Coffee Break Bulletin

The public policy development cycle

Posted: May 31, 2017

Public policy can advance the mission of your agency. As a member of the fire service, you may be called on to create, evaluate and defend policies in your home community. A thorough understanding of the public policy development cycle will aid you in creating and implementing more effective public policy.

firefighter addressing a meeting

The public policy development cycle is a process that requires good planning, organization and communication skills. While some public policies are developed or modified in response to a catastrophic event, many others originate because an individual or a group organizes to lead the process in an effort to address an important issue.

Taking a policy through its entire life cycle consists of five stages. Here is an overview of the public policy development cycle.

Stage 1 — Problem identification and agenda setting

This stage involves performing a community risk assessment and developing a problem statement. It considers previous actions to address risk; any existing public policies; stakeholders, including proponents and potential opponents; as well as what intervention strategies will work best to address the issues. These include education, engineering, enforcement, economic incentives and emergency response.

Stage 2 — Policy development

This stage centers on forming relationships and producing a draft of the proposed policy. Ideally, this is done by a planning team who negotiates on contents to develop a draft. It is then distributed to stakeholders for comment. The policy is refined and officially submitted for adoption.

Stage 3 — Issue resolution and policy adoption

In this stage, the policy first enters the public arena where it is debated, and it is either approved or denied by the authority having jurisdiction.

Stage 4 — Policy implementation and application

This stage covers the time period between adoption and enforcement. Education occurs for those affected by the policy about how to apply the policy. Services to help those affected by the policy are often made available. Education and support services continue so that voluntary compliance with the policy occurs in lieu of enforcement. Policy application is the time when the policy starts to be enforced.

Stage 5 — Policy evaluation

This stage measures the policy for effectiveness. Modifications are made based on this evaluation. This helps justify the need for the policy, guides the process, and determines which goals are being met and to what degree. Decision-makers allocate or redirect resources based on evaluation. Evaluation continues throughout the life cycle of a policy.

Action step for developing and implementing better public policy

Learn more about the important role public policy plays in community risk reduction by enrolling in the National Fire Academy’s six-day class, Community Risk Reduction: A Policy Approach.

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