How To Write An Essay On Public Policy
I tend to set this simple-looking question for coursework in policy modules: what is policy, how much has it changed, and why? Students get to choose the policy issue, timeframe (and sometimes the political system), and relevant explanatory concepts.
On the face of it, it looks super-simple: A+ for everyone!
Give it a few more seconds, and you can see the difficulties:
- We spent a lot of time agreeing that it seems almost impossible to define policy (explained in 1000 Words and 500 Words)
- There are a gazillion possible measures of policy change (1000 Words and 500 Words)
- There is an almost unmanageable number of models, concepts, and theories to use to explain policy dynamics (I describe about 25 in 1000 Words each)
I try to encourage some creativity when solving this problem, but also advise students to keep their discussion as simple and jargon-free as possible (often by stretching an analogy with diving, in which a well-executed simple essay can score higher than a belly-flopped hard essay).
Choosing a format: the initial advice
- Choose a policy area (such as health) or issue (such as alcohol policy).
- Describe the nature of policy, and the extent of policy change, in a particular time period (such as in the post-war era, since UK devolution, or since a change in government).
- Select one or more policy concept or theory to help structure your discussion and help explain how and why policy has changed.
For example, a question might be: What is tobacco policy in the UK, how much has it changed since the 1980s, and why? I use this example because I try to answer that – UK and global – question myself, even though my 2007 article on the UK is too theory-packed to be a good model for an undergraduate essay.
Choosing a format: the cautionary advice
You may be surprised about how difficult it is to answer a simple question like ‘what is policy?’ and I will give you considerable credit for considering how to define and measure it, by identifying, for example, the use of legislation/ regulation, funding, staff, and ‘nodality’ and/ or by considering the difference between, say, policy as a statement of intent or a long term outcome. In turn, a good description and explanation of policy change is difficult. If you are feeling ambitious, you can go further, to compare, say, two issues (such as tobacco and alcohol) or places (such UK Government policy and the policy of another country), but sometimes a simple and narrow discussion can be as, or more, effective. Similarly, you can use many theories or concepts to aid explanation, but often one theory will do. Note that (a) your description of your research question, and your essay structure, is more important than (b) your decision on what topic to focus or concepts to use.
Choosing a topic: the ‘joined up’ advice
The wider aim is to encourage students to think about the relationship between different perspectives on policy theory and analysis. For example, in a blog and policy analysis paper they try to generate attention to a policy problem and advocate a solution. Then, they draw on policy theories and concepts to reflect on their papers, highlighting (say): the need to identify the most important audience; the importance of framing issues with a mixture of evidence and emotional appeals; and, the need to present ‘feasible’ solutions.
The reflection can provide a useful segue to the essay, since we’re already identifying important policy problems, advocating change, reflecting on how best to encourage it – such as by presenting modest objectives – and then, in the essay, trying to explain (say) why governments have not taken that advice in the past. Their interest in the policy issue can prompt interest in researching the issue further; their knowledge of the issue and the policy process can help them develop politically-aware policy analysis. All going well, it produces a virtuous circle.
Some examples from my pet subject
Let me outline how I would begin to answer the three questions with reference to UK tobacco policy. I’m offering a brief summary of each section rather than presenting a full essay with more detail (partly to hold on to that idea of creativity – I don’t want students to use this description as a blueprint).
What is modern UK tobacco policy?
Tobacco policy in the UK is now one of the most restrictive in the world. The UK government has introduced a large number of policy instruments to encourage a major reduction of smoking in the population. They include: legislation to ban smoking in public places; legislation to limit tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship; high taxes on tobacco products; unequivocal health education; regulations on tobacco ingredients; significant spending on customs and enforcement measures; and, plain packaging measures.
[Note that I selected only a few key measures to define policy. A fuller analysis might expand on why I chose them and why they are so important].
How much has policy changed since the 1980s?
