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Chapter 3

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University of Guelph
Political Science
POLS 3250
J Killingsworth

Public Policy: Prospects and Challenges Chapter 3- Problem Definition: Agenda Setting and Policy Formation Problem Definition in Policy Analysis Policy making is in large measure about trying to solve problems, and so the nature of those problems- how they are defined- is central to the entire process. Defining problems entails political and strategic measures framing problems draws on a variety of ingredients, from scientific expertise to conventional wisdom and rhetoric. In a democracy, it is important to shape arguments in ways that capture public attention and support. o There is a universal agreement that the key factor is the problem or at least the definition of a situation considered problematic o "problem structuring is a central guidance system or steering mechanism that affects the success of all subsequent phases of policy analysis" o Policy analysis's fail because they solve the wrong problem o Problems have to be discerned, shaped, articulated and defended o They are not always clear, sometimes no one is aware of them Key Issues o What constitutes a problem?  "A problem is a substantial discrepancy between what is and what should be"  "Unrealized needs, values, or opportunities for improvement"  Three components: reality, a desired state of affairs and the gap between them o Before problems can be defined they have to be recognized or sensed  Values, perceptions and interest play a huge role in this phase, since recognition depends on attention, and attention depends on relevance and an ability to notice and care about signals coming from the environment around us  Problem recognition is often stimulated by widely agreed upon indicators and routine monitoring that turns up discrepancies or patters that hint something is wrong: deaths, disease rates, immunization rates, consumer prices, infant mortality rates, costs of programs etc.  People pay attention when there is reasonable degree of consensus about what the indicators mean and that the problem needs their attention  Indicators come in various forms and must be interpreted: routinely produced by governments departments and programs, annual reports, statistics Canada data, research reports and studies, interest groups, think tanks etc.  Focusing events: sudden catastrophes or crises that grab attention ex. SARS o Definition or structuring is the process of taking some indicator that a problem exists and answering three fundamental questions:  About the indicator itself and its relation to the phenomenon it is representing  Causality: why did this happen and how?  What action to take in the event that there is a real problem at stake  These questions need to be answer by specialists that are relevant to the problem  A key aspect of determining these questions and answering them is called problem structuring  Boundary analysis: conceptualization of a given problem  Classification analysis: breaking down the problem into logically distinct categories or classes  Hierarchical analysis: technique used for identifying possible causes of a problem by looking at possible causes, plausible causes and actionable causes  Synectics: technique that relies on the use of analogies to see if new policy problems have sufficiently similar characteristics to old ones  Brainstorming: used to generate ideas, goals and strategies  Multiple perspective analysis: review the problem situation from 3 perspectives- technical, organizational, personal  Assumption analysis: canvassing a full range of solutions proposed for the issue and analyzing and challenging the assumptions that underlie the problem definition  Argument mapping: a technique to map and classify different components of policy arguments made by stakeholders o Policy images: a mixture of empirical information and emotive appeals that explain the issue and justify the public policy response Aspects of Policy Arguments and Problem Definition Causality o Individual causation versus systematic o Intentional versus accidental o Causes due to the nature of values systems o Complex causal systems versus simple causal agents Severity o Distinguishes between the acknowledged existence of a problem and
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