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Keywords:

  • public policy;
  • policy process;
  • meta-analysis;
  • literature review;
  • social construction;
  • policy design;
  • feedback

One of the leading theories for understanding the policy process is the theory of social construction and policy design developed by Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram. The theory incorporates the social construction and power of target populations to understand the development and implications of policy design. In order to better understand its empirical breadth, depth, and general utility, our analysis reviews all past publications of the theory, focusing specifically on empirical applications (N = 111), from 1993 to 2013. Based on this review, we find: a recent increase in the number of applications of this theory; that these applications appear across a wide range of outlets, relate to numerous policy domains, and are conducted by a diverse group of domestic and international scholars; that the target population proposition has been applied with greater frequency than the theory's feed-forward proposition; and that scholars have a notable interest in understanding causal mechanisms leading to changes in the positioning of target populations among advantaged, contender, dependent, and deviant target population categories. Following a descriptive review of past publications, we offer specific suggestions for theoretical development and future research.