Policy research

About policy research

Public policies play a crucial role in shaping the functioning of societies, organisations, and governments. Research into policy can be descriptive, analytical, or deal with causal processes and explanations. It can be used to evaluate new or existing policy programmes, describe examples of best practice, measure social change, or develop projections based on large-scale modelling exercises. Policy research is a multidisciplinary area of endeavour, though sociology often contributes more than other disciplines to the theoretical foundations, design, and methodology of studies.

When policy research is useful

Public policy research is needed in contexts where decisions and actions by governments, organisations, or institutions have a significant impact on society, the economy, or specific issues. Policy documents are therefore essential resources for understanding and analysing the decisions and strategies that shape our societies. Changes in policy can be reflected in legislation, government spending, initiatives and projects, reports or recommendations from Committees of Inquiry or the adoption of international protocols. News media sources and academic literature may also assist in identifying debate or discussion that surrounds a significant change in a policy area.

Where to search for policy

  • Parliamentary and government documents: including government websites, parliamentary debates and documents, Parliamentary committees, press releases, government reports and White Papers.
  • Legal resources: legislation (Acts, Bills), legal encyclopedias, and legislative and regulatory databases
  • Media releases: available from government and ministerial websites, news media sources, websites monitoring policy changes, political party websites.
  • Online libraries and archives: digital libraries and archives may house historical and current policy documents. Explore university libraries, national archives, and specialized policy institutes' online repositories.
  • Policy think tanks: independent research organizations and think tanks often publish policy reports and analyses. Visit their websites or contact them directly for access to their publications.
  • International organizations: entities like the United Nations, World Bank, and World Health Organization publish global policy documents. Search their websites for reports, treaties, and resolutions related to your policy area.
  • Research databases: academic databases such as JSTOR, ProQuest, and Google Scholar index policy-related articles and papers. Use keywords and filters to narrow down your search results.
  • Policy journals and publications: many journals focus exclusively on policy issues and publish research and analysis. Access these journals through the Library Catalogue or online databases.
  • Public records and Freedom of Information Act requests can provide access to certain government documents, including policies.
  • Media and news outlets: news articles, opinion pieces, and investigative reports can provide insights into policy discussions. Search reputable news websites and archives for coverage of your policy topic.
  • Social media and online communities: follow relevant government officials, organizations, and experts on social media for updates and links to policy documents.

Tracing policy history

Use the Library catalogue or a research database to find books or articles that provide an overview or discuss the history of a policy area. This may be useful in providing an understanding of policy differences over time and between governments. Material that provides theoretical consideration of policy and policy change can also be located in these secondary sources.

In the Library catalogue, try using a keyword search on your topic and include the terms "policy" or "government policy":

  • homeless* policy australia*
  • refugee "government policy" Australia*

Use the Advanced form and choose the subject field rather than any field for a more specific search:

  • Housing policy Australia
  • People with disabilities government policy Australia
  • Public welfare Australia
  • Child care government policy Australia
  • Older people care government policy Australia
  • Contact

    For more help Live Chat Academic Liaison Librarians

    Contact us