The Policy Process
Public policy plays a critical role in solving issues or addressing concerns raised for government’s consideration. Therefore, policies are implemented by the administration to address issues in the public domain that would improve the quality of life for citizens. They usually are created as a reaction of matters brought to the attention of policymakers, which come in the form of regulations or laws. Policies are also designed by governing agencies, from the United States president to the members of the city council. They have a goal of meeting basic needs and obligations of society, deciding how resources should be managed for the social order. Policy-making occurs through four main stages from agenda setting phrase to the evaluation period once the policy is implemented. The other two steps are policy formulation and policy implementation. Although policy-making through the four stages might appear straightforward, the process involves many actors and resources that complicate it. However, practical steps initiate successful policies that address significant issues in society.
Before the government or any other policymaker creates a plan, it is critical to articulate the problem to be solved. Hence, agenda setting is the process by “which problems and alternative solutions gain or lose public and elite attention” (Birkland 106). The government must be aware of a public concern that needs an urgent solution to change or improve a situation (Kingdon & Thurber 92). The agenda has various elements, including the problem, understanding causal inferences, interpretation, depictions of the problem, and solution. For instance, a country could be facing an illegal immigration problem leading to increased rates of crime. The resulting policy will be aimed at solving the crisis by reducing the rate of immigration and the frequency of criminal activities. A problem could exist, but it must be considered a serious issue by the people to warrant government intervention. The agenda is usually the issue that policymakers should address (Nakamura and Smallwood 17). Significant events such as the high rate of crime related to illegal immigration situate the problem on the agenda. The agenda may include a bill written about the prevalence of a public problem to create a solution through the process of policymaking.
Public problems become an agenda once they get attention of policymakers, including the government. The theory of agenda setting relates to the progression of what is interpreted and believed to be significant (McQuail 513). Citizens face various issues, including poverty, lack of resources, and crime among others. Such concerns require a practical solution for people to have an improved quality of life. For example, poverty affects education in the community and a solution to the problem would ensure that more children from low-income families are educated to improve their socio-economic status. In political debate and media coverage, some issues become more prominent than others, elevating them to the point of policy issues. Consequently, they become an urgent agenda for the government regarding policy consideration. The progression of an issue into public discourse occurs in various ways, including through media stories used to inform the public regarding particular issues. Hence, the problem becomes a vital agenda depending on the level of exposure people have with the media and their perception of the quality of the media (Lasorsa 14). Thus, some problems get the attention of the public and the government, while others fail based on the level of exposure and the credibility of the media story.
Not all public problems get the attention of the government. Hence, while some issues are promptly addressed through policies, others remain prevalent, especially if they are not considered a priority. The primary key to agenda setting is the cognizance of a problem as well as the importance attached to it (McQuail 513). Therefore, if a public problem is not considered essential to warrant attention, it will remain unaddressed in policy circles. Agenda entrepreneurs carefully select a plan for consideration, depending on the stakes relating to the public issue and its solution. The issues that the government chooses to adopt depend on much more than just the problem itself; they include the competing interpretations of the issues as well as alternative perspectives underlying them (Kingdon and Thurber 92). The participants should recognize the possible understanding of the problem to select the most effective solution. Accordingly, the question that the government decides to act upon depends on the interpretation and the alternative that wins in the agenda-setting process. For instance, the government could be faced with two public concerns competing for the resources. Thus, the problem that will receive more focus from the policy entrepreneurs will be considered a priority, and hence, a policy created to deal with it.
Since agenda setting helps policymakers to determine the problems that warrant a solution, various types of agendas exist. The different categories reveal the discussions topics that are undertaken before deciding on the right policy. The first type, in this case, includes systematic agendas. Those plans include issues that decision makers consider worthy of their consideration as well as within their areas of authority to solve. The second type entails institutional agendas, which emanate from the content of the first type of agenda setting (Birkland 106). During this stage, policymakers analyze the issue and the possible solution in more details while allocating more time. The third type of agendas is discretionary agendas that deal with matters selected in legislatures, which might not have made it into the first two categories but could be considered necessary. The final type of program is the decision agendas, which are the final lists of issues that move to the policy formulation stage (Kingdon & Thurber 93). Therefore, they are the problems for which policies might be made for implementation to address.