Policy has changed radically since the post-war period, and most policy change began from the 1980s, but it was not until the 2000s onwards that the UK cemented its place as one of the most restrictive countries. The shift from the 1980s relates strongly to the replacement of voluntary agreements and limited measures with limited enforcement with legislative measures and stronger enforcement. The legislation to ban tobacco advertising, passed in 2002, replaced limited bans combined with voluntary agreements to (for example) keep billboards a certain distance from schools. The legislation to ban smoking in public places, passed in 2006 (2005 in Scotland), replaced voluntary measures which allowed smoking in most pubs and restaurants. Plain packaging measures, combined with large and graphic health warnings, replace branded packets which once had no warnings. Health education warnings have gone from stating the facts and inviting smokers to decide, and the promotion of harm reduction (smoke ‘low tar’), to an unequivocal message on the harms of smoking and passive smoking.
[Note that I describe these changes in broad terms. Other articles might ‘zoom’ in on specific instruments to show how exactly they changed]
Why has it changed?
This is the section of the essay in which we have to make a judgement about the type of explanation: should you choose one or many concepts; if many, do you focus on their competing or complementary insights; should you provide an extensive discussion of your chosen theory?
I normally recommend a very small number of concepts or simple discussion, largely because there is only so much you can say in an essay of 2-3000 words.
For example, a simple ‘hook’ is to ask if the main driver was the scientific evidence: did policy change as the evidence on smoking (and then passive smoking) related harm became more apparent? Is it a good case of ‘evidence based policymaking’? The answer may then note that policy change seemed to be 20-30 years behind the evidence [although I’d have to explain that statement in more depth] and set out the conditions in which this driver would have an effect.
In short, one might identify the need for a ‘policy environment’, shaped by policymakers, and conducive to a strong policy response based on the evidence of harm and a political choice to restrict tobacco use. It would relate to decisions by policymakers to: frame tobacco as a public health epidemic requiring a major government response (rather than primarily as an economic good or issue of civil liberties); place health departments or organisations at the heart of policy development; form networks with medical and public health groups at the expense of tobacco companies; and respond to greater public support for control, reduced smoking prevalence, and the diminishing economic value of tobacco.
This discussion can proceed conceptually, in a relatively straightforward way, or with the further aid of policy theories which ask further questions and help structure the answers.
For example, one might draw on punctuated equilibrium theory to help describe and explain shifts of public/media/ policymaker attention to tobacco, from low and positive in the 1950s to high and negative from the 1980s.
Or, one might draw on the ACF to explain how pro-tobacco coalitions helped slow down policy change by interpreting new scientific evidence though the ‘lens’ of well-established beliefs or approaches (examples from the 1950s include filter tips, low tar brands, and ventilation as alternatives to greater restrictions on smoking).
One might even draw on multiple streams analysis to identify a ‘window of opportunity for change (as I did when examining the adoption of bans on smoking in public places).
Any of these approaches will do, as long as you describe and justify your choice well. One cannot explain everything, so it may be better to try to explain one thing well.
Filed under 1000 words, 500 words, POLU9UK, tobacco, tobacco policy, UK politics and policy
Tagged as Policy, policy analysis, policy change, policy essay, Policy studies, Politics, tobacco policy, UK policy, UK politics and policy, what is policy?
Essay on Public Policy & Social
Public policies are developed based on the issues that trouble the members of society to the point that there is a necessity to take an action. According to Larry N. Gerston (2010), “issues preceding those policies develop when individuals with similar problems are forced to cope, without solution, for an unacceptable period of time”(p. 22). Public policy problems can be solved by means of effective public policy making. Illegal immigration has become a public policy problem. The problem is becoming more and more acute because of indecisiveness on the part of policy-makers. Thesis statement: Illegal immigration has become a public policy problem, which requires the proper solutions by means of effective public policymaking process, supported by public and political awareness of the significance of the policy for economic, political and cultural development of the nation.
- Outline of the major points
- The scope and nature of the public policy problem
The scope of the public policy problem like immigration or illegal immigration is large and expanding. According to James Hollifield and colleagues, “Illegal immigration also drew attention as a prominent public policy problem”(p.102). The statistical data shows that in 2008, there were about 11.9 million of illegal immigrants in the United States (Illegal Immigration Facts & Statistics, 2014). According to the research conducted by the center of Immigration Studies, if immigration continues to grow at current levels, the population of the United States will increase “from 301 million today to 468 million in 2060 – a 167 million, or 56% increase” (Illegal Immigration Facts & Statistics, 2014). The nature of the public policy problem in concluded in the fact that illegal immigrants have no rights in the United States, but at the same time, they have negative impact on the development of the U.S. economy. Illegal immigration leads to increased unemployment. As a result, current immigration policy is ineffective.
