November 2005
What is Policy?............................................................1
How Governmental
ƒ Where Policy is Expressed ..............................1
Ideas Result in Policy....................................................2
Policy is Made
This BRIEF explores how the ideas for governmental policy emerge
ƒ The Coin of Influence .....................................2
ƒ Sources of Ideas ...............................................2
and what it takes to get them adopted. Content is based primarily on
Michigan, which has a full-time legislature. While concepts are
An Idea is only the First Step .......................................5
relevant to other states and the national level, details may differ.
ƒ Effective Lobbying ...........................................6

What Is Policy?
ƒ Legislative policy is expressed in speeches and press
Policy is defined in the Merriam-Webster Online
releases by the leadership and formulated in
Dictionary as “...a definite course or method of
policy and appropriation bills.
action selected from among alternatives... to guide
and determine present and future decisions.” Policy It is not generally recognized that budgets, expressed
can also be defined as making decisions that reflect in appropriation acts and taxes, are critical
values and allocating resources based on those values. statements of social policy. Budgets distribute
Thus, policy represents a particular political, ethical, resources and determine what government can and
or programmatic viewpoint. Governmental policy cannot do. Taxes may favor property versus income,
reflects theoretical or experiential assumptions about businesses versus consumers, or production versus
what is required to resolve a particular issue or consumption. They may or may not provide stable
problem. resources for governmental services.

WHERE POLICY IS EXPRESSED Policy can also be found in the determinations and
decisions of state department heads and middle
At the federal and state levels, governmental policy is management. Their decisions or actions determine
reflected in multiple venues: how legislative policy and broad governmental
ƒ The federal and state constitutions set the general mandates are actually translated into services. Policy
framework, as interpreted in specific instances is reflected in strategic plans and policy memoranda.
through court decisions. It is translated and carried out through rules and
regulations, manuals, requests for proposals,
ƒ The chief executive’s agenda is presented through
contractual agreements, enforcement actions, and so
speeches, press releases, “State of the State” and
budget messages to the legislature, executive
orders, and instructions to department heads.


Parents of special needs children seek services. THE COIN OF INFLUENCE Media stories about foster children in Michigan Elected officials are influenced by four things that resulted in the appointment of the Binsfeld get them elected or re-elected: Commission. school boards and Child Care Expulsion Prevention Projects superintendents. if their ideas create Parents who have lost children have become effective political problems for elected officials. which generated laws requiring changes in ƒ Votes timelines and services for children in foster care. from the Columbia University Center for make policy within the confines of state law and Children in Poverty. ƒ Money Personal experiences generate momentum for changes ƒ Ideas that lead to actions that lead to good in policy. was initiated and has been sustained by the Policy Change lobbying efforts of parents. People who are impacted by specific situations in law seek to change them. Appointed officials and middle managers are also influenced by ideas. Federal legislation resulted from constituents the Kennedy family’s experience with a sibling who had developmental disabilities. or “here is what we propose to do” as assign federal child care and development funds to expressed in law. The directors of local governmental presentation. SOURCES OF IDEAS Jasmine’s Law (requiring measures for traffic safety There are multiple sources for the ideas that lead to around schools) was enacted in response to a parent’s policy. results for constituents and good publicity1 A legislator’s personal experience is a significant trigger ƒ Information and feedback from their for policy development. Personal Experiences. state and judges. However. the federal act providing funds for Events. As a result of this city charters. For example. More recently. For example. to establish parameters for these services. they are in lobbyists. Driving (MADD) has been a potent force for enacting drinking and driving laws. down to the more explicit “here is underwrite services in the five projects and to expand what that means when we carry it out” as defined in services to other locations. and local governmental agencies Jane Knitzer. IDEA. including suggestions and proposals made by lobbying after the loss of a child.At the local level. county commissioners and Think Tanks and Bureaucrats township supervisors. and High special education services to at-risk children with Visibility Issues are Prime Sources for disabilities. and to develop ways to utilize existing resources to Thus there is a policy hierarchy ranging from the provide services. the prevention director decided to use agencies operate within a state and county small prevention grants to enable five community mental health agencies to survey the situation in their community framework. in Michigan. Subsequently. and grandparents denied access to grandchildren local levels. 2 . bypassing determinations by impacted decisions and actions at the federal. A document was developed departmental documents. For example. Chief executives of cities children who were being expelled from child care and and city councils operate according to state law and the need for mental health services. IDEAS RESULT IN POLICY Media reports of more localized situations can trigger action. Cataclysmic events can have an immediate impact on public policy. Mothers Against Drunk trouble. non-custodial fathers want 9/11 and the Columbine massacre substantially a law requiring visitation. gave a presentation about young other state formulations. constituents. the director of mental health services for children and families convinced middle broad statement of mission or purpose in the management staff in the state social services agency to constitution.