In policy arguments or discussions, participants use different types of tools to analyze the decision. The approaches are useful in systematic decision analysis to ensure that the problem is well-framed to find a cost-effective solution. Cost-benefit analysis and risk analysis are some of the conventional tools in policy analysis (Mishan 29). Recent studies have revealed the need for reasoning with argument-based tools as alternatives to traditional instruments. The tools are used in the presence of inferences from various premises to the conclusion of the policy process. Argument analysis investigates the extent to which the premises support the conclusion in the policy solution to a public problem. In the discussion, the argument identifies the different positions and the range of potential reasons in support or against each position (Anderson 155). For example, when confronted with the immigration problem, some participants will support the creation of a policy to restrict entry of immigrants while others argue the admission of more legal immigrants. The discussion should weigh both arguments using the tools to establish the strongest and adopt it as the active policy. A cost-benefit analysis, for example, weighs the costs against the benefits of each policy position.
The agenda-setting function uses various models, including linear and non-linear. The role of the media and other participants in the process might differ between and even within public topics. Thus, the model used in building the agenda varies from one issue to another. The relationship between the media and the agenda building process can take either form, but in most cases, non-linear models are more superior. Linear models refer to a direct relationship between the media agenda setting role and the public issue (Anderson 98). Conversely, non-linear models refer to an indirect association between the media and the public problem. Many of the issues indirectly emerge in the media. Therefore, the media faces significant affordances and hindrances in setting the agenda and propelling it into the policy setting arena. The models play an essential role in understanding the nature and process of agenda problem definition (Kiousis, Mitrook, Wu, and Seltzer 265). For instance, linear models create a more straightforward problem definition process compared to non-linear models. However, the complexity of the problem determines the model used in the media and the public arena.
Various individuals and groups participate in agenda building, including interest groups and non-governmental organizations. These factions use multiple tactics and strategies to increase the chances of their views in gaining visibility in the political agenda. They play an essential role in ensuring that public problems draw political attention to initiate the policy-making process to create a solution. The media also participate in shaping the agenda for the government and other policymakers (Kiousis, Mitrook, Wu, and Seltzer 265). The institutions ensure that the voices and opinions of different interest groups are heard in public and the policy-making arena.
The media is particularly critical in agenda setting. The measurement of the condition through which the press sets the agenda occurs at two levels: object and attribute salience. The first level relates to the relationship between the problem on the public agenda and the media agenda (Kingdon & Thurber 93). Conversely, the second level is where elements of media content relating to the problem are applied in shaping the public opinion. The persuasive nature of the media makes it an essential tool for other interest groups to communicate their views relating to public issues in a manner that captures the attention of policymakers.
Therefore, to predict who will participate in agenda building, it is imperative to understand the critical factors that affect agenda setting: the process and active participation. Active participants in agenda setting are the government officials who take part in the policy-making process. However, the role of participants depends on the kind of the agenda in question. Therefore, to predict who will take part in the process, it is crucial to understand the nature of the problem and the type of the agenda and policy that will be important in addressing the issue. Some of the government officials who participate in agenda setting include the President and members of Congress (Kiousis, Mitrook, Wu, and Seltzer 266). Direct lobbying in policy-making plays a significant role in mobilizing the media and the government to support the process of solving an issue. Consequently, based on the type of the issue being addressed, it is possible to tell who will be interested in the solution. For instance, when the issue affects the healthcare sector, the main participants will be players in the system, including health care managers, physicians, and pharmaceutical industries among other stakeholders. Thus, the participation depends on the system affected by the issues and resultant policy.
Agenda building is the most critical aspect of the policy process since it determines whether a policy will be created or given a priority in the policy circles. The government focuses on public issues depending on the way the problem is presented in the policy arena (Nakamura, and Smallwood 26). For example, the government will address an issue associated with drug abuse, depending on the way the interest groups and the media defines and presents the issue. Hence, the problem-building phase is the most important since it determines the concerns that will proceed to the other stages. Agenda building enhances the government to recognize the essential themes and use the public and other resources to address the problem (Kiousis, Mitrook, Wu, and Seltzer 266). The agenda-building process also affects the development and implementation of policies to address public issues. It is also the question of power since it relates to the definition of subjects, which are the focus of the policy. It is the point at which the policymakers determine those who will be affected by the policy and how they are likely to respond. Agenda creation generally affects the choices to be made in the rest of the policy process.
