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Making public policy is not a quick or easy process, although the steps may seem intuitive. Each step requires a significant amount of time and debate, making what appears to be a quick five step process into a long struggle, full of vigorous opposing opinions, concessions, and unanticipated complications. The five basic steps are: Identify a problem, formulate a policy, adopt a policy, implement the policy, and evaluate the policy.
There are three basic areas of public policy within the United States. Almost any policy can be classified as either social, economic, or foreign. Many citizens associate only hot button issues such as welfare, crime, abortion, education, and health care with public policy, but all of these fall under the heading of social policy, and only represent a part of the picture.
The first step is to identify a problem. Sometimes, the problem is brought to the attention of government officials by individual citizens. Other times, lobbyists or private groups come to speak out on an issue, or the problem may be identified from above, and handed down to Congress for a resolution. When making public policy, it should be considered whether the problem affects many citizens, and whether the solution will degrade the civil liberties.
Once the problem has been identified, government and citizens work together to formulate a policy. Government is formed in such a way that, ideally, public opinion should rank among one of the biggest factors in making public policy. Citizens appeal to their congressmen and encourage them to vote for or against the policy. Likewise, supporters or detractors will issue media coverage on the policy and attempt to sway public opinion through these avenues. The policy is critiqued and refined among experts to find the best possible wording and compromises on issues that are important to one side or the other.
The next step in making public policy is to adopt the policy. Legislators vote on whether or not the formulated policy should be enacted into law. Once it has been enacted, and approved by the president, suggestions for implementation are passed to the executive branch of government.
When the policy has been in effect for enough time, the legislators analyze the effectiveness of the policy. This analysis is based on information gathered from statistics and opinions of the executives who have worked on implementation. If the policy needs to be altered to account for unforeseen complications, amendments can be added to the policy. Making public policy is never truly finished, and in reality the process is far from perfect. Issues can always be revisited over time, however, and adjustments, corrections, or improvements can be made.
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