Topic: For this term paper, I want to study/analyze/evaluate the how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has impacted overall access to healthcare.

  1. Identify your theme. What is it you are interested in? Develop a topic description, articulate the specific public policy or social condition to be analyzed, justify the importance of your choice, and identify anticipated core readings you will use in your analysis. Conduct an extensive literature review on your topic to develop your thesis statement and focus. Include:
    · The evolution of the issue from social condition to policy design;
    · The construction of target groups;
    · Theories of the policy process applicable to your area of interest;
    · Official and unofficial actors and how they play a part in the process,
    · How the policy issue is “shaped” to get on an agenda; and
    · Any implementation issues.
  • Conduct two forms of analysis: 
  • First, how and what does the stages approach