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PST 2250 Intro to Policy Bono-Lunn

Dlillan Bono-Lunn


PST 225—Intro to Public Policy
Problem Definition Paper
Purpose: The purpose of this assignment is to explain why the topic you have chosen is a current
and urgent policy problem that requires some group of policymakers to take action.
Additional skills this assignment develops are:
• Writing in policy
• Sourcing and effectively using evidence to support your claims
• Considering the political perspective of your problem definition and how you might
reframe your argument to be more persuasive across the political spectrum

Before you start the assignment, read Smith, “Definition: Frame the Problem,” Chapter 3 in
Writing Public Policy [PDF, available on Moodle].
Audience: The audience for this assignment is policy makers (the audience will vary depending
on the problem; perhaps your policy problem is in the state of North Carolina, or it may be
nationally defined).

Structure/Required Elements: In your Problem Definition, include the following sections:
I. Introduction
II. Problem: a clear statement of the problem or issue in focus, including key evidence of
the problem. Be sure to also discuss:
a) The problem's severity
b) How the problem has changed over time (has it grown/decreased over how many
years? By how much? Etc.)
c) What is the problem's scope? (how does the problem vary across geography, like
region or state; how does it vary across different groups of people?)
III. Cause of the Problem: a short overview of the root causes of the problem
Caution: this section is likely to be the most political! Consider your framing and
IV. Current Policy Context: what, if anything, is currently being done to address the
problem? (Is it working? Why or why not?)
V. Role for Public Policy: a clear statement of the policy implications of the problem,
establishing the current importance and policy relevance of the issue (in other words,
why is this a policy problem?).
Revisit "Role for Government" days of class— it is strongly recommended that you
tie your section to one of the 'goals' chapters of Stone's Policy Paradox. Be sure to
be as specific as possible.
You should also include (on a separate page; these do not count towards the page limit):
VI. A list of references (at least 4-6 sources: books, research journal articles,
think tank discussion papers, policy briefs) corresponding to in-text citations.
Avoid popular press. These can motivate your discussion and (perhaps) be used in
the Introduction, but your evidence and required references must come from the
above source types.
Use APA Format, with (Author, Year: p. #) in-text citations (see:
VII. Any tables, graphs, or figures. Be sure to reference them in the text where relevant.
Organization. Please include page numbers and section headers.
Limitations Do not exceed three double-spaced pages. Do not propose policy solutions.
Format. All submissions should be in Times New Roman, 12 point font, double spaced, with
one-inch margins. For extra-textual clarifications or comments, please use footnotes, not
Some extra guidance with regards to sources:
Peer-reviewed sources—from academic journals and presses— are the gold standard of research.
However, non-peer-reviewed sources can be useful, particularly for descriptive data and for more
up-to-date information (peer review takes a long time). Non-peer-reviewed sources include
reports and data published by government agencies as well as content that is created by the
following organizations: think tanks, non-profit organizations, policy institutes, interest groups,
and associations
These organizations engage in public policy analysis and research, and often advocate solutions.
Some organizations research policy issues without regard to political outcomes, while others see
one of their main functions as that of providing intellectual support to politicians, parties and
viewpoints. These sources can also serve as great examples of policy writing!
Many of these organizations publish research reports on their websites. While these can be a
valuable source of information, you should realize that many organizations have a political
agenda. It's important to be aware of any biases that might exist and whether they have specific
ideological viewpoints. Some organizations make it clear what their underlying philosophy is
either in the very title of the organization or through an "About Us" section or a "Mission
Here are some tips on evaluating information from think tanks, policy institutes, etc.:
• Investigate the group's mandate: see their website for more information.
• Skim the titles in their publications list: the list may show many titles from the same
ideological viewpoint.
• Read the information describing the organization on their website: this should include
how the group is funded and by whom. Note that some groups may get special funding,
or be contracted by government or others to carry out specific research projects. This
should be stated in the publication reporting on that research.