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policy Public is what public officials within government, and by extension the citizens they
represent, choose to do or not to do about public problems. Public problems refer to conditions
the public widely perceives to be unacceptable and therefore requiring intervention. Problems
such as environmental degradation, threats to workplace safety, or insufficient access to health
care services can be addressed through government action, private action (where individuals or
corporations take the responsibility), or a combination of the two.
Policy refers to a purposive course of action that an individual or group consistently follows in
dealing with a problem. Policy is a standing decision characterized by behavioral consistency
and repetitiveness on the part of both those who make it and those who abide by it. Whether in
the public or private sector, policies can also be thought of as the instruments through which
societies regulate themselves and attempt to channel human behavior in acceptable directions.
Policy outputs the formal actions that governments take to pursue their goals.
Policy outcomes the effects of such actions actually have on society.
Policies represent which of many different values are given the highest priority in any given
Politics is the authoritative allocation of values for a society.
Government refers to the institutions and political processes through which public policy choices
are made. These institutions and processes represent the legal authority to govern or rule a group
Politics concerns the exercise of power in society or in specific decisions over public policy.
Politics is used to refer to the processes through which public policies are formulated and
adopted, especially to the roles played by elected officials, organized interest groups, and
political parties politics of policymaking. Politics can also be thought of as how conflicts in
society (such as those over rights to abortion services or immigration restrictions or gay
marriages) are expressed and resolved in favor of one set of interests or social values or another.
Politics in this case refers to the issue positions that different groups of people (gun owners,
environmentalists, health insurance companies, automobile companies) adopt and the actions
they take to promote their values. Politics is about influence and power in society as well as in
the process of policymaking within government. It concerns who participates in and influences
the decisions that governments make and who gains and who loses as a result. Politics is about
who gets what, when, and how.
Public policy is not made in a vacuum. It is affected by social economic conditions, prevailing
political values and the public mood at any given time, the structure of the government, and
national and local cultural norms, among other variables.
Social, economic, political, governing, and cultural contexts of public policy.
Social conditions affect policy decisions in myriad ways. Social conditions are dynamic, not
Some trends have prompted public officials at all levels of government to think more about the
livability of their communities over the next few decades. One solution is sustainable
development communities in which social, economic, and environmental concerns are
approached in an integrated and comprehensive manner.
Political labels such as liberal and conservative are not always reliable guides to predicting
specific policy positions. It is simplistic to assume that conservatives always want smaller
government and that liberals prefer the opposite. Most conservatives argue for less government
intrusion into the economy and decision making within business and industry, but they often
favor a strong government role to achieve certain social goals, such as reducing crime or banning
abortions and gay marriages. Liberals, on the other hand, rally against government threats to civil
liberties and individual rights but are among the first to call for government regulation of
business activity to protect consumers and workers, or to control air and water pollution.
Party labels themselves may be poor indicators of positions taken on policy issues.
Cultural context. Political culture refers to widely held values, beliefs, and attitudes, such as trust
and confidence in government and the political process, or the lack thereof. Political culture also
includes commitment to individualism, property rights, freedom, pragmatism or practicality,
equality, and similar values, some of which are distinctly American. These values are acquired
through a process of political socialization that takes place in families, schools, and society in
general, and that at times seems to reflect popular culture and television. At times, policies under
consideration are linked directly to cultural perspectives. Cultural conflicts also affect public
judgments about government officials and their conduct may influence the policy-making
Policy process model
Agenda setting how problems are perceived and defined, command attention, and get onto the
Policy formulation the design and drafting of policy goals and strategies for achieving them.
Often involves the use of policy analysis.
Policy legitimation the mobilization of political support and formal enactment of policies.
Includes justification or rationales for the policy action.
Policy implementation provisions of institutional resources for putting the programs into effect
within a bureaucracy.
Policy and program evaluation measurement and assessment of policy and program effects,
including success or failure.
Policy change modification of policy goals and means in light of new information or shifting
Policy cycle process is cyclical or continuous, rather than a one-time set of actions.
Problem definition may come with some distinct biases. Problem definition is a matter of
representation because every description of a situation is a portrayal from only one of many
points of view. Problem definition is strategic because groups, individuals, and government
agencies deliberately and consciously fashion portrayals so as to promote their favored course of
Where you stand depends on where you sit.
Political commentators: issues may be framed or spinned. Those who favor one view of a
problem or one kind of solution use language that describes the problem or the policy action in a
framework that reflects their perspective.
All forms of political organization have a bias in favor of the exploitation of some kinds of
conflicts and the suppression of others because organization is the mobilization of bias. Some
issues are organized into politics while others are organized out.
When policymakers begin active discussions about a problem and potential solutions, the issue is
said to be on the agenda. Systemic agenda of which the public is aware and may be discussing.
Institutional agenda, or government agenda, which are issues to which policymakers give active
and serious consideration definition of the agenda captures the meaning of the institutional
agenda. The term agenda means the subjects gain that such attention and become possible
objects of policy action.
Agenda setting is central to the policy process: if an issue does not attract the appropriate
attention, chances are it will languish without government response. Policy-making elites in
government can define a problem and raise its visibility.
Good links: www.abcnews.com, www.cbsnews.com, www.cnn.com, www.msnbc.com/news,
Policy formulation development of proposed courses of action to help resolve a public
problem. As noted, policy alternatives are continually being studied and advocated as part of the
policy stream and constantly being evaluated against the prevailing standards for policy
acceptance. Among the standards for policy acceptance are economic cost, social and political
acceptability, and likely effectiveness in addressing the problem. Policy analysis is abundant at
this stage of the policy process, as the leading policy actor (formal and informal) look for
information and ideas that will allow them to pursue their goals.
Interest groups are active contributors to policy formulation. Like the bureaucracy, interest
groups have a great deal of information at their disposal to prove background or specific
solutions to problems. This information ranges from technical details about the problem to
judgments about whether a proposal is likely to have political needs.
To help guide your thinking on policy formulation: 1) Start by examining the assessments of the
problem to determine whether they were based on appropriate data and analysis. 2) Next, try to
find out who was involved in the formulation process, who dominated it, and whether any
serious conflicts of interest existed. You could also review the main assumptions made and any
analysis that was used to determine whether they were valid. 3) In your judgment, were the
policy alternatives examined sufficiently and evaluated fairly?
Policy legitimation giving legal force to decisions, or authorizing or justifying policy action. It
may come from a majority vote in legislature or a formal executive, bureaucratic, or judicial
decision. From some perspectives, the process of legitimation includes the legitimacy of the
action taken, that is, whether it is thought to be a proper exercise of government authority and its
broad acceptability to the public and/or other policy actors.
Policy evaluation and change
Policy evaluation program evaluation, assessment of whether policies and programs are
working well, analysts look for evidence that a program is achieving its stated goals and
Instruments of public policy. In public policy, one of the first decisions to be made is whether
government should intervene at all to deal with a problem or simply leave its resolution to
individual action or the market-assessment methods. Another is decision-making and impacts,
which includes decision analysis, forecasting, and impact assessment. A third is political and
institutional analysis, which includes assessment of political feasibility as well as policy
implementation and program evaluation. Finally, the last category is ethical analysis, where the
concern is consideration of the ethics of policy action.
Cost-benefit analysis benefit-cost analysis, use techniques. It seeks to determine if the
aggregate of the gains that accrue to those made better off is greater than the aggregate of losses
to those made worse off by the policy choice. The gains and losses are both measured in dollars,
and are defined as the sums of each individuals willingness to pay to receive the gains or to
prevent the policy-imposed losses. If the gains exceed the losses, the policy should be accepted
according to the logic of benefit-cost analysis. It is nothing more than organized common sense.
Opportunity costs value of opportunities that are foregone when time or resources are spent on
a given activity.
Conducting cost-benefit analysis: 1. Tries to identify all of the important costs and benefits; 2.
Measures those costs and benefits that can be expressed in dollar terms and either estimates or
acknowledges those that cannot be measured easily; 3. Adjusts the measurements for changes in
value over time; 4. Sums up and compares all the benefits and costs and concludes whether the
costs outweigh the benefits or vice versa.
Discount rate allows analyses to determine the value of future benefits today, but the choice of
the rate, essentially an estimate of inflation over time, clearly can have a profound impact on the
Contingent valuation methods essentially questionnaires or interviews with individuals,
designed to allow an estimate of the dollar value of the time spent. If done well, such methods
can provide a useful estimate of the value people attach to certain intangibles.
Sensitivity analysis minimize to some extent the weaknesses inherent in cost-benefit analysis.
When the calculations are sensitive to a basic assumption such as the chosen discount rate, the
analyst can report on several different rates, and the reader can choose the assumptions that seem
Cost-effectiveness analysis requires no measurements of the value of intangible benefits such
as human lives; it simply compares different policy alternatives that can produce those benefits
in terms of their relative costs. Analysts are asking which actions can save the most human lives
given a fixed dollar cost, or which dollar investments produce the greatest benefits.
Risk assessment close relative of cost-benefit analysis, purpose is to identify, estimate, and
evaluate the magnitude of the risk to citizens from exposure to various situations such as
terrorism, natural hazards such as hurricanes, or radiation from nuclear waste. Reducing risks
conveys a benefit to the public, and this benefit can be part of the calculation in a cost-benefit
analysis. But social risks vary widely in their magnitude, and that is the reason to try to identify
and measure them; the more significant risks presumably should receive a higher priority for
government action. Risks are associated with many activities in daily life, such as driving a car,
flying in an airplane, consuming certain foods, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and skiing
down a mountain, among others. Most of lifes risks are fairly minor and not especially alarming,
although people may worry a great deal about some of them, such as hazardous waste, toxic
chemicals, and radiation. Risk is usually defined as the magnitude of adverse consequences of an
event or exposure. Professionals view risk as a product of the probability that the event or
exposure will occur and the consequences that follow if it does. It can be expressed in the
equation R = PxC. The higher the probability of the event or exposure (P), or the higher the
consequences (C), the higher the risk.
Risk evaluation determination of the acceptability of the risks or a decision about what level of
safety is desired. Typically, higher levels of safety, or lower risk, cost more to achieve.
Risk management describes what governments or other organizations do to deal with risks,
such as adopting public policies to regulate them.