Mobilization is critical in the policy process since it determines the success or failure of policy at the agenda-setting stage. Mobilization engages stakeholders in supporting the policy agenda to elevate it to the necessary level of importance in the policy arena. Mobilization is a planned process by an individual, groups, and institutions within the community to motivate the government to act and address public issues (Kingdom 24). For example, mobilization can be conducted to support a policy to improve public education, and hence, enhance the overall standards of living. Hence, a group within a society, such as the community health workers will mobilize members in such a way that transcends their differences to achieve the objective. Therefore, the process of mobilization is essential to participate in the decision-making process. In addition, the process is critical in establishing the dialogue among the individuals and groups affected by the public issue and the proposed solution. Mobilization should answer the questions about who, what, and how decisions are made to address public problems (Nakamura, & Smallwood 28). The process provides the avenue for all the stakeholders to engage in the decision affecting them.
Identifying the problem and defining it is not enough to solve public issues affecting various communities. It is critical for decision makers to create an actual plan to solve the problem effectively. Hence, once a problem is placed on the agenda, the government develops a solution to address it. Furthermore, policy formulation is the process that follows the agenda-setting phase when developing the approach to solving the problem (Kraft and Furlong 95). The stage is where a tangible outcome is achieved. For instance, a bill could be presented to Congress for discussion and possible approval. Another example is rules created by a regulatory body to solve a problem. The process proceeds to with adoption of the proposed policy following the passing of legislation by Congress.
Various individuals and groups determine policy formulation by bringing the public issue into the spotlight. They are the main influencers in the policy process to pressurize the government to act in finding solutions to significant challenges affecting communities (Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl 9). The media and interest groups trigger the formulation process by moving the issue into the public agenda. They also determine the content of the policy. However, the actual participants in the process are policymakers, within the legislature or the judiciary, who discuss and suggest approaches to the proposed public issue raised on the agenda (Anderson 156). Sometimes it becomes necessary to select from alternatives. Hence, they should address and consider all other options before designing the actual policy.
Problem definition plays a critical role in the policy formulation process because the stage leads to the formulation of the policy to solve the problem. Policy makers are guided by the identified agenda when finding solutions to public issues (Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl 10). For example, the road safety problem has to be clearly defined for the policymakers to establish the most effective solution. Additionally, during problem definition, the participants have a chance to analyze the problem in details to develop the most effective way of solving it (Anderson 156). Notably, policymakers are expected to resolve multifaceted issues affecting the public, and hence, should be presented in a clear and convenient manner, explaining the importance of the first stage in the policy process.
Just like business entrepreneurs, policy entrepreneurs are willing to invest their resources to achieve a policy objective. The individuals and groups have a significant voice in the policy-making process and can determine the course of action in the process (Nakamura and Smallwood 36). They can either be in the government, in appointed or elected positions, in research organizations, or interest groups. They play an important role in problem definition and agenda setting by investing time, energy, reputation, and even financial resources to the process. The entrepreneurs understand the public issue and the social-political context of the policy to become successful in addressing the problem. Consequently, they actively engage in policy discussions when defining the problem.
Policy-making decisions involve well-laid out plans to solve problems affecting people in different settings. Hence, policymakers can use either the top-down or bottom-up approaches in the formulation of the policy depending on the nature of the problem and the environment within which the plan is enacted. The top-down model suggests the process of making policy decisions through statutes, executive orders, or court decisions in a centralized manner. The participants using the model seek to control the process and the desired effects, making the model different from the bottom-up approach (Kraft and Furlong 331). In the latter model, the policy formulation process begins with the target groups as the real influencers of the policy.
Just as policymakers have different approaches to decision-making, they also use various models to create the plan for action in solving a public issue. Policies either follow the rational-comprehensive approach or the incremental model of policy formulation. In the rational-comprehensive aspect, decision-making follows a somewhat rational path with defined steps, such as intelligence, design, choice, and review (Kraft and Furlong 176). The incremental model views the policy formulation process as involving a series of changes with different actors participating in the process. Hence, the main advantage of the rational-comprehensive approach is that it makes decision-making easier and uncomplicated, but can result in unacceptable or impractical decisions. Conversely, incremental model leads to more comprehensive and practical choices but can take an extended time to formulate a policy.