and visiting. There are numerous examples at both ƒ increases in juvenile crime the state and national level. reaching impact. disseminate information and advocate for legislative change. policy information and citizen communications to legislators has briefs. ƒ The Institute of Medicine’s Neurons to Neighborhoods provided background and credibility for expanding services to very young children. North Carolina’s “Smart Start” journal articles.g.. federally funded resource centers. ƒ vulnerabilities in use of the Internet Associations and organizations hire lobbyists to highlight issues of concern to their membership. their idea. by custodial parents want requirements for visitation in Examples of social. and books. ƒ urban sprawl For example. Economic. 3 . and decision makers through presentations at national conferences of professional organizations Social. motorcycle riders seek to overturn the law requiring the wearing of helmets (and have been ƒ global warming successful in a number of states). university researchers. As a second step. advocates. a legislator introduced a ƒ increasing use of catalog and Internet purchases bill to ban such employment practices. the National Governors Association and the Trigger a Search for Solutions National Conference of State Legislators). In another example. and his active support initiated a program of grants to local communities to improve child care and Research findings may be summarized for interested other services. economic. Information Dissemination Information about an issue may be initially Citizen Input and Gubernatorial Support: disseminated through research and technical reports. or at Initially. the national advocacy ƒ Dr. or A thoughtful publication can have a far- knowledgeable individuals. present analyses of data policy initiated and maintained by citizens. newsletters. demonstrations. These publications North Carolina’s “Smart Start” is a classic example of a conceptualize the issue. ƒ loss of manufacturing jobs to overseas locations when a local business fired employees who smoked outside ƒ reduction in oil reserves of work and refused to be tested. package. Ray Helfer’s The Battered Child initiated child organizations that serve as connectors between the protective services and supportive home research and the policy makers process. Finally. and recommend possible solutions. They convinced the governor to adopt studies). administration. Examples of books that have foundation and governmental grant funding for fundamentally influenced public policy abound: research and service development influences policy ƒ Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring kicked off the by underwriting cutting-edge research and pilot environmental movement. The idea of state support for quality early childhood programming (perhaps including summaries of similar research or was initiated by a small group of women meeting around meta-analyses of data from a group of similar a kitchen table. An ongoing campaign of public stakeholders in press releases. or professional organizations. and Technological Changes (e. and Web sites. that influence policy include: Legislators often find it expedient to advocate for ƒ poverty status of children high visibility home town issues that concern their ƒ out of wedlock births to adolescents constituents. social trends and possible solutions to hearings held by legislative or executive committees perceived problems are identified by think tanks. governmental agencies. and technological trends law. Information may also be maintained the program despite a change in communicated directly to professionals.