- How the problem came to public and political awareness
The problem of illegal immigration came to public and political awareness because of considerable changes in social, political and economic life of the country. Public awareness of the problem like illegal immigration is supported by certain concerns over national security. Ideological pressures influence public interpretation of current immigration laws (Koven & Götzke, 2010). Americans who oppose immigration policy explain their negative attitude to policy implementation by the threat to unemployment, the threat to cultural identity, and national security. Political awareness of the problem is caused by the functioning of interest groups, such as human rights groups and business groups. As the United States in the nation of immigrants, political parties are aware of the significance of the issue in the political development of the nation (Koven & Götzke, 2010).
- The evolution of the related public policy
The evolution of the related public policy is connected with considerable changes in decision making of policy-makers. The problem of illegal immigration begins as an individual issue, although it is closely connected with “the evolution of personal topics into widely shared aggravation that makes such dilemmas suddenly political and, therefore, candidates for public policy activity” (Gerston, 2010, p. 22).
- Level of government and the actors involved
The level of government involved in public policy making to address the public policy problem of illegal immigration include central and district levels of government. Both central and district levels of government have opportunities for involvement in decision making regarding immigration issues. The actors involved in policy making process concerning illegal immigration include civil society, business community, public and private institutions. These actors have access to the resources that may affect the policy making process.
- The intergovernmental structure and political concerns
The intergovernmental structure plays an important role in policy making process in the United States. Certain political concerns regarding immigration policy should be taken into consideration by policy makers. According to researchers, “concerns about integration into a cohesive national identity have been enhanced by fears about Islamic fundamentalism following September 11, 2001 attacks”(Koven & Götzke, 2010, p.178). As the effectiveness of immigration policy depends on ideologies of immigrants, certain political concerns may be connected with the concept of citizenship or human rights issues.
- Conflicting public opinion and impact on policy solutions
There are conflicting public opinions regarding immigration policy. The majority of American citizens have positive views on immigrants. They consider that “immigrant benefit the U.S. economically and culturally”. However, there are many Americans who state that “they are a net burden on the state” (Albertson & Gadarian, 2013, p. 288). It is known that recent immigration policies were aimed at preventing the spread of clandestine immigration in the United States, as well as guaranteed a “minimum level of rights to immigrants, even to those without a residence permit” (De Montis et al., 2012, p. 1227). Nevertheless, many Americans opposed these policies, explaining the significant role of diversifications in human society, which lead to conflicts between cultures.
- The approaches to policy formulation, adoption, and evaluation
The approaches to policy formulation, adoption, and evaluation play an important role in policy making process. Policy formulation process requires high level of political diplomacy and effective negotiation as this process takes place within a large political arena. Policy approaches to address immigration issues require public involvement. The rational approach is the most appropriate for finding solutions to immigration policy problems as it reflect real-world goals. It is necessity to define the problem, social values and policy goals in order to explore the major policy alternative solutions. Policy adoption process is based on the awareness of the significance of the issue. Policy evaluation should be focused on design, explanation and testing of various methods to address policy evaluation issues, including case study evaluation, needs analysis, realistic analysis and other methods.
- The suggested policy direction (continuation, change or termination) and future impact
The brief overview of immigration public policy problem shows that illegal immigration influences practically every area of public concern. As a result, the suggested policy direction should be based on change of current public policy decisions. It is necessary to make certain changes in order to accelerate the economic development of the nation. Generally speaking, today’s immigration law in the United States requires reformation. According to Briggs, it is necessary to make “labor-market-oriented changes to immigration policy”, which could form a solid foundation for such reformation (qtd. in Peach, 2010, p. 111). Although changes in immigration law cannot have significant impact on the causes of illegal immigration, they may contribute to finding the ways to improve economic development.
Thus, it is necessary to conclude that the public policy problem like illegal immigration is really serious. As public policy problem affect public policy implementation, it is necessary to find the proper solutions to the problem of illegal immigration. The public response to existing problems and the solutions to these problems should be based on positive public experience.