PPA 503 – The Public Policy Making Process Lecture 4a – Problem Definition
Introduction • Problem definition has to do with what we choose to identify as public issues and how we think and talk about these concerns. • In recent years, problem definition has acquired increasing importance in the study of public policymaking along two often separate tracks. • First, researchers interested in the appearance of new issues have investigated how the description of a given social problem can affect its rise and decline before government. • Second, public policy specialists working in diverse fields have linked such descriptions to the solutions that government devises.
Introduction • E.E. Schattschneider, The Semi-Sovereign People, 1960. • August 1943: a fight in a Harlem hotel lobby between a black soldier and a white policeman quickly escalated. Rumors about the conflict spread throughout the community and angry crowds gathered around the police station, in front of the hotel, and elsewhere. Violence soon erupted and hundreds subsequently were hurt. • For Schattschneider, this incident illustrated how a conflict can quickly expand beyond those immediate involved and how the original contestants maintain little control over such a struggle once it develops.
Introduction • Rodney King riots (1992). • March 3, 1991, a black man, Rodney King was stopped by city police after a high-speed case. Did not respond to commands to acquiesce and was beaten severely. • Incident videotaped and released to the media. • Charges brought against four policeman who were tried in Simi Valley, California, a predominantly white community. • Assumed guilty because of videotape, but jury returned verdicts of “not guilty”. • Violence broke out in South Central LA. National Guard called four days later. 44 dead, 2,000 hurt and property damage of $1 billion.
Introduction • Competing problem definitions of riots. • Primary figures blamed. • Nonblack jury verdict. • Slow response of Police Chief and Police Department. • Inflammatory remarks by Mayor Bradley. • Ethnicity. • Blacks blamed for taking justice into their own hands. • Some blamed Mexican-American community. • Law and order. • Fine line between protesting injustice and behaving irresponsibly. • Partisan criticism. • President Bush blamed failed programs of Great Society. • Candidate Clinton blamed Republican’s neglect of race relations, urban programs, and domestic social policy. • Poverty of values. • Dan Quayle: Riots related to breakdown of family structure, personal responsibility, and social order. Led by TV: Murphy Brown.
Introduction • At the nexus of politics and policy development lies persistent conflict over where problems come from and, based on the answer to this questions, what kinds of solutions should be attempted. • If you focus on racial and economic inequality as the cause of the riots, solutions include social justice measures and economic and educational opportunities. • If you focus on police inability to control order, you improve police management, training, and hiring. • Every retrospective analysis in problem definition is also a look ahead and an implicit argument about what government should be doing next.
Introduction • Problem definition is about much more than just finding someone or something to blame. • Further disputes can surround a situation’s perceived social significance, meaning, implications, and urgency. • By dramatizing or downplaying a problem and by declaring what’s at stake, these descriptions help to push an issue onto the front burners of policymaking or result in official’s stubborn inaction or neglect.
Introduction • In part, government action is a result of institutional structure and formal and informal procedures. • Partisan balance of power will also affect decision-making. • But, public policymaking can also be understood as a function of the perceived nature of the problems being dealt with, and the qualities that define this nature are never incontestable.
Introduction • The defining process takes place in a variety of ways. • Cultural values. • Interest group advocacy. • Scientific information. • Professional advice. • Focusing events. • Some definitions remain long-term fixtures; some undergo constant revision or are replaced by competing definitions.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • Contemporary policy analysis is multidisciplinary in its techniques and orientation, and perhaps nowhere more so than in problem definition. • Social Conflict and Politics. • Schattschneider (1960) underscored the importance of social conflict for political life. • “At the nub of politics are, first, the way in which the public participates in the spread of conflict and, second, the processes by which the unstable relation of the public to the conflict is controlled. • A conflict’s outcome depends directly on the number of people who become involved in it. It is always in the interest of the weaker party to expand involvement by recruiting new participants to its support. Whoever controls the expansion, by accelerating or limiting it, gains the political upper hand.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • Social conflict and politics (contd.). • The entry of new participants is not random. The initially uninterested enter the conflict in response to the ways participants portray their struggle. “The definition of alternatives is the supreme instrument of power.” • Three levels of political conflict (Baumgartner 1989): • Whether a problem exists; • What the best solution is; and • What the best means of implementation are. • In political conflict, then, issue definition and redefinition can serve as tools used by opposing sides to gain advantage. • To restrict participation, issues may be defined in procedural or narrow technical terms. • To broaden participation, issues may be connected to sweeping social themes, such as justice, democracy, and liberty.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • The social construction of reality. • The actors involved in the problem-naming process are called “claims-makers”, (or stakeholders). • Claims-makers both identify social problems and typify them by characterizing their nature: • Advancing a particular moral, criminal, political, or other orientation. • Seizing upon representative examples. • An orientation locates the problem’s cause and recommends a solution.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • The social construction of reality (contd.). • Individuals, groups, and societies tend to place interpretations upon reality – interpretations which may or may not be true in an absolute sense. • When applied to the study of social issues, this perspective emphasizes the distinction between “objective conditions” and the definition of some conditions as “problems.” • The definition of a problem is time, place, and context bound.