For example. their thinking. M. expressed in last war. and had implemented a preschool program for four-year. who deeply held personal convictions. The Power of Research and the Media The Tipping Point Perry Preschool Project […] products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do […] The three agents of change are. (2) the Stickiness Factor–ideas based services for low income children and a weekly visit have to be memorable to move us to action. groups organized to identify. profoundly influenced by the prior history of a ƒ An article by former Vice President Dan Quayle governor and two legislators who were turned triggered changes in the way governmental out of office after responsibly increasing taxes to support was provided for adolescent mothers. and elect candidates supportive of and the executive. or a pragmatic arranged for a presentation at the next meeting of the governors. New York: Little. train. there was a gain of $7 environment.. The Federal Government Influences State and ƒ Individual. The knowledgeable/ influential people who are capable of intervention involved four half-days of high quality.g. Agendas adopted at local. Philosophy and Patrick Henry University. a participatory curriculum. more importantly. ƒ Political parties. This perception is urban policy. (2000). ƒ The perceived environment. in savings from expenditures for crime. and (3) the with parents. organizations and individuals the political landscape is the emergence of begin to publicly express interest and concern and. The story in the Washington Post was seen by a staffer from the National Governors’ Conference. research Policy Often Reflects Personal and Political organizations promoting a conservative agenda. what they think works or will work. Often policy is based on what Local Policy politicians and bureaucrats learned in school 20 years ago. promote.2 Gladwell. The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference. welfare and special education. legislators look at appropriation requests. blitz. legislation and administrative actions. influencing others […]. state. have a significant influence on state and local policy. communicate with both legislators underwrite. The Price of Government by potential actions are vetted against their potential Hutchinson and Osborne has influenced the way impact on the next election. ƒ More recently. that are expected to enhance a candidate’s chances of being elected. and trained teachers) that made the of the party leadership concerning current issues difference. What politicians perceive Magazine articles also reach a very broad public as the “will of the majority” influences their audience. legislators in Michigan maintain that voters would rather cut services ƒ Magazine articles on “Cool Cities” are affecting than pay additional taxes. the lessons that came from fighting the Federal overall policy directions. framed in such a future leaders. olds the next year–most of them without understanding the essential components (e. actions. supporting pro-choice women. Examples include Emily’s List. and national conventions reflect the convictions low child-staff ratio. Brown and The authors put together an attractive report and a media Company. As information hooks into public interest and ƒ Organized constituencies. Between elections. A recent development on reaches a tipping point. recruiting Policy emerges from the personal and political values conservative home-schooled college students as of individuals and political parties. The result: Almost every governor proposed effort to build coalitions and coalesce support. A 19 year follow-up and cost benefit analysis Power of Context–behavior is a function of the social indicated that for every dollar spent. The 4 . center. (1) Law of The High/Scope Educational Foundation evaluated a the Few–there are a handful of social/energetic/ preschool intervention for low income four-year-olds. way as to engender wider support. resolve a budget deficit.

and a fiscal agency that analyzes the content and impact of proposed ƒ a way of avoiding action legislation. and at the state level by continually siphon off the developing expertise of governors. ƒ a way of getting consensus among various and department staff both as individual citizens constituencies about recommendations. the one proposing interagency collaboration. decision makers may use provided to encourage good processes and certain types representative groups of citizens and knowledgeable of programming.g. a Use of a commission or workgroup may be: bill drafting agency. They present their point of that result in legislative policy. and providing associations. ƒ Legislators are generally assisted by their staff. Larger groups hire lobbyists to present their point of The Executive Branch view.g. Federal legislation.g. Based on 5 . Of the 63 recommendations in the report. the An estimated quarter of all state budgets comes mental health agency director hesitated the longest over from federal funds. Step ƒ High visibility commissions are organized at the Multiple individuals and groups have a hand in national level by the President. reducing adolescent pregnancy. after-school programs) an increase in the appropriation for pilot prevention projects. ƒ A governor’s legislative and budget proposals are ƒ Department heads and middle managers establish sifted through an executive staff. ƒ Federal and state level programs (e. the executive. and administrative experience. committees. enforcing upon a prominent legislator—head of the appropriations child support from non-custodial parents) committee—to sponsor a workgroup on prevention.. they propose shifts in requirements all impact state and local decision policy. lower visibility workgroups and advisory and affected department