Methods of Analyzing Public Issues

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, learn about public issues and examine the different resources and sources of information that you can use to analyze them. Also, examine some considerations about the credibility of the information you might find.

What is a Public Issue?

As a citizen of your country and a member of your community, there might be times when you will feel affected by different problems; perhaps health care is not affordable or the air is becoming harmful because of pollution. You can identify and analyze public issues affecting your community.

Public issues are situations that affect all people or part of the population in a certain place. They can be of economic, social, cultural or environmental nature and might arise within a city, state, country or even globally.

Some examples of public issues
Public Issues

For example, the water pollution in a local lake is a public issue for those around it. The rights of minorities and immigration are public issues of national concern and terrorism and climate change are problems with a global impact.

Analyzing Public Issues

Understanding public issues might seem complex. There are different parties and interests involved and information often comes from very different sources.

To analyze them, you have to do your research and then make a critical use of the available information. That involves determining if the information is relevant and identifying the position or perspective that each source has about the issue. Finally, you have to evaluate the credibility of those sources.

Types of Resources

Depending on the issue, you can use several resources. Let's examine some of them:

Public records

Public records refers to information in the public domain that is recorded and stored by a government or government organizations. Some examples of public records are birth certificates, government budgets and contracts, court records, statistical data, reports issued by state agencies and the information of the Congressional Record. Personal data that might violate privacy laws, however, is not usually in the public records.

Court records are a form of public records
Court record

Public records can provide accurate and detailed data about specific topics and are relatively easy to obtain. If you want to analyze unemployment, for example, it is easier to find data from the US Census than going door to door asking every single individual about their employment status.

Surveys

Surveys collect information about how the public feels about a specific topic at a moment in time. They usually consist of questions that are answered by a representative number of individuals (the sample). The interviewer might collect the information in person, over the phone, or on the internet. When conducting surveys, questions shouldn't direct people toward one option over the other.

Surveys provide information about the opinion of people on specific issues
Survey

Gallup polls are often cited when analyzing public issues. This consulting firm often conducts opinion polls in the United States and worldwide.

Research Data

Research data is information about a specific issue that is produced through scientific studies. It consists of factual material that is collected, observed or created during the course of the study. The data might originate from a variety of organizations, including universities, and independent or state-run research institutes. Sometimes, students might conduct research about local issues.

Research data is a valuable source of detailed information because it provides scientific evidence that can support a point of view about a public issue.

Policy Positions of Advocacy Groups

Advocacy groups are organizations of people who share political, economic or social views. They try to advance their interest by negotiating, lobbying and other political processes. Some examples of advocacy groups are labor unions, groups representing the construction industry or an organization advocating for women's rights.

Advocacy groups often outline their positions about public issues on websites and in literature that they publish. They can provide valuable information about an issue, however, their information is sometimes biased.

Advocacy groups use different means to promote their positions
Demonstration

If you are analyzing the access to firearms among students, some Human Rights organizations might provide valuable information. However, the literature from the National Rifle Association might provide you with biased information for this particular issue.

The Credibility of Sources

You can find plenty of information out there, but not all of it is accurate. You will probably come across instances of limited perspective and biased information, especially regarding information from advocacy groups.

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