Participation of the stakeholders in the decision-making process plays an important role in preventing potential barriers that emanate from resistance to the plan. The target population model plays a critical role in policy formulation through engagement of the affected groups in the process (Kingdon and Thurber 93). For example, when formulating a policy affecting community health, members of the target population are involved before making the policy decision. The models differ from the conventional conception of policy formulation in which decisions are made on behalf of the affected stakeholders without necessarily considering their views. The model assumes that the decision makers understand the best interest of the target population.
Policy formulation involves diverse groups and institutions which influence and affect the policy-making process. One of the participating groups is the street-level bureaucrats who control the process and its outcome. Street level bureaucracy consists of government institutions or public agencies working with members of the public affected by a policy decision. The street-level bureaucrats are civil servants working for the government to enforce public policies and laws (Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl 11). They operate in various areas, including health, education, and social services. It is worth noting that street-level bureaucrats meet and work with members of the public on policy issues.
Street-level bureaucracies actively participate in making public policy. They work closely with the people and understand all issues that affect them. Thus, they operate as the bridge between the public and policymakers representing problems to the decision making bodies and giving feedback to the members of the community laws (Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl 14). They understand the roles and goals of public policy to affect the decisions made on behalf of the people. For example, in making a plan to improve education, they understand the issues affecting local schools and can influence the policy decisions to address the problems.
Policy implementation means carrying out the policy or putting the new solution into action to address the problem. The implementation is the movement of the idea from the concept into a practical reality. When the policy is formulated, it remains a plan or purpose until it is implemented and put in use (Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl 14). For example, a healthcare policy to reduce the cost of care by providing affordable insurance cover is implemented when the actual cost reduction is achieved and patients begin paying less. During this stage, the formulated policy is implemented by the relevant government institutions to put them into effect.
Policy implementation is the next step after agenda setting and policy formulation. Notably, the process differs from the first two stages since individuals and institutions implementing it are not necessarily the ones involved in its formulation (Kingdom 38). For instance, while Congress passes a policy to improve water quality standards, the institution responsible for the adoption of the rules is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Hence, relevant institutions play a significant role in the implementation process than the formulation of the policy.
Policies can either be self-executing or non-self-executing depending on their nature and the manner in which they are formulated. Self-executing policies are those that become enforceable once they are ratified without judicial enforcement through relevant legislation. Conversely, other forms of plans require implementation of the law to become binding (Kingdom 39). Self-executing policies become effective once they are passed. Constitutional provisions are examples of self-executing policies. Immediately it is enacted by the legislature, it becomes an enforceable law without further interventions by another government institution.
Implementation of policies can be affected by the same factors and actors in the agenda-setting and policy formulation. Powerful interest groups and the media still play an essential role in the adoption of the formulated policies (Kingdom 43). However, while the media and interest groups influence the process, the actual implementers are government institutions, such as EPA. The method also involves members of the public affected by the problem. The formula for determining the participants is by considering the nature of the problem and the policy and the affected parties in the process. For example, patients are affected and will participate in the implementation of healthcare policies. All the stakeholders influence the implementation process and the impact of the program.
Just as in policy formulation, bureaucratic agencies play an essential role in policy implementation. The agencies comprise essential workers who engage in the implementation of policies and programs within the communities they work in. They play a significant role in ensuring that the members of the public understand the policy and its requirements (Kraft & Furlong 241). The civil servants are given the policy plans to work with other stakeholders in their implementation once they have passed the formulation stage. For example, educators receive policies relating to education to enact them with the participation of school heads and teachers.
Legal writing is used in the crafting of laws since it involves an analysis of fact patterns and presenting arguments in legal documents. The rules are created from a balanced review of problems or issues by experts in the field, explaining the use of the complex language (Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl 15). Consequently, street-level bureaucratic agencies become involved in interpreting the legal writings during implementation since most of the implementers are not conversant with the complex language.
