Stages of policy making

Written by wanda thibodeaux
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Stages of policy making
Policy makers may present state and federal policies in government buildings. (capitol image by Andrew Breeden from

In the United States, most policies are created via a democratic system in which people decide what best serves a given community, state or nation as a whole. The democratic system ensures that there is a set series of stages in the policy-making process. These stages all work to resolve a given problem and often are formalised in organisations such as government offices.

Definition of the Problem

In the first stage of policy making, policy makers determine exactly what issue they need to resolve. For example, a hospital administrator may notice that hospital employees are using cell phones in ways that could violate patient privacy; proper use of cell phones in the hospital would be the goal of a new policy. To define a problem for a policy, people have to make observations about their environment and the operations currently in place.

Agenda Setting

Once policy makers identify an issue that needs attention, they put it on formal agendas. This sets a time, date and place for policy makers to discuss how to tackle the identified problem.


In recognition that there may be multiple ways to solve problems and to give everyone a fair chance to offer their input on the policy issue, policy makers gather and analyse data on the problem. They present the data to others informally and formally by contacting members of the community and holding meetings. The policy makers debate and try to figure out what solution to the issue is best based on the available data. This stage creates rough, working drafts of the policy.


In order for a new policy to be passed, policy makers want to see that the policy has enough support in the community and that it effectively addresses the problem at hand. During the legitimisation stage, policy makers gather support for the policy they've created. This stage sometimes is difficult because of "pork barrel politics," which is the process of attaching items to a policy that don't truly address the original issue, but which some involved demand be in the policy before they will support it.


The implementation stage of policy making creates a working, approved version of the policy in action. Authorities then enforce the policy actively.

Evaluation and Change

After the policy has been enforced for a given period of time (defined by the nature of the policy and the organisation that creates it), policy makers evaluate the effects. If the policy has not been effective, or if it had negative results that were not anticipated, the policy makers make changes or begin the process over again to create a new policy that works better.

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