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Introduction
How to Define a Problem
Tasks for Defining Problems
Media Resources
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Framing the Problem:
How to define a policy problem

Two purposes for defining a problem are presented in this chapter, getting a problem onto the public agenda (Purpose A) and aiding policy choice by analysis of solutions (Purpose B). Arguably, the two do not belong together in a chapter on problem definition.  Defining a problem is not solving it. From the perspective of communication, however, both defining problems and analyzing solutions rely on persuasion (Stone). And so, they are presented here for instruction in purposeful rhetoric. In practice, when you are defining a problem, it is crucial to remain aware of your purpose and not to confuse the two purposes, advocacy and analysis.

Goal: Ability to recognize problematic conditions and to define a policy problem they present.  For a recognized problem, ability to define policy options and offer criteria for decision.

Objective: Problem definition

Scope: Individual or collective; local or broader in impact; well-known or unrecognized; widely discussed or little considered; past, present, or anticipated

Strategy: Provide information necessary for your purpose

Expect to be flexible in the writing process. Problem definition can be iterative. After completing a task, you might find that you must revise earlier work. Or, after defining a problem, you might find that you want to, or you must, redefine it because conditions have changed or you have gained more knowledge.

Learn more about the purposes and tasks involved in framing a problem.

 

Scenario

A graduate studying policy writing also serves as the Chief of Patient Information in the Surgeon General’s Office, US Reserve Armed Forces. She deals with a health care issue.

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Scenario

An attorney practicing civil law is also a graduate studying policy writing. He is concerned about the use of cell phones by drivers of cars.

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Scenario

This is a brief with recommendations written by professional policy analysts for a public policy think tank concerned with finding solutions to problems caused by poverty.

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Scenario

This report describes a recognized problem and recommends a solution. It is written by professional policy and program analysts in the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the auditing, research, and investigative staff of the Congress.
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