Questions to Consider in Defining the Problem

Policy decision makers expect that policy analysts and other informants are able to succinctly define the policy problem to be addressed. The larger the policy problem, the greater the need to divide it into component parts that policymakers can more easily grapple with in terms of affecting change.

Critical thought and consultation are required to gauge the complexity and extent of most policy issues.

  • Who has identified the problem, and why should be seen to be a problem? Many problems exist, but few are taken up because they are not brought before a wide audience or those who may have the capability to address them.
  • Is there agreement on the problem? If there is no agreement that a problem exists, it is unlikely that a strong policy response will be forthcoming. Effective policies are more likely to be formulated if there is widespread recognition of a problem and its causes.
  • Is it an issue that can be addressed by public policy? Many citizens recognize problems but such problems may be outside the scope of governments or the citizens of particular jurisdictions to affect them.
  • Is it too soon to develop a policy? In an urge to address a problem, it may be deemed untimely to implement particular policies given the social or economic impracticality associated with compliance.
  • Is the problem seen differently by groups with different values? Divergence of opinions may affect how the problem is addressed.
  • Is the problem fully understood? Do we know the causal relationships that may be necessary to provide a solution?
  • Can the relationships between the factors that make up the problem be quantified? Problem definition is better when it is possible to measure the scale and scope of the issues involved.
  • Can we connect these pieces to a set of results which will ultimately have a positive impact on the problem?