Rule-making is the process used by executive and independent agencies in creating legislation. Broad policy mandates are set by the legislature when statutes are passed, but agencies create more detailed regulations through the rule-making process (Kingdom 53). Therefore, the rule-making process is an integral part of the policy process since it makes policies more binding, especially based on regulations. The process is also critical by adding implementation detail to the plan. For example, the U.S. Clean Air Act requires EPA to implement regulatory controls to be followed by industries in the country. Hence, the rule-making process makes the policy more relevant and enforceable in practice.
The implementers should answer some fundamental questions in the policy implementation phase. The first question relates to the information available concerning the problem being addressed. The information is critical to establish whether the policy refers to the challenge or to a solution. The other question relates to the people who will be involved and affected by the policy. The question is critical to ensure that all stakeholders are engaged in the implementation stage. The implementers should also answer the question about the facts, ideas, and assumptions that relate to the policy logic in solving the policy issue. The stakeholders’ power, priority and support positions should be assessed in the implementation of the policy. The affordances such as resources and barriers to implementation should also be explored (Anderson 157). Hence, all questions should be answered for the stage to be successfully passed.
Therefore, questions on the implementation stage are answered when the execution is successfully achieved. The implementers will understand that all demands have been resolved once the resources are accessible and support is available from stakeholders towards the implementation process (Anderson 157). The participants should analyze the available information to identify the strengths and potential barriers to the process.
Various methods and techniques are used in policy analysis, including management by objectives (MBOs), decision tree, and critical path methods. MBOs involve setting, clarifying, and operationalizing clear goals that should be met by the implementation of the policy (Howlett, Ramesh, & Perl 15). Effectiveness is achieved when those objectives are met. Decisions are challenging to make when dealing with difficult problems or situations. In such cases, decision trees are used to address probabilities and simplify decision-making where the process is broken down into manageable steps. The critical path model is used in controlling the operation of a program to improve planning and scheduling for useful results.
Agencies, legislatures, courts, and interest groups among others play an important role in policy implementation. The different groups have various parts to play in the process. Government agencies are mandated with the task of implementing policies once they are formulated. Legislature provides the necessary rules and regulations for the adoption of the policies. Hence, they ensure that implementation is conducted according to the legal guidelines (Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl 17). On the other hand, courts support the judicial process in policy implementation, especially for policies that require the legal process during their adoption. Interest groups maintain an active part in the entire policy process. During implementation, they ensure that the process meets the required standards to solve the target public issue.
The evaluation process determines whether the policy is working effectively to achieve its objectives. Mostly, a cost-benefit analysis is used in the process to establish whether the benefits of the plan outweigh the costs of its formulation and implementation (Anderson 299). For example, if the government is spending x billions of dollars on a program, it is critical to find out if the benefits are worth that amount. Policy evaluation differs from the other three stages since the assessment is performed when the policy is already in operation.
Policy evaluation plays a vital role in the policy process since it is part of the accountability measure in government spending when addressing public problems. The method indicates the success or failure of a policy to establish whether it was worth the investment (Anderson, 300). During the evaluation, data is collected from the stakeholders to develop the effect of its implementation. For example, data will be received from hospital records to establish the impact of a cost reduction policy in achieving the objective.
Various kinds of evaluation are usually carried out to establish the effect of the policy on the target policy issue. Formative evaluation is initiated during the early stages of the policy implementation to enhance timely improvement. Summative assessment is performed to collect data on the effectiveness of the program and is conducted after completing the implementation process (Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl 155). Process evaluation is done to ensure that the strategies of the policy were implemented as they should while the possible changes are made in time. Outcome evaluation measures the results of the policy, including changes in attitude or behaviors following its implementation. Impact evaluation assesses the long-term sustained changes that result from the implemented policy.
Policy goals can be primary, secondary, or tertiary. Primary goals involve interventions meant to prevent the occurrence of a problem. For example, a policy to promote immunization against a particular disease seeks to achieve a primary goal. Secondary goals are realized when the rule targets an issue that has already taken place to prevent further complications of effects. For example, programs targeting the treatment of diabetes in society achieve secondary goals. Tertiary goals are aimed at limiting or preventing additional results of a problem (Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl 155). For instance, policies aimed at reducing the rate of obesity in society operate at a tertiary level.
