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What are the Steps in the Public Policy Process?

By Darlene Goodman
Updated May 23, 2024
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There are four typical and main steps in the public policy process:

  1. identifying a problem,
  2. formulating a policy,
  3. implementing the policy change, and
  4. evaluating the result.

Each step is usually followed in the order listed to make sure that the process is done correctly. In many cases, these "steps" are turned into a cycle, with each step being repeated as changes occur; when a policy is evaluated, for example, it may reveal new problems that need to be addressed. In general, the public policy process can be seen as the steps a government takes to act on behalf of the public.

Though the terminology used to explain the policy process may differ, each step in the process is focused on the same general purpose. The actual process itself may also vary occasionally, depending on the policy in question. Despite these differences, a look at the general steps most governments, or governmental bodies, follow in most situations can provide insight into how the process generally works.

Identifying the Problem

The first step in the public policy process is to outline the problem. This involves not only recognizing that an issue exists, but also studying the problem and its causes in detail. This stage involves determining how aware the public is of the issue, deciding who will participate in fixing it, and considering what means are available to accomplish a solution. Answers to such questions often help policy makers gauge which policy changes, if any, are needed to address the identified problem. The agenda — which problems are addressed — can be set by the public, special interest groups, or government officials, among others.

Formulating a Policy to Resolve the Problem

After identifying and studying the problem, a new public policy may be formulated or developed. This step is typically marked by discussion and debate between government officials, interest groups, and individual citizens to identify potential obstacles, to suggest alternative solutions, and to set clear goals and list the steps that need to be taken to achieve them. This part of the process can be difficult, and often compromises will be required before the policy can be written. Once the policy is developed, the proper authorities must agreed to it; a weaker policy may be more likely to pass, where a stronger one that deals with the problem more directly might not have enough support to gain approval.

Implementing the Policy Change

A new policy must be put into effect, which typically requires determining which organizations or agencies will be responsible for carrying it out. This is the third step of the public policy process, and one that can be difficult if the people who are tasked with carrying out the policy are not committed to complying with it. During the policy development step, compromises may have been made to get the policy passed that those who are ultimately required to help carry it out do not agree with; as such, they are unlikely to enforce it effectively. Clear communication and coordination, as well as sufficient funding, are also needed to make this step a success.

Evaluating the Effect of the Policy Change

The final stage in the public policy process, known as evaluation, is typically ongoing. This step usually involves a study of how effective the new policy has been in addressing the original problem, which often leads to additional public policy changes. It also includes reviewing funds and resources available to ensure that the policy can be maintained. Historically, this step has not always been treated as very important, but policy makers are increasingly finding ways to make sure that the tools needed for evaluation are included in each step of the public policy process.

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Discussion Comments
By anon969100 — On Sep 07, 2014

Why does everyone think that Black people are the only people on welfare receiving food stamps and subsidized housing, when in all actuality it is White people who are more on the food stamp rolls?

I find these statements very offensive and discriminatory against Blacks. It is always kept quiet about other races receiving welfare benefits and the Blacks are publicized more often. The Black race is the only race that has not received any reparations for all of the wrongs that were committed against them and still are treated as if they are on the plantation.

Shame on all of you for your sinful posts for not speaking the real truth. In these hard economic times, everyone who qualifies should be receiving food stamps and subsidized housing as high as rent is. When will everybody wake up and realize they regardless of race, we are all in the same boat, except for those with a silver spoon in their mouths.

By anon947604 — On Apr 26, 2014

What are the advantages and disadvantages of going through the steps?

By anon947094 — On Apr 24, 2014

What are some of the criticisms of the public policy making process?

By anon299616 — On Oct 25, 2012

Please help me with this question: Using any typical policy document, e.g., in education, clearly outline the various processes.

By anon290787 — On Sep 11, 2012

Kindly assist me with the following questions.

1. The reasons for policy success or failure are complex as they depend on the nature and context of the organization and policy. Discuss the given relevant examples.

2. Identify a problem policy. Using all six steps of policy analysis process, unpack the issues and formulate a revised policy.

By anon130514 — On Nov 28, 2010

how do we implement policy-making processes?

