How do social problems become policy problems? Discuss with reference
to any specific area of public policy.
Public policy is a proposed intended course of action of either a person group of people or
the government within a specific environment providing obstacles, chances or opportunities
within the proposed policy which it utilizes to overcome in a sustained effort to achieve a
specific goal or realize certain objective or purpose. (Dunn, 2008)
A public policy acts as a guide to present future decisions that have been selected in a view of
certain conditions from many other alternatives, the proposed decision or a number of proposed
decisions that have been designed to implement the intended course of actions i.e. a projected
designed program that consists of the given objectives and the proposed means of achieving
them. ( John, 2000)
A public policy is simply a decision that has been made by the government to guide any other
actions in the same or similar situation or circumstances. Government policies are mostly
referred to as public policies as their set of decisions and actions guide the whole society in
general. These public policies are initiated and developed by the provincial, municipal, federal or
even territorial levels of government.
Policy matters are normally divided into two main categories i.e. the policies that are already on
the public policy discussions or agendas and those that have not been formulated or even
discussed. These are the social problems before they actually become public policy issues. When
these policy issues have found their way into the public policy formal agenda, then they gain a
higher profile and the formal process is most likely to follow unlike when it’s not on the
proposed public policy agenda. Whenever there is a problem or an issue that has not been ratified
and it’s not on the general public domain, it’s the duty of all the stakeholders and also the general
community to educate others within themselves provides information and takes all the necessary
steps after educating most of the community, to have it listed on the agenda. For an issue to
qualify and be able to stand out in all the processes and eventually become a public policy then it
must have the following. One, it must have sufficient and logical scope i.e. it must be affecting a
good fraction of the people or the community, it must also have a high intensity i.e. the
magnitude of its impact must be high and it must have been an issue for a long period of time.
(Gerston, 1997) A number of problems may trigger the development of public policy whose
response can either be reactive, as in most cases or preactive or proactive.
Policy development becomes reactive when it literally reacts or responds to issues and other
factors that have emerged mostly with very little notice or warning from either external or even
internal environment. These may be by listening and solving problems or issues, allocating
resources i.e. either fiscal or natural resources, reactions to emergencies or major catastrophes or
emergencies among other reactionary measures. Policy development can also be preactive i.e. it
reacts or responds to those triggers that are already recognized because the operating
environment is usually scanned and potential issues and other factors are indentified before they
occur i.e. the issues are already predicted before they occur and mitigation and contingency
matters are already in place before they occur. This is done by making strategic decisions,
choices, risk management, planning and setting the right priorities. Formal policies are rarely
proactive when it comes to their developments. The nature of developing a policy is such that
most of the key and majority of the major decisions only reflect little changes to the existing
status quo. The challenges that are connected to or associated with the development of an
integrated policy needs a big and broader picture, a general system perspective that can be able
to identify and address all the root causes or other symptoms. These policies can be driven by
politicians, powerful stakeholders, lobby groups, community leaders, departments and many
other bureaucratic committees.
Public policies can be divided into two major categories. Vertical policy is mostly developed by
companies that have the authority and the means to implement their decisions. The horizontal
policy popularly known as the integrated policy is normally developed by two or even more
organizations with abilities to implement only portions of the integrated processes or policies.
The key factors that need to be considered when developing a public policy are, the public
interest i.e. is the public policy for the interest of the public or the society, is the process
inclusive and is it balanced i.e. between special interest and private interest. The public policy
must also be very effective in achieving its stated goals and objective. It also has to be efficient
and consistent while representing fairness and equity. It must also be politically and socially
acceptable. It must be based on a foundation of values that have been acknowledged and
discussed in a democratic process by the society.
Alexander, C. (1979) The Timeless Way of Building, Oxford University Press, New York,
A Pattern Language, (1977) Oxford University Press, New York.
