Policy Makers including presidents, directors of NGOs, and citizens

Policy makers

Who qualifies as a policy maker?

By policy maker we include politicians, their officers, civil servants and those providing services. We also include citizens and other stakeholders.

Most politicians are elected but many policy makers are not. For example, the Officers of organisations such as UNESCO, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union make policies with far reaching local and global impacts. Officers in the police and armed forces make policies to keep international and civil order, while officers of the World Health Organisation make policies to prevent or contain epidemics. These are all supervised by politicians.

Religious leaders also make policies. Members of pressure groups influence policy. The mass media - radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, and increasingly the internet - also influence policy, and often drive the policy narrative. In democracies many non-elected people influence policy and provide essential checks and balances on the power of elected politicians.

It becomes increasingly important to include citizens as policy makers as their voices find new ways of being heard through social media. The Tidworth Mums in our video showed that citizens can be trusted to be policy makers, with ordinary people empowered to organise, create and manage the services they need at local level. In this case intermediate level policy makers from the local council and army worked together to enable the Mums to formulate and implement their grass-roots policy. This experience then filtered up to inform higher levels of decision making.

All the above have a legitimate right to say how the world ought to be, and to make policy. However, from the perspective of this course, scientists are not policy makers as such, even though they are involved in the policy making process. Scientists have the responsibility of advising on the possible outcomes of policy, but their personal opinions and beliefs should not impinge on this. We make a very clear distinction between politicians and scientists. The former have the mandate and the money to choose and implement policy, while the latter do not. Elected politicians have the moral authority to make the world as it ought to be, and they have money to implement their policies. In contrast it could be unethical for a scientist to initiate social change without the sanction of the authorities, and in most cases scientists could not initiate social change because they do not have the millions or billions of dollars necessary to do so. Decisions with ethical or normative dimensions are made by politicians on behalf of their electorates, and scientists are bound by norms and ethics of the societies they live in.

In practice the distinction between scientists and policy makers is not so clear cut. Many politicians are scientists, e.g. Margaret Thatcher was a chemist and Angela Merkel has a doctorate in quantum chemistry. Also, scientists may legitimately be involved in grassroots campaigns, and sometimes they do have the funds necessary to implement change, e.g. with support from the Gates Foundation.


We have defined policy makers to include the following types of people:

  • politicians
  • officers supporting politicians and the civil services
  • officers of organisations such as UNESCO, the IMF, and EC
  • people in NGOs such as the Red Cross and Save the Children
  • officers in the police and armed forced
  • religious leaders
  • those controlling the mass media - radio, TV, newspapers, etc
  • pressure groups, possibly using the internet and social media
  • citizens

We have excluded the following as policy makers:

  • scientists when advising on possible policy outcomes

What do you think?

Do you agree with this way of looking at things? Would you change our list? Is it practical to think that scientists can be disinterested and objective when advising on possible policy outcomes? You can add a comment below.

© Creative Commons Copyright Credits for photomontage: Tonga - Upper Nile Province. The Shilluk people in their village, Copyright Rita Willaert; Donald Trump September 3 2015, Copyright: Michael Vadon; Irina Bokova, Copyright: Thomas Henrikson for World Water Week; Xi Jinping October 2015, Copyright: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Queen’s 80th Birthday, Copyright: Michael Gwyther-Jones; Christine Lagarde, Copyright: World Economic Forum; Angela Merkel (flipped over), Copyright: Glyn Lowe; Jane Halton, Copyright: WHO/Peter Williams

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en,

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Global Systems Science and Policy: an Introduction

UNESCO UNITWIN Complex Systems Digital Campus

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