Public Interest Groups
Interest groups represent people or organizations with common concerns and interests. These groups work to gain or retain benefits for their members, or to make general changes for the public good. Interest groups work through advocacy, public campaigns, and even lobbying governments to make changes in public policy. There are a wide variety of interest groups representing a variety of constituencies. For example, public interest groups work on issues that impact the general public, rather than a select group of members. These groups advocate for their ideals of general good, or common well-being. Some of the issues a public interest group might address include health, the environment, and the political system.
One of the challenges, or criticisms, of public interest groups is the difficulty in defining a single idea of the public good in a society that values pluralism, such as the United States. Because of this difficulty, even when there is consensus around the good of a broad topic, the work of a single public interest group might still be controversial.
An example is in education (Figure 1) where most agree that education is a public good, but there are strong disagreements over how to achieve that, or over what sort of education would be best. Groups like the National Education Association, a teachers union and general public interest group, might still be seen by some as primarily promoting teachers' rights. While a program such as the charter school program might be seen as weakening public schools.
Another challenge for public-interest groups is the so-called free rider effect. Because the benefits brought about by public interest groups benefit a large group of individuals, there is less direct incentive for people to become involved in an organization's work since they will still gain from the work even if they remain inactive.