The Public Policy-Making Cycle
The Pursuit Public Administration
Public policy is an essential function of government. As a tool for addressing societal challenges, it is the result of a great number of individuals working together to solve common problems. The public policy-making cycle streamlines this process.
What Is Public Policy?
Public policy describes the actions of government. Usually created in response to issues brought before decision makers, these policies come in the form of laws and regulations. They may be created by any governing body, from the U.S. president down to city council members.
The goal of public policy cannot entirely be separated from its source. Both government and public policy help meet basic societal needs and obligations; decide how communities, states or nations manage resources; and keep general order in society.
The Policy-Making Process
The policy-making process is ongoing, messy and generally without a definitive beginning or end, political science scholar Susan J. Buck explains. However, those involved in the process do tend to follow a general procedure, broken down into six phases.
Phase 1: Agenda Setting
As the first phase in the cycle, agenda setting helps policy makers decide which problems to address. Topics for discussion go through several types of agendas before these individuals may move them forward. Types of agendas might include:
- Systemic agendas. Systemic agendas comprise all issues policy makers deem both worthy of note and in their realm of authority to address.
- Institutional agendas. These agendas are formed from the content of systemic agendas. Here, policy makers analyze problems and their proposed solutions in a strict amount of time.
- Discretionary agendas. These agendas address problems chosen by legislators that have not necessarily made it into the agendas mentioned above.
- Decision agendas. Decision agendas are the finalized list of issues to be moved to the next phase of the policy-making cycle.
Phase 2: Policy Formation
In policy formation, solutions to problems are shaped and argued. This phase is characterized by intense negotiation between parties. Leaders, bureaus and other factions must fight for their own needs and desires, often in opposition to one another. Concerns might include budgetary issues, personal or political constraints, or the protection of certain existing programs. Public policies are therefore formed far more by the act of bargaining than by any other means. Policy formation continues even after initial legislation is passed, arising whenever amendments are suggested or the original legislation is reauthorized.
Phase 3: Policy Legitimation
“Legitimacy” means that the public considers the government’s actions to be legal and authoritative. To gain legitimacy in the United States, a policy must be moved through the legislative process. Once this happens, it is considered the law of the land and can be implemented as such. It must be mentioned that the legitimacy of a policy is only as good as the willingness of citizens to accept it. Therefore, it is possible for people to reject policy if they view the policy makers’ behavior or the legislation itself as unacceptable in some way.
Phase 4: Policy Implementation
This phase puts policies into action. Responsibility passes from policy makers to policy implementers, and the policies themselves may again develop further while this happens. Whether a policy succeeds can often be traced back to this phase; a well-written policy with a poor implementation can end in failure.
Phase 5: Policy Evaluation
Policy makers conduct evaluations to determine if the policies they create are effective in achieving their goals. When determining this, they must consider:
- How to evaluate outcomes effectively
- How to measure the outcomes
- How to navigate between the efficiency of a policy and its effectiveness (the former is often easier to measure than the latter)
Evaluation may occur either during implementation or after the policy in question is finished.
Phase 6: Policy Maintenance, Succession or Termination
Once implemented, policies are periodically gauged for their relevancy and use. This may result in their continuation, amendment or termination. These incidents often occur due to policy makers’ shifting goals, values, beliefs or priorities.
When new issues arise, the policy-making cycle begins again, helping governing bodies successfully address new and important challenges.
Additional sources: Project Citizen, A Guide to Managing Public Policy, Public Policymaking: An Introduction
Phase 7: Public Administration Leadership
A successful public policy-making cycle translates into beneficial laws and regulations for all. For those interested in learning how to implement substantial change in the public sector and beyond.
This article is about government action. Policy, both public and private, is a broader concept. The article on public policy doctrine discusses the use of the phrase ‘public policy’ in legal doctrine. For other uses, see Public policy (disambiguation).
