Policy Formulation: Introduction


The agenda moves forward into the stage of the public policy cycle called policy formulation. How is the cycle perspective different from other approaches to public policy?

Transition From Agenda

We must keep in mind that the very act of getting an issue to the agenda has given form and definition to that issue. A context has been cast, parties have already participated or have been passive or perhaps excluded. The alternatives brought to bear will be limited by the way the issue got on the agenda. Some alternatives will have already been dismissed while others have become favored. Positions have begun to harden.

Case: The Rodney King Riots

Consider the civil disturbances in Los Angeles in May, 1992, following the verdict in the police beating of motorist Rodney King. The publicity and controversy required that even the Bush administration give the incident front-burner attention. Trying to shake the widespread perception that lie had given domestic problems scant attention, President Bush and Vice-President Quayle each visited South Central Los Angeles, scene of the devastation.

The interpretations given the situation had already begun to swirl: Liberals saw minorities revolting against endemic police brutality and a social system which marginalized African-Americans. Conservatives, on the other hand, stressed outrageous criminal behavior by lawless individuals who should be rounded up, prosecuted, and jailed. They strongly supported the paramilitary style and strident rhetoric of Police Chief Gates, who was soon dismissed. What should be done? Liberal policy prescriptions might include: Provide more social services. Change the chief of police. Create more job opportunities. Conservatives might propose other remedies: Hire more police. Keep Gates. Pass more severe criminal penalties. Enforce a strict curfew. Leave matters to California Governor Pete Wilson. Establish urban enterprise zones by lowering taxes in the area in an effort to entice businesses, therefore jobs. Many from within his conservative camp were disappointed that President Bush proposed any policy assistance, viewing that as rewarding looting and wanton violence. Perhaps the President was concerned about his low standing in the poll and the charge that he had for years neglected domestic policy in favor of foreign policy. In fact, the President, perhaps assessing California as a lost cause in the upcoming election, did nothing but parade up and down the streets of this divided city. The bitterness deepened.


This illustrates how the types of solutions proposed depend heavily on the way the problem is perceived. How it is perceived has already been cast by the time the issue arrived on the agenda. Whoever set the agenda has the edge in problem definition and policy formulation. How the problem is initially defined critically shapes formulation. The original problem definition not only influences what alternatives will be seriously considered, but limits the debate. This debate on what policy alternative should be adopted is the subject of this chapter.

The Public Policy Cycle Web Site | Page: © Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. | ™ ProfWork | whayes@ramapo.edu
Initialized: October 29, 2001 | Last Update: 06/01/2014