Three questions with Anke Hassel on her book How to Do Public Policy

Together with Dean of Research and Faculty Kai Wegrich, the Professor of Public Policy offers advice for both academics and practitioners.  

Anke Hassel, Professor of Public Policy, answers three questions on her new book How to Do Public Policy, which she co-authored with Kai Wegrich, Dean of Research and Faculty and Professor of Public Administration and Public Policy. The book, which was published in March this year, offers a guide to students and practitioners on improving problem-solving in a broader institutional setting.

Professor Hassel, there are many books on public policy already. Why do we need a new one?

Kai Wegrich and I have been teaching public policy and public administration courses at the Hertie School for more than a decade, and we felt increasingly unhappy with the textbooks on the market. There is a major disconnect between the teaching of policy analysis as an economic modelling method and the study of the policy process. In our book, we not only aim to overcome the split but also provide our own approach to understanding policy-making in a wider institutional context, as well as different forms of policy coordination.

You mention two spheres of action: "the 'engine room' of specialists and experts" and the "political 'superstructure'" – how does policy-making fit into all of this?

When designing policy solutions and pursuing change, it is key to understand that there are different kinds of actors involved who all have different priorities. The political superstructure consists of decision-makers whose prime interest is to secure their power base, and who will only adopt policy change if it fits into their dominant agenda. The engine room is where the knowledge of policy is. It has its own political dynamic and is not free of politics either.
It is important to remember that both spheres interact. If you want to initiate policy change, it is often best to start changing the composition of the engine room, to introduce new ideas and to aim to align it with the agenda of decision-makers in the superstructure.

You and Kai Wegrich started this project five years ago. How has policy-making changed since then, and how do you address this in your book?

We can observe two major developments over the last five years in the areas of the pandemic and climate change. The pandemic has brought the role of experts (the engine room) into the limelight. Policy-making under the condition of uncertainty has become the new normal. Expert knowledge is extremely important but has also become politicised by populist parties and governments.

In the area of climate change, we have known the importance of scientific knowledge for a longer period. Here, the new developments are that scientists/the engine room have now started to address how to entrench policy solutions in the policy process by paying much more attention to their effects – for instance, the impact of CO2 taxes on household incomes – and political backlashes.


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More about our experts

  • Anke Hassel, Professor of Public Policy
  • Kai Wegrich, Dean of Research and Faculty and Professor of Public Administration and Public Policy