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • Social construction of reality (contd.). • Some ambiguity as to the precise agency of meaning investment. • Reflection theory describes the construction as a direct representation of beliefs, values, and sentiments that are prevalent in the social psyche. • Hypodermic theory locates responsibility with particular powerful political and cultural leaders who impose their stance on others, thereby achieving an ideological hegemony. • A complex open contest involving a wide range of players who are constrained by shifts in the site of decision-making as well as accidents of history. • Criticism: insufficient concern with the impact of institutional forces.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • Postmodernism. • Intellectual style concerned with examining the unquestioned value assumptions embodied in culture and society. • Primary method of analysis is deconstruction, a way of revealing hidden differences and contradictions within a seemingly unified whole.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • Postmodernism. • Applications to problem definition. • Rejects the notion of impartial rationality and disputes ideological neutrality. • Policy becomes a series of conclusions, choices, and rejections of alternatives that are assembled to compose a constructed reality. • Rhetoric is key to the process by which decisions are justified, promoted, and even placed beyond questioning.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • A “political” policy analysis. • Definitions. • Technical: policy analysis consists of a set of logical steps for diagnosing problems and devising cost-effective solutions • Political: An explicitly political analysis of public policy making attempts to relate governmental process and result to the contest of perspectives among the multiple stakeholders to the problematic situation.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • A “political” policy analysis (contd.). • View social problems in terms of a career wherein a problem first emerges, next gains attention and legitimacy, and then receives official programmatic response. With several transitions providing potential obstacles, successful completion of the career is not assured. • Expansion of participation and the characteristics of the issue can both help determine which issues gain access to the agenda of society and government. • Opponents can keep issues off through successful argumentation against these points.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • A “political” policy analysis (contd.).. • How an issue is defined and redefined influences. • The type of politicking that will ensue; • Its chances of reaching the agenda of a particular institution. • The probability of a policy outcome favorable to advocates of the issue. • Different public arenas have different selection principles that are satisfied by different problem definitions. • The connection between problem definition and institutional process in this framework is interactive: rhetoric changes produce venue changes and vice versa.
Converging Perspectives on Problem Definition • A “political” policy analysis (contd.). • The uses of language are crucial to the political analysis of public policy making and problem definition. • Language can promote or undermine particular definitions of the problem. • Four prominent forms of language and symbolic expression. • Stories, which provide explanations. • Synecdoches, in which parts of things are said to depict the whole. • Metaphors, which claim likenesses between things. • Ambiguity, in which multiple meanings are evoked simultaneously.
Multiplication of Meanings – Division of Support • General and phenomenal realities. • The former refers to the actual bases of reality. • The latter to the constellation of feelings, thoughts, and perceptions that make up constructed reality. • The latter is most appropriate to problem identification.
Multiplication of Meanings – Division of Support • The complexity of social reality.
Multiplication of Meanings – Division of Support • No one correct way. The world works in all of these ways all of the time. • Emphasis – The choice of which cause to emphasize is a main determinant of differences in problem definition. • Level of analysis – Where on the continuum from microindividual behavior to macrosocial forces does the analyst focus? The 1992 LA Riots a perfect example. • Measurement – No two analysts will approach the task of gauging a social problem’s magnitude, rate of change, or distribution in quite the same way. Political measurement is more like poetry than science. • Interconnections – Reactions to an issue can depend on its perceived relationship to other issues of importance to the observer.
Multiplication of Meanings – Division of Support • The struggle for problem ownership. • One aspect of problem ownership is the domination of the way that a social concern is thought of acted upon in the public arena. Also refers to jurisdictional control. • Some problem areas dominated by a community of operatives that advances the theories and data on which policies are based. If unchallenged, evidence of ownership. • Multiple competing definitions produce struggle over ownership.
The Rhetoric of Problem Definition and Its Policymaking Consequences. • Causality. • The way a problem is defined invariably entails some statement about its origins. Individual or impersonal causes, for example. Intentional and accidental. • A decision about causality forms the linchpin of a whole set of interdependent propositions. • Simple versus complex causality. • Television: episodic versus thematic. Government held responsible in the latter, but not the former.
The Rhetoric of Problem Definition and Its Policymaking Consequences. • Severity. • How serious a problem and its consequences are taken to be. Element pivotal to gaining attention. • When should labels be applied: “recession”. • Incidence. • Perceptions of the frequency and prevalence of a situation. • Novelty. • When an issue is described as novel, unprecedented, or trailblazing, it can win attention, but it can also undermine consensus.
The Rhetoric of Problem Definition and Its Policymaking Consequences. • Crisis. • A special condition of severity where corrective action is long overdue and dire circumstances exist. • One of the most used terms in the political lexicon. • The “rhetoric” of calamity. • Problem populations. • Afflicted groups and individuals also given definition. • Worthy or unworthy, deserving or undeserving. • Culpability. • Familiar or strange. • Sympathetic or threatening. • Four types of socially constructed target populations. • Advantaged groups – powerful and positively constructed. • Contenders – powerful, and negatively constructed. • Dependents – Weak, and positively constructed. • Deviants – Weak and negatively constructed.
The Rhetoric of Problem Definition and Its Policymaking Consequences. • Instrumental versus expressive orientations. • Ends versus means. • Solutions. • The debate over problem definition also extends to descriptions of the solutions. • Sometimes solutions determine problem definitions. • Solutions also predispose the identification of causes. • Key is solution consensus. • Key is solution availability. • Key is solution acceptability. • Key is solution affordability.