full of jargon and inaccessible, the resulting content is far friendlier for busy policymakers and increases the time-efficiency (and their likelihood) of consulting the Atlas to improve their policymaking.

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5. Neutral and non-partisan framing

In contrast to publications by partisans and agenda-driven authors, the Atlas intends to feature public policies in language on which both supporters and opponents of a policy would agree on, thereby mitigating partisan ideological preferences as to what constitutes “good” or “bad” policy values in competition (e.g., economic efficiency vs. equity).


Why create a public policy encyclopedia?

New public policy is made every day by local, regional, national and international government institutions. Although governments operate in different contexts, they nonetheless face very similar policy problems--for example, educating their populations, stabilizing their agricultural markets or maximizing their public safety. Due to this significant overlap in governmental missions, there exists a tremendous potential for governments to systematically harness each other's policy ideas and learn from each others' successes.

Despite this potential for collaboration, no centralized catalog of public policies exists to aggregate and share potential solutions to the challenges that all such governments are simultaneously and independently seeking to address.

Some of the reasons for the lack of such a system include:

  • Collective action failures: No individual governmental institution has the incentives to dedicate its jurisdiction’s tax revenues towards such a project, which would, in general, mostly benefit other governments, requiring many parties to contribute.
  • Inadequate existing institutional capacity: Many policymaking institutions are either deeply academic (e.g., universities and think tanks) or deeply political (e.g., advocates or lobbyists), resulting in publishings that typically offer reduced utility to the actual practitioner in the former case and publishings that are deemed to be biased and thus not credible in the latter case.
  • Historical technical barriers: Until the recent development of knowledge centers such as Wikipedia and platforms such as Semantic MediaWiki, available technical solutions were inadequate or infeasible for interested parties to employ, while collective knowledge was more fragmented and less accessible. Even now, the team is attempting to strike a difficult balance between a feature-rich site for the user and a simple design for contributors.

In response, PolicyAtlas seeks to map the field of public policy based on policy area (e.g., "Education") and goals within that public policy area (e.g., "Policies to increase student attendance rates").

Who will PolicyAtlas benefit?

Specific types of users who we believe may find the Atlas most useful include:

  • Government executives and legislators: seeking new public policies to propose.
  • Advocates: identifying policy ideas in line with their advocacy goals.
  • Researchers: mapping the landscape of public policies in practice.
  • Journalists: researching public policies for a given local problem.
  • Election candidates: sourcing a comprehensive and compelling policy platform.


Are there any rules for using PolicyAtlas I should know about?

The formal rules for using the site are included in the site's Terms of Use, available at Policy_Atlas:Terms_Of_Use.

Beyond those, however, we encourage you to consider the following principles:

  • Be bold! MediaWiki, the software that runs PolicyAtlas and Wikipedia, makes it much easier to undo mistakes than create new content. Because missteps require only a click to undo, err on the side of editing, and let the site admins worry about fixing any issues that may develop.
  • Be neutral. Policies should be described in a manner that allows both their proponents and opponents to agree that the page accurately presents facts. However, research links may ultimately present differing conclusions as to a policy's effectiveness in meeting its ascribed goals, and all policies should include potential tradeoffs or drawbacks of implementing the policy. In other words, it is appropriate to cite pros and cons of a policy, but an article should not be clouded with value judgments as to whether or not a goal is inherently good or bad.
  • Be universal. Policy names and the language used to describe them should be universal enough to be understood by citizens of jurisdictions--be they countries, sub-national governments, or municipalities--and should not be specific to any location or system. We refer to policies in language that describes what they are, (e.g., Individual health insurance mandates) rather than the jargon used within a given school system or national public health program (e.g., Obamacare).
  • Be consistent, not redundant. The ultimate value of PolicyAtlas is tied to users' ability to access and filter information in a way that is most relevant to them. In other words, if a user wants to see which other policies have been tagged as being adopted by the New York City Department of Education, they should be able to find one article on this stakeholder and not find the policies adopted by this stakeholder divided among "NYC DOE" "NYC Dept. of Ed.," "New York City," etc. The same goes for consistently citing the correct goals. PolicyAtlas will be most useful if goals, categories and stakeholders are grouped together into one page wherever possible and are consistently cited throughout the site.
  • Be honest. Stay away from spam, abuse, false or malicious statements, and plagiarism.


Who is PolicyAtlas?

PolicyAtlas is being founded by several key individuals, each of whom is contributing personal time unaffiliated with their professional work: Kevin Hansen, Neil Reilly and Matt Lisiecki.

It has received incredibly helpful and generous technical advice from brilliant minds such as Luis Daniel and Chris Whong, and its logo comes thanks to designer Jax de Leon. However, PolicyAtlas is primarily being developed thanks to the extremely gracious support of policy researchers and practitioners, as well as graduate policy students through the use of the Student Learning Module; folks like you! In this respect, PolicyAtlas is ultimately envisioned to become a community fueled by user contributions.

Keep in touch or learn more by contacting us below: