Stages Within the Policy-Making Process and the General Public’s Participation


Policy-making is a complex process that involves multiple stages, some of which are available for the general public’s discussion. The existing problems of environmental pollution, expensive healthcare, and unemployment demand the development of new regulations. Moreover, this process poses political, operational, and technical challenges to the government that must choose the most optimal direction for multifaceted issues (Wu et al., 2017). However, laws are not made by governmental agencies in isolation; some stages of policy-making are available for people’s analysis through the mass media and official websites. Indeed, legislators should listen to citizens’ opinions about new regulations to avoid future misunderstandings and opposition. Still, it does not mean that media and the public always have access to these decision-making processes (Wu et al., 2017). The steps of policy-creation are “agenda-setting, policy formulation, decision making, implementation, and evaluation” (Fischer & Miller, 2019, p. 43). In fact, some information about this five-stage procedure is hidden and unavailable to citizens. Specifically, the decision-making and policy formulation are made in isolation from public opinion, but these steps need to receive the general population’s attention to prevent issues in the subsequent stages.

Stages of the Policy-Making Process

The model of the policy-making process was designed to demonstrate the development of a legitimate solution for a specific problem. This model was introduced by Harold Lasswell in 1956 “to establish a multidisciplinary and prescriptive policy science” (Fischer & Miller, 2019, p. 43). The first stage, agenda-setting, stems from discussing various issues related to society’s life and the country’s state of affairs (Fischer & Miller, 2019). During the second and third stages, policy formulation and decision-making, the problems, discussions, and proposals are transformed into specific governmental programs (Fischer & Miller, 2019). The implementation stage requires identifying details of the program and allocating resources (Fischer & Miller, 2019). The last step, evaluation, help assess whether the proposed objectives are met (Fischer & Miller, 2019). The overall description of this process is the operation of lawmaking, from defining a problem to developing the policy, making a final decision, and implementing and evaluating the new policy. However, it is not so simple as it may appear because public feedback should ideally drive the loop of revising the problem and making modifications. Indeed, policy-making is not an isolated procedure involving constant reformulations of regulations.

Policy-Making Steps Discussed by the General Population

The media and the public mostly debate the first and last two stages of the policy-making process. In fact, agenda-setting is initiated when a specific question or problem starts to be discussed by the citizens of the country (Fischer & Miller, 2019). Hence, the governmental agencies decide to improve a challenging situation being examined through legislation. Furthermore, the fourth and fifth steps involve the participation of the general public because, at these stages, policies are introduced and examined. People may react positively or negatively depending on the nature of regulation. For example, strict environmental laws developed by governmental bodies may face resistance from transport and energy sectors if their interests are not considered during policy formulation (Rushefsky, 2015). Therefore, the purpose of the last evaluation stage is to restart the policy-making process to eliminate specific aspects undesired by citizens or incorporate additional features to attain the level of acceptance by people. Nevertheless, this model seems overly simplistic and distant from reality because even during these three steps, public opinion may not become dominant or cease to be considered by legislators.

Stages Hidden from the General Public

Although democracy implies people’s participation in policy-making, some stages of this process are left invisible to citizens. Specifically, the second and third steps, policy formulation and decision-making, are done exclusively by the elected officials and governmental bodies. In fact, the essence of public policies is that a legislative body reviews the societal problem and develops a structured solution for it (Birkland, 2016). The possible reason why the general population does not widely discuss these two stages is that the mass media do not extensively cover them. Another potential cause is that people do not perceive decision-making as a privilege. Instead, they vest this right to politicians for whom they vote or rely on international organizations that may play a decisive role in formulating a law (Fischer & Miller, 2019). It may be a safe and reasonable approach; however, governments should know the public opinion to change legislation during policy-making and allow their voters to influence final decisions, especially when societal problems are at stake.

