The Public Policy Process: Problem Recognition, Policy Formation & Policy Implementation

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  • 1:03 Policy Process - An Overview
  • 1:55 Problem Identification
  • 4:02 Identification of Options
  • 4:54 Selection & Implementation
  • 5:44 Evaluation
  • 6:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Good public policy is grounded in a sound policy making process. In this lesson, you'll learn about the rational-comprehensive model of policy formation and the steps involved in using it. A short quiz follows the lesson.

Public Policy Defined

Mary is the mayor of a medium-sized city in the industrial Midwest. The mayor has a problem. Ever since the start of the Great Recession, her city has suffered from an unemployment rate that is significantly higher than the national average. People are leaving the city for greener pastures, resulting in the hollowing out of many neighborhoods. This has caused an increase in crime and a pandemic of neighborhood business closings.

Mary believes she needs to implement a public policy that may alleviate the problem. Public policy is government-set objectives relating to the general health and welfare of the public, and actions taken to accomplish these objectives. It can range from providing for a national defense to ensuring the safety of our food supply.

Policy Process - An Overview

The public policy process is the manner in which public policy is formed, implemented and evaluated. Mary will use the rational-comprehensive model of policy making articulated by political scientist Charles Lindblom to formulate and implement her policy. The rational-comprehensive model breaks the policy process down into four distinctive phases:

  1. Problem identification
  2. Identification of policy options
  3. Selection and implementation
  4. Evaluation

Now, let's see how each step works as Mayor Mary goes through the process.

Problem Identification

The first step in solving any problem is identifying and accurately defining it. Identifying the problem may appear to be simple. For example, Mary has identified her city's dismal unemployment rate as a problem. However, problem identification doesn't stop at such a simple definition.

The rational-comprehensive model requires that policymakers do their due diligence before they decide on a course of action. This is because policy is just like any other tool; some policies work well for some problems, but not for others - you're not going to be effective in utilizing a screwdriver to pound in a nail. Likewise, proper problem identification includes defining the root cause of the problem so you can apply the right tools to fix it. Consequently, Mary should take her time to carefully study the problem empirically and objectively to fully understand it.

Mary and her staff perform some research and think they have a good handle on the problem. Over the past five years, several of the city's best paying and largest employers have either closed or relocated their operations outside of the city. This has caused a rate of unemployment well above the national rate.

The high rate of unemployment has caused many of the unemployed to move either because of better job opportunities or because of losing their homes in foreclosure. This caused local demand to decrease, which resulted in small businesses that relied on neighborhood customers to close, resulting in even more unemployment.

Identification of Options

The next step in the process is to identify alternatives. The list of options should be exhaustive. In our example, Mary and her team have come up with some possible solutions. One possible solution is to cut the city's sales tax to encourage more local spending.

Another option is to work with the county to lower the property tax rate on residential and commercial property in hopes of encouraging more spending and investment. Mary also can work with the county government to offer a tax abatement, such as a suspension of property taxes, for new business development to encourage businesses to relocate to the city.

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