By anon128713 — On Nov 20, 2010

I see your idea that Republicans feel that the poor would benefit most to work rather than be dependent on welfare.

I know from experience that to receive Social Security is not an easy task and neither s receiving Medicaid. Too many loopholes are made. I have a family member who doesn't qualify for Social Security yet because he made an appeal, he was turned down by Voc. Rehab to receive their help.

He is suffering from herniated disks and a sciatic nerve that if ruptured could paralyze him. I also know how public schools have suffered lack of funding due to the lottery. Sure schools may provide breakfast and lunch if the parents have food stamps or Medicaid, but they will not provide a tutor to your child unless they fall into the rank of almost poverty.

I was very angry about this, since my children are Cherokee/Choctaw Indians. It is even worse when you have to be African American to even qualify for services. Surely, the African Americans may have poverty but what makes them more dependent on services for their children above other races?

What sounds really absurd is these "poor class members" drive up in expensive cars to accept food stamps or purposely have a great number of children to ream the government of more money. Our society is really warped. I'm watching Star Trek while reading these posts and do you think we'll really come to the moment in time when money is not an issue, everyone shares, and life is spent to explore the unknown and meet life from outer worlds? Will we ever spend our life even in space. We are too busy on fickle things.

Once dominated by gotta buy and gotta buy the best. Now we pinch pennies. Was it Gene Roddenberry who came up with the vision of Star Trek? I wonder what his society was like to create such an utopia.

By GreenWeaver — On Nov 13, 2010

BrickBack-Sometimes the public policy implementation process can be complicated because in addition to the debate on both sides there are also special interest groups that try to influence the policy makers.

For example, Planned Parenthood an abortion clinic might lobby policy makers to lift bans on partial birth abortions. This would allow no restrictions on abortions and would benefit Planned Parenthood.

Another group like the Sierra Club might lobby to avoid letting any oil drilling to take place in ANWAR.

To influence these politicians many of these special interest groups often give large sums of money to the politician’s campaigns which really causes a conflict of interest and often the policy maker often sides with the special interest group due to his or her feelings of indebtedness.

Some of these policy makers have a public policy degree and many have masters of public administration. While the public policy education is not necessary, it does give you a better understanding of the policy making process.

By BrickBack — On Nov 13, 2010

Comfyshoes-They’ll always be debate on how to best to help societies poor. The Democrats believe in governmental assistance and entitlement programs that help the poor cope with their circumstances even if it makes them dependent of the government.

The Republicans believe that it is far better to give poor people meaningful employment so that they could feel good about themselves and progress in their work career. They feel that training them to work meaningful jobs will help create a stable economic future and they won’t need these entitlement programs.

By comfyshoes — On Nov 13, 2010

Bhutan-Some people feel that while the intent of these public policy implementation process is really meant to help the poor, some feel that too many entitlement programs cause the poor to be dependent and not be able to eventually feel the self actualization opportunities of seeking more fulfilling work.

Many opponents to welfare say that a better use of tax payer dollars should be used to help the poor find higher paying work so that they can take pride in themselves.

There was significant welfare reform in the 90’s with President Clinton and it was highly successful because it offered meaningful work for the poor and gave them a sense of empowerment that they will never feel with government handouts.

This is the problem when people get used to government housing. The subsidies are so great and the rent payments are so small that often it takes a lot of initiative to want to seek something better.

This is why you often see generations living in government subsidized housing.

By Bhutan — On Nov 13, 2010

Anon90246- I think that anytime there is debate over anything there are bound to be disagreements on how to proceed. The policy making process can be lengthy and some bills never make it to a vote.

There is much debate regarding the American social welfare policy. Many proponents believe in offering as much assistance to deserving families that are below a certain income threshold.

There are food stamp programs and government subsided housing which allow the poor to have affordable housing.

There are even programs in place that allow the working poor to actually buy homes with government subsidies.

In efforts to save neighborhoods from the loss of foreclosures, the government offers up to $70,000 in grants for families of a certain income level in order to qualify to buy a home.

In addition, many public school districts across the country offer free breakfast, lunch and afterschool snacks for kids.

By anon90246 — On Jun 15, 2010

what are the issues to be confronted in the public policy process?

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