heads.. The effort resulted in the legislator’s successful promotion of ƒ Competitive grants (e. and as members of interest groups and energizing support for action. Technical assistance was citizen concerns. experts to troubleshoot ideas. suggest technical changes to current making and the use of local resources. legislators. specifications. a budget office. funded efforts such as Medicaid. the Surgeon translating an idea into policy. and Congress. TANF. task forces. These commissions or workgroups develop out of expressed dissatisfaction with current services or concerns about an emerging AN Idea is Only the First issue. legislative staff and lobbyists play a larger ƒ Legislative leadership at the state level establishes role in policy development. No Child Left Workgroup/Legislator Action and Behind) and initiatives (unfunded projects in Bureaucratic Decisions development) Human Services Coordinating Bodies ƒ Incentives and sanctions for state performance The lobbyist for the Mental Health Association prevailed (e.availability of funding.. As term limits General. ƒ a political gesture ƒ The public influences legislators. support for change to legislators or bureaucrats. The prevention director decided to put half of the new funds Commissions and Workgroups into human services coordinating bodies by providing In reformulating policy and practice in response to incentive grants for staff. whose job is to promote their organization’s interests by suggesting legislation and by reacting to Department heads are a primary source for the ideas what legislators propose. and analyze proposals under activities that impact state and local policy include: consideration by the legislature.

the initiative was reliance on the information they receive from grass reduced in the second year and then terminated because roots organizations. a happening. The governor may propose an What Does Gun Access have to do with an Early action or a legislator may introduce a bill. he reaction. for agency into administrative rules that require public example. www. facilitate Major policy changes are translated by the responsible fundraising..” two versions are resolved through a small conference committee of representatives from both houses. To avoid lobbying depends on the prevailing politics and public against his measures by child advocacy groups. effective when they have a clear agenda and follow a ƒ considered by the committee. position taken by the majority party’s caucus. They prevailed upon the Speaker to require One study indicated that legislators place most collaborative programming in the 0-5 legislation. ƒ signed or vetoed by the governor. legislators may feel strongly enough to pull constituency. and buying off opponents. A bill is: How do citizens with a burning issue impact ƒ drafted.blogforamerica. an idea has to work through the legislative process. and ƒ They organize like-minded individuals into a ƒ if vetoed. where differences between the elevator goes down. There was considerable public concern about a legislators. where the action is. their staff. gun bills. Seduced by the prospect of this how they anticipate it will impact their constituents. hearings and legislative approval. law). hearing at which associations.4 The of the state’s financial situation. policy?6 ƒ introduced in one house of the legislature by a Typically. ƒ voted on by the full house. individuals or groups of individuals are legislator and sent to the appropriate committee. for a candidate during an election campaign. Whether or not this happens largely shooting involving two six-year olds. and lobbyists. There are innumerable opportunities for public reaction as an idea makes its way through the Policy Development is a Complex Process legislative process. and/or department heads. ƒ They form coalitions with other groups. contacting the governor.5 ƒ They make extensive use of the media. coupled his bills with an addition to the School Aid Act that appropriated $45 million for 0-5 programming in Legislators assess a bill against their own convictions. succinct message–what the pros ƒ sent to the other house to move through the same call “getting your point across in the time the sequence of actions.e. which generally involves EFFECTIVE LOBBYING the following steps. ƒ They have a clear. A recent development is the together the required number of votes to override the emergence of blogs–Web sites that provide veto. funding. and legislators. but the Childhood Initiative? idea will go nowhere unless it can garner sufficient Policy decisions may be influenced by factors that have support to be placed on the legislative agenda by nothing to do with the issue that is nominally on the the majority party. To become legislative policy (i. 6 . often with a public consistent game plan. departments. with the informal discussions and negotiations that The Legislative Process are an essential part of the legislative process. along interest group support. support of parents. the child advocacy groups did not oppose the and feedback from their constituents and lobbyists. and mobilize action groups. Then it has to be acceptable and table. They can influence the process at ƒ reported out for action (or voted down). Intended as a three year commitment. view formally at hearings and informally through ƒ They contribute to political campaigns or volunteer meetings with legislators. depending on affected citizens provide testimony. A Speaker of the House in his last term decided to receive a “yes” vote from more than half of the push through some legislation making guns easier to obtain. encourage comments. This sequence of events fate of any bill is ultimately determined by the was fueled by a personal philosophy. See. any single stage or at multiple points.