Bardach, E.( 2000) A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis, Chatham House Publishers,
Bickford, Susan (1996) Listening, Conflict and Citizenship: The Dissonance of
Democracy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York,
Bourgon, Jocelyn, .Strengthening Our Policy Capacity,. in Rethinking Policy:
StrengtheningPolicy Capacity, (1995) proceedings of a conference held in the National Capital
Region, June 1995,
Baldwin, R. and M. Cave (1999) Understanding Regulation, Oxford: OUP
Bovaird, T and E Löffler (2009) eds. Public Management and Governance Oxford: Routledge
Burnham, J and R Pyper (2008) Britain’s Modernised Civil Service Basingstoke: Palgrave
Dunn, W (2008) Public Policy Analysis: An Introduction. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
Eliassen, KA and N Sitter (2008) Understanding Public Management London: Sage*
Ferlie, E, L E Lynn and C Pollitt, eds. (2007) The Oxford Handbook of Public Management
Oxford: Oxford University Press
Fischer, F. (2003) Reframing Public Policy, Oxford: OUP.
Flynn, N. (2012) Public Sector Management London: Sage
Hill, M. (2009) The Public Policy Process. London: Longman.
Hughes, OE (2012) Public Management and Administration: an Introduction Basingstoke:
John, P (2000) Analyzing Public Policy, London: Pinter.
Lynn, L E (2006) Public Management Old and New London: Routledge
McLaughlin, K, SP Osborne and E Ferlie (2005) New Public Management: current trends and
future prospects London: Routledge
Moran, M. (2003) The British Regulatory State, Oxford University Press.
Parsons, W (2005) Public Policy. London: Edward Elgar.
Pollitt, C, and G Bouckaert (2004) Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis
Oxford: Oxford University Press
Pyper R and A Massey (2005) Public Management and Modernisation in Britain London:
Richards, D and Smith, M. (2002) Governance and Public Policy in the UK. Oxford: OUP.
Sabatier, P ed. (2007) Theories of the Policy Process. Boulder: Westview Press.
Brewer, Garry D. and Peter deLeon,( 1983) The Foundations of Policy Analysis, Brooks/Cole
Publishing Company, Pacific Grove, California,.
Brooks, Stephen, Public Policy in Canada: An Introduction, McClelland and Stewart Inc.,
Toronto, Ontario, 1989.
Calabresi, G. and P. Bobbitt, Tragic Choices, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1978.
Canadian Standards Association, A Guide to Public Involvement, Z764-96, 1996.
Capra, Fritjof, .Ecology and Community,. Elmwood Quarterly, Vol. 10, Spring 1994.
Connor, Desmond, Constructive Citizen Participation, 6th ed., Connor Development Services,
Victoria, B.C., 1997.
Cormick, Gerald, Norman Dale, Paul Emond, S. Glen Sigurdson and Barry D. Stewart, Building
Consensus for a Sustainable Future: Putting Principles into Practice, National Round Table on
the Environment and the Economy, Ottawa, 1996.
Daneke, Gregory A. and Alan Walter Steiss, .Planning and Policy Analysis for Public
Administrators,. in John W. Sutherland (ed.), Management Handbook for Public
Administrators, Van Nostrand and Reinhold Company, New York, 1978.
Dodd, Julie Devon and Michelle Hébert Boyd, Capacity Building – Linking Community
Experience to Public Policy, Population and Public Health Branch, Atlantic Regional Office,
Health Canada, Halifax, 2000.
…, Moyra Buchanan, Monica Chaperlin, Doug Crossman and Jane Oram, Moving Beyond
Hope: Consumers & Communities in Policy Development, Population and Public Health
Branch, Atlantic Regional Office, Health Canada, Halifax, nd.
Doern, G.B. and R.W. Phidd, Canadian Public Policy: Ideas, Structures, Processes, Methune,
Dye, Thomas R., Understanding Public Policy, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey,
Emery, F.E. and E.L.Trist, .The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments,. Human
Relations, Vol. 18, pp. 21-23, 1965.
Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health, Toward a
Healthy Future: Second Report on the Health of Canadians, prepared for the Meeting of
Ministers of Health, Charlottetown, P.E.I, September 1999.
Fisher, Roger and William Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving in,
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Mass., 1981.
Frederich, Carl J., Man and his Government, McGraw Hill, New York, 1963.
Gerston, Larry N., Public Policy Making: Process and Principles, M.E. Sharpe, New York,
Goleman, Daniel, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Bantam Books, New York, 1998.