Drawing public attention to policy formulation and decision-making stages may be a good idea because it can increase the effectiveness of this process and create collaboration between the government and citizens. For instance, such controversial issues as banning abortion or legalizing euthanasia require people’s direct participation because various groups still debate these questions without the hope of reaching a consensus. Thus, the laws involving such topics will inevitably lead to societal criticism. Furthermore, regulations that may lead to the rise in taxes can become a significant burden for taxpayers (Fischer & Miller, 2019). Consequently, legislatures should be interested in providing details about every step of a policy-making process to people via various social media channels to receive instant feedback.

Visible and Invisible Actors in Policy-Making

The process of creating policies brings together multiple participants that can influence the outcome. Some of these actors are visible, politicians and public figures, and others are invisible, experts and scholars (Almeida & Gomes, 2018). The former group receives media attention and comments about the government’s decisions to the press, while the latter brings their knowledge to advise the visible group about specific issues (Almeida & Gomes, 2018). Furthermore, the governmental bodies appear to have more impact on the legislative process than non-governmental organizations; still, they can contribute by sharing their expertise to set agendas properly (Almeida & Gomes, 2018). However, the latter do not participate in the second and third stages of the policy-making (Fischer & Miller, 2019). Sadly, the public appears to belong to neither of these two groups. Even though people can express their opinions after implementing a policy, they are not involved in policy formulation and decision-making.

Importance of Knowing About Other Stages of Policy-Making

Knowing what laws are implemented and how these policies can affect people is one of the fundamental rights of a citizen. Indeed, citizenship implies that people have opportunities and obligations that are regulated by public policies and have a positive or negative impact (Fischer & Miller, 2019). Therefore, it is unethical to hide some stages of the policy-making process, not allowing the population to fully embrace the country’s legal framework (Fischer & Miller, 2019). In fact, making the entire process open to people is governmental agencies’ moral and constitutional obligation.

Apart from obligations, there are two critical benefits associated with making the policy-making process more transparent. The first advantage is that public opinion considered by legislators can shape a better law because when the government knows the population’s expectations, the final policy will be more effective. The second benefit is the promotion of positive citizenship through the active involvement of people in developing social programs (Fischer & Miller, 2019). Although most citizens lack proper knowledge and expertise about specific issues, creating platforms with clear and adequate explanations of problems and policies to solve them will educate the public and enable objective judgment and attitude.


In summary, the policy-making process is complex and multifaceted because its five stages are not always straightforward, requiring repeated cycles of revisions and modification to new governmental programs. The five steps of this process are setting agenda, formulating policies, making decisions, implementing, and evaluating. The first, fourth, and fifth stages are usually open for the general public’s discussion. However, defining plans and policy formulation only involve a limited circle of elected officials and professionals advising on specific problems. Hence, citizens do not widely discuss these steps due to the specificity of information needed to make recommendations about new regulations. Nevertheless, since many of these legislations directly affect people, it is crucial to explain all details of the policy-making, highlighting the importance of taking particular measures. Moreover, allowing citizens to make important decisions is the government’s responsibility to maintain the voters’ fundamental rights. Finally, the two advantages of involving the public in this process are promoting responsible citizenship and creating effective policies that meet people’s expectations.


Almeida, L. D. A., & Gomes, R. C. (2018). The process of public policy: Literature review, theoretical reflections, and suggestions for future research. Cadernos EBAPE.BR, 16, 444-455.

Birkland, T.A., (2016). An introduction to the policy process (3rd ed.). Routledge.

Fischer, F., & Miller, G. J. (Eds.). (2019). Handbook of public policy analysis: Theory, politics, and methods. Routledge.

Rushefsky, M.E. (2015). Public policy in the United States (5th ed.). Routledge.

Wu, X., Ramesh, M., Howlett, M., & Fritzen, S. A. (2017). The public policy primer: Managing the policy process (2nd ed.). Routledge.

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DemoEssays. 2023. "Stages Within the Policy-Making Process and the General Public’s Participation." August 7, 2023.

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DemoEssays. "Stages Within the Policy-Making Process and the General Public’s Participation." August 7, 2023.