In 1993, in the academic journal American Political Science Review, political scientists Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram published their theory of social construction and policy design, which they later extended in their 1997 book Policy Design for Democracy. According to them,
The theory contends that social constructions influence the policy agenda and the selection of policy tools, as well as the rationales that legitimate policy choices. Constructions become embedded in policy as messages that are absorbed by citizens and affect their orientations and participation. The theory is important because it helps explain why some groups are advantaged more than others independently of traditional notions of political power and how policy designs reinforce or alter such advantages.
Schneider and Ingram suggest four main types of target populations: advantaged groups, contenders, dependents, and deviants. The advantaged groups are positively constructed groups of people who often have stronger political power and influence; these include the senior citizens, the business people, the veterans, the scientists etc. The contenders are also politically powerful, but they are negatively constructed or they are perceived negatively; these include the rich, the wealthy, administrators, politicians, and cultural elites, the big unions, and the moral majority, among others. The dependents are groups of people who have weaker political power and influence, but are perceived positively; the poor, certain minorities, children, mothers, and disabled all fall into this group. Finally, the deviants are negatively constructed groups of people who are politically weak, such as criminals, addicts, homeless people, and gang members. Public policies are usually designed and constructed to profit the advantaged groups and to disadvantage the deviants, while the dependents and contenders are often disregarded by the policy makers.
In recent years, the theory of social construction and policy design has been more frequently applied in various empirical and analytical studies. Results vary due to the differences in the socio-political and cultural environments. The accuracy of the theory is still unpredictable, as is the case with many other social theses. Schneider's and Ingram's typology, however, has been proven very useful in many qualitative and quantitative researches.