Michigan State University. Cf. If the differences between the two versions are extensive. Michigan Department of Community and $4 in additional income to participants for every $1 dollar Health. Mary Ludtke. G. See Lakoff. five letters on the same Laura Bates. op. an effective economic investment. Francisco A. Association). Villaruel. (2005). at 517-432-7138. the Michigan Political Available: www. or e-mail the bills will be stalled until a negotiating process can resolve partners@msu. See Jackson-Elmoore. Child Health. staff. State of Michigan. S 155 and HR 1229.g. There are a multitude of special interest groups: business reviewed by faculty. and write letters. American Association of Copyright © 2005 by Board of Trustees of Michigan State Retired Persons). BRIEFS are 4.educ. connecting university resources to the community. Hollister. and may be quoted with citation of the source. Vision to action: Tools for building meaningful Constituents who have developed an ongoing relationships with policymakers. Youth. White River Junction. and Families. bills with different personal visits. They telephone. (December 2002). (July 2005). and Michele spent in quality early childhood education and care. So you want to make a and with appreciation for comments from former difference: Advocacy is the key. has been the basis for the current national material was originally presented in a briefer version to a campaign promoting access to quality preschool and child care as distance learning class on policy taught by Francisco A. University-Community Partnerships and Department of Family and Child Ecology. C. OMB Watch [On-line].. Kellogg Center. East Lansing relationship are the most effective. VT: Chelsea that it takes to create relationships and to Green Publishing. Representative H. Garden Level. chamber of commerce. Social Work. (3). they go to the legislator’s meetings and fundraisers in their 7 . 1. Villaruel. They spend the time 6. 3. they make ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS an appointment to visit the legislator’s office for a This BRIEF was written by Betty Tableman. N.. This finding. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. and written/ titles and content dealing with gang prevention (2005). Joseph Farrell. Informing state BEST PRACTICE BRIEFS are a product of University- policymakers: Opportunities for social workers.g. Workers). Lansing.msu. with review from brief conversation after a committee hearing. 14.ƒ They aggressively get their message across by substantial issues. Tableman. advocacy groups (e.msu. Senator Mark Schauer. Responsibility is assumed by Betty labor unions.. University-Community Partnerships and School of NOTES Social Work. National Association of Social tableman@msu. National Rifle University. send links. 10 Community Partnerships @ Michigan State University. D. and potential users.g. E-mail communications. Children’s Defense Fund. Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health. 5. University- Community Partnerships. or e-mail: National Education Association. This among others. www. Write University-Community Partnerships. Don’t think of an elephant! Know your values and frame the debate. Amidei. Dave Knaggs. evaluation. wine and beer retailers). They know their 7. (2004) for information on assets training. or call 517-353-8977. A 40 year follow-up found a payoff of $13 in public savings Research. NAACP. professional and work related associations ( e. On organizing. University-Community Partnerships and Institute subject from constituents represents a public consensus. Robert Brown.htm E-mails. BRIEFS may be printed and distributed.g. Editor. and http://outreach. single focus organizations (e. They Michigan State University faculty and engagement specialists understand that for a state legislator. University-Community Partnerships interests (e. Health Policy.cit. Lynn Jondahl. or technical legislator’s views and history. MI. Leadership Program in the Institute for Public Policy and Social 2.7 for Children. See also Michigan Council for Maternal and communicate in a non-adversarial way. Strasz. telephone calls.