Guildford, Janet, Making the Case for Social and Economic Inclusion, Population and Public
Health Branch, Atlantic Regional Office, Health Canada, Halifax, 2000.
Hammond, Sue Annis, The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, Thin Book Publishing Co.,
Plano, Texas, 1998.
Health Canada, Population Health Fund Guide for Applicants, April 1999.
…, Policy Toolkit for Public Involvement in Decision Making, Corporate Consultation
Secretariat, Health Policy and Communications Branch, Health Canada, Ottawa, 2000a.
…, Report on the Workshop on Social and Economic Inclusion, Population and Public
Health Branch, Atlantic Regional Office, Health Canada, Halifax, November 23, 2000b.
…, Population Health Template: Key Elements and Actions that Define a Population
Health Approach, July 2002.
Health Canada/Veterans Affairs Canada, Fact Sheet Number 1, Health Canada/Veterans
Affairs Canada Falls Prevention Initiative, August 2000.
…, Guide for the Evaluation of Community Projects, Health Canada/Veterans Affairs
Canada Falls Prevention Initiative, prepared by Ekos Research Associates Inc., February 25,
…, Notes from the Networking Meeting and Evaluation Workshop, Health
Canada/Veterans Affairs Canada Falls Prevention Initiative, Lunenburg, N.S., March 13-15,
Hopkins, M., C. Couture and E. Moore, Moving from the Heroic to the Everyday: Lessons
Learned from Leading Horizontal Initiatives, Roundtable on the Management of Horizontal
Initiatives, Canadian Centre for Management Development, Gatineau, Que., 2001.
Howlett, Michael, .Policy Instruments, Policy Styles and Policy Implementation,. Policy
Studies Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2, Spring 1991.
Isaacs, William, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, Doubleday, New York, 1999.
Lockhart, Sally, Environmental Scan of Seniors. and Veterans. Falls-Prevention Activity,
Spectrum Solutions, 2001.
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Building Consensus for a
Sustainable Future: Guiding Principles, Ottawa, 1993.
Pateman, Carole, Participation and Democratic Theory, Cambridge University Press, London,
Privy Council Office, Policy Statement and Guidelines on Consulting and Engaging Canadians,
Ottawa, May 19, 2000.
Pross, A. Paul, Group Politics and Public Policy, Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1986.
Rheingold, Howard, The Virtual Community, HarperCollins, Reading, Mass., 1993.
Saskatchewan. Department of Environment and Resources Management, A Guide to Policy
Development, Regina, Sask., 1998.
…. Department of Environment and Resources Management, Public Involvement Policy
Framework and Guidelines, Regina, Sask., 1995.
…. Public Service Commission, Public Involvement in Saskatchewan, A Guide for the
Public Service, Regina, Sask., 1994.
Schein, Edgar H., Organizational Culture and Leadership, 2nd ed., Jossey-Bass Publishers, San
Senge, Peter M., The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization,
Doubleday, New York, 1990.
Suskind, Lawrence and Jeffrey Cruikshank, Breaking the Impasse: Consensual Approaches to
Resolving Public Disputes, Basic Books Inc., New York, 1987.
… and Patrick Field, Dealing with an Angry Public: The Mutual Gains Approach to
Resolving Disputes, The Free Press, New York, 1996.
Task Force on Horizontal Issues, Managing Horizontal Policy Issues, Canadian Centre for
Management Development, Gatineau, Que., December 1996.
Trist, Eric L, .Developing an Adaptive Planning Capacity in Public Enterprise and Government
Agencies,. in John W. Sutherland (ed.), Management Handbook for Public Administrators, Van
Nostrand and Reinhold Company, New York, 1978.
VanDeusen, John M., .Aligning for Action: the Future Search Conference as a Tool for Public
Participation,. Participation Quarterly, 1st Quarter, 2000.
Weisbrod, Marvin and Sandra Janoff, Future Search: An Action Guide to Finding Common
Ground in Organizations and Communities, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1995.
Wheatley, Margaret, Leadership and the New Science, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1992.
Wildavsky, Aaron, Speaking Truth to Power: The Art and Craft of Policy Analysis, Transaction
Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1989.