About Government Policy

Public Policy

Part 1

Our lives are shaped by public policies, whether we are aware of them or not. When problems are outside our control, ideas about their solution lead quickly to public policies. There are slightly varying definitions of Public Policy but generally it includes the laws, regulations, programs and practices of government that address social needs and problems. Some of the oldest public policy issues include health, welfare, transportation and emergency services. Policies are designed for numerous reasons such as; assuring the food we eat is safe, improving our public school system or promoting energy conservation. As we know these policies don’t always work well and objectives often become convoluted in the process of forming and implementing policy.

The formal policymaking process, which includes both creating and enacting policies, is complex, involving many different people, both inside and outside government. Public policy covers a wide range of activities and there are divergent opinions about the need and success of different policy decisions. When considering the role of the Artist in Residence of the United States Government, whether local, regional or national, it is helpful to understand a basic public policy “life cycle”. There are different and varying versions of this “life cycle” and the steps have differing names and may be blurred from one to another. Here we present a 6-step simplified approach.

Stage 1: Recognition: Identification of the problem and building of sufficient desire for a remedy.

In this first stage the problem is acknowledged and interest to improve the issue has developed. During this stage sufficient desire and influence to create political action at some level must be established. The initiation of this stage can come from many different players; from community groups, nonprofits, organized interests, concerned citizens, policy analysts, artists, scientists, public officials or others who identify the problem and propose a policy change. This stage commonly involves an in-depth study of the problem from both a historical and social perspective. It should be determined who is affected, how aware the public is of the issue and whether is it short or long-term concern.

Stage 2: Formulation: Conception of ideas that address the problem and creation of the proposal.

This is the creative stage where the ideas are produced and shaped. This generally includes estimation by policy analysts, technical experts, budget analysts, economists, scientists, public officials, journalists, sometimes academics who are experts in the related fields – political science, history, sociology, etc. and others estimate what the benefits, costs, risks, and other consequences might be of adopting alternative options. Each of these participants will offer their ideas and opinions on the problem or issue from their particular perspective, bringing their different positions to bear. Each will represent particular values and interests (both personal and public) and the problem or issue may be reframed or redefined based on information provided by one or more of these participants. During this stage the legislative proposal is formed.

Artists are not generally (if ever) included in this stage. The IWT believes that artists have a great deal to contribute to policy development at this and other stages. They offer their own approach to problems—looking for solutions that are completely outside convention or expectation—at least this is how artists are trained, a kind of art school expertise which has resulted from the late 20th century process of deskilling, and a comfort with their lack of “real “expertise in any of the areas that relate to policy making. In fact it is this comfort with their own lack of expertise, and their confidence in their own problem-solving abilities that gives them a unique ability to offer some alternatives.

Stage 3: Selection: Governmental acceptance or rejection of the proposal.

This can be a long, drawn out process with many players and complications. Competing advocates, organized interests, and others try to persuade policymakers to adopt one policy option or another with many interests and ulterior motives involved.

Stage 4: Implementation: The formal carrying out of the policy

Government officials and employees, contractors, grantees, and others find ways to carry out (or sometimes subvert or ignore) the policy selected by policymakers. Sometimes, political compromises struck during selection result in vague, ambiguous, or self-contradictory policies. Because so many people and organizations may be involved at this stage, the policy in actual practice may deviate This step usually includes defining the agencies and organizations involved and distributing responsibilities to each. To be successful, this stage requires agency communication and cooperation, sufficient funds and staff, and overall compliance to the new approach.

Stage 5: Evaluation: Observing, measuring, and studying the benefits, costs, and other outcomes of the implemented policy.

While the importance of this step has not always been emphasized, modern policy makers often incorporate tools for evaluation into the formulation stage.

Stage 6: Modification: The policy continues, changes or is terminated.

Policies, programs, and organizations are changed or even terminated if they have become “dysfunctional, redundant, outmoded, or unnecessary. The policy either is given new life at this stage or dies.

With the Internet and its various forms of instant communication, involvement in public policy issues has become more democratized. The Internet can be a powerful tool in for effective grassroots advocacy. Concerned citizens may access many of the same data sources as legislators and lobbyists, and build grassroots movements for or against any issue about which they feel strongly. It is now possible for virtually anyone with an opinion to become involved, weigh in and help shape the future. While lobbying is explicitly pleading a case to the government, advocacy has a wider context. Advocacy is the full process for what you are going to do, which includes the whole range of activities that identify and promote social change by changing public perceptions and public policy. When you submit a proposal you become an advocate.