Primary goals should drive evaluation due to the need to address issues before they worsen and become more challenging to handle. Policies should meet the goal of creating awareness, appreciation or understanding of the problem to engage all stakeholders in the efforts to address the targeted policy issue (Nakamura and Smallwood 58). For example, when a policy is implemented to solve the problem of obesity among children, its effectiveness should be evaluated from the perspective of achievement of the preventive goal. Hence, policies are more successful in addressing public problems if they are considered at the primary level.
Different stakeholders determine the standards of success in the evaluation of a policy. The determinants are individuals and groups that are affected by the plan since the evaluation process considers its effects on the problem targeted to be addressed. Besides care providers and patients in healthcare policies, the interest groups also determine the level of success of the policy (Nakamura and Smallwood 58). In this case, the groups remain interested in the plan from the definition of the problem to the implementation and evaluation.
Just like the bureaucratic agencies are involved in the formulation and implementation of the policy, they also play an essential role in the policy evaluation stage. The agencies provide vital information for the implementation process, involving the operation of the policy after adoption. They work closely with the implementers and understand whether the strategy is working on addressing the public problem (Nakamura and Smallwood 59). For example, educators work with school heads and teachers to implement policies aimed at improving the quality of education in the country. Thus, they understand the extent to which a plan or program achieves its objective.
The role of the courts in the evaluation process emanates from the statement that public policies have a legal basis for their formulation and implementation. Hence, evaluators should use legal standards when assessing the success of policies in achieving the desired objectives (Kingdom 167). Courts participate by providing legal guidelines for the implementation and evaluation of a plan. In addition, the judiciary ensures that it operates according to the regulation upon which it is founded.
Besides the judicial systems, interest groups also play a significant role in the evaluation of the policy. Notably, the presence of interest groups is felt throughout the policy process. During the review, they aim at finding out whether the laid out objectives of the policy are being achieved (Anderson 300). They influence the data collection activity and analysis to establish the actual impact of the policy on the target public issue.
While some policies continue operating for a long time with significant effects on the targeted community, others may fail to achieve their objectives, and hence, discontinued from the process. However, some challenges associated with policy discontinuity, including the cost and the effect on stakeholders is evident (Anderson 300). Policies are created to solve public problems, and their discontinuation may affect the community regarding unmet needs. Additionally, the process requires public finances to implement leading to a loss in case the policy fails to achieve its objectives. Consequently, the interest groups may disagree with such decisions by policymakers, and hence, create severe conflicts.
Policies are evaluated according to some standards, including efficiency, effectiveness, adequacy, and equity. Efficiency is the extent to which the policy achieves its objectives without waste of resources. It is imperative for any plan to operate efficiently, especially when using public funds. Effectiveness is the extent to which the policy achieves its objective, which is essential since the program has desired goals that should be achieved. Adequacy is the degree to which the policy is sufficient in addressing the public problem (Kingdom 168). Finally, the plan should achieve equity in society since it is expected to meet the needs of all community members affected by the issue.
Practical program evaluation involves some critical questions that should be answered for the process to be considered effectively completed. The first question consists of the purpose or goal of the assessment (Kingdom 168). The second request involves the participants in the evaluation process. The third question should be on the observable and measurable outcome of the policy. The fourth concern should be about the evaluation approach that suits the purpose of the evaluation. The last demand is on the entity that will be involved in conducting the review. After critical questions are answered, it is possible to conclude that a successful implementation has been performed.
Problems gain the attention of policymakers who implement effective measures to solve them for the benefit of the affected members. The policy-making process involves four main stages from the definition of the problem to the evaluation of the adopted policy. During the agenda-setting stage, participants bring the issue to the attention of decision-makers who analyze it and offer available alternatives to solve it. After defining the problem, policymakers formulate a policy based on the most effective solution. The process entails creating a solution to the target policy issue. After creating the policy, it is implemented by government institutions mandated with overseeing the affected organizations. Implementation is the process of putting plans and programs into action to solve the problem. The final step is evaluating the effectiveness of the implemented solution to establish whether it achieves the set objectives. Therefore, a practical solution will solve the problem through the most cost-effective approach.