Public policy is the principled guide to action taken by the administrative executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues, in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs.
Foundation of Public Policy
The foundation of public policy is composed of national constitutional laws and regulations. Further substrates include both judicialinterpretations and regulations which are generally authorized by legislation. Public policy is considered strong when it solves problems efficiently and effectively, serves and supports governmental institutions and policies, and encourages active citizenship.
Other scholars define public policy as a system of “courses of action, regulatory measures, laws, and funding priorities concerning a given topic promulgated by a governmental entity or its representatives.” Public policy is commonly embodied in “constitutions, legislative acts, and judicial decisions.”
In the United States, this concept refers not only to the result of policies, but more broadly to the decision-making and analysis of governmental decisions. As an academic discipline, public policy is studied by professors and students at public policy schools of major universities throughout the country. The U.S. professional association of public policy practitioners, researchers, scholars, and students is the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.
Government Actions and Process
Public policy making can be characterized as a dynamic, complex, and interactive system through which public problems are identified and countered by creating new public policy or by reforming existing public policy.
Public problems can originate in endless ways and require different policy responses (such as regulations, subsidies, Import quota|quotas, and laws) on the local, national, or international level.
Government holds a legal monopoly to initiate or threaten physical force to achieve its ends.
Public policy making is a continuous process that has many feedback loops. Verification and program evaluation are essential to the functioning of this system.
The public problems that influence public policy making can be of economic, social, or political nature.
Each system is influenced by different public problems and issues, and has different stakeholders; as such, each requires different public policy.
In public policy making, numerous individuals, corporations, non-profit organizations and interest groups compete and collaborate to influence policymakers to act in a particular way.
The large set of actors in the public policy process, such as politicians, civil servants, lobbyists, domain experts, and industry or sector representatives, use a variety of tactics and tools to advance their aims, including advocating their positions publicly, attempting to educate supporters and opponents, and mobilizing allies on a particular issue.
Many actors can be important in the public policy process, but government officials ultimately choose public policy in response to the public issue or problem at hand. In doing so, government officials are expected to meet public sector ethics and take the needs of all project stakeholders into account.
Since societies have changed in the past decades, the public policy making system changed too. In the 2010s, public policy making is increasingly goal-oriented, aiming for measurable results and goals, and decision-centric, focusing on decisions that must be taken immediately.
Furthermore, mass communications and technological changes such as the widespread availability of the Internet have caused the public policy system to become more complex and interconnected. The changes pose new challenges to the current public policy systems and pressures leaders to evolve to remain effective and efficient.
Academic Discipline and Characteristics of Successful Public Policy
Many people gripe about the laws and politics of the United States, but what separates good from bad public policies? Few people have anything to complain about in regards to complex issues such as the merit of rural electrification or the national weather service, but many more hot-button issues create a divided public, especially when lobbying interests advance a particular agenda. Placing personal opinions aside, how do we know which public policy initiatives most effectively benefit us on a personal and national level?
Here are the ten most important US policy issues:
- Climate change
- Health care
- Public land
- Retirement accounts
- Social security
- Taxation and spending
- International trade
Some may matter more to an individual, some may not matter at all, yet they take up the bulk of attention of national lawmakers.
What Is Good Policy?
In a nutshell, a good policy is one that solves problems without creating a political rift. Whenever it is believed that it can solve a problem without one party disagreeing with its inception, it can go forward without issue. This policy should solve a public problem without violating the legal boundaries set down by federal, state, and local laws. It must encourage an active citizenry, furthermore, as well as the democratic process.
Successes Or Failures
Questions of whether the policy solves the problem and whether or not it is legal affect the successes and failures. For example, California’s attempt to cut down on gun crime saw a ten year foundation that cut down on the gun violence rate by fifty percent; since the foundation did not attempt to restrict gun ownership it had no questions about constitutionality.
To learn more about the Characteristics of Successful Public Policy, take a look below at the infographic below.