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MAKING PUBLIC POLICY A. INTRODUCTION One of government’s primary roles is to make policy that will solve society’s problems. In the United States all three branches of government and the bureaucracy make policy. Many other organizations try to influence government decisions and programs, including special interest groups, research institutes, corporations, state and local governments, as well as individual citizens. B. THE POLICYMAKING PROCESS The policymaking process regularly makes news headlines, but it is not easy to understand how the overall process works. Every policy has a unique history, but each one generally goes through five basic stages: 1. Recognizing the problem/agenda setting - Almost no policy is made unless and until a need is recognized. Many different groups and people may bring a problem or issue to the government’s attention through interest group activities or court cases. People within the government itself have their own agendas that they push, including the president, bureaucratic agencies, and members of Congress. Of course, these sources do not agree on which issues are most important, so getting the government to set an agenda that prioritizes problems is quite a challenge. 2. F ormulating the policy – If enough people agree that government needs to act, then a plan of action must be formulated. At this stage, generally several alternative plans from various political groups are formed. For example, if the issue is gun control, interest groups from both sides will push for different solutions, and reaching a solution almost always involves compromise all around. 3. Adopting the policy - In this third stage, the policy becomes an official action by the government. It may take the form of legislation, an executive or bureaucratic order, or a court decision. Policy is often built in a series of small steps passed over time, so this stage may be quite complex. 4. Implementing the policy – For an adopted policy to be effective, government must see that it is applied to real situations. For example, if new gun control laws are set in place, government officials must make sure that the general public knows about them. They must also put enforcement in place and see that violators are punished appropriately. 5. Evaluating the policy – Evaluation of the good or the harm created by a policy usually takes place over an extended period of time. Policies that may seem sound at the start may have unforeseen negative consequences or unexpected costs. Inevitably, some will call for changes and/or corrections, and others will
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disagree. The whole process occurs again, starting with recognition – or re- recognition – of the problem. As a result, policymaking is a continuous process, and government at any given time is at various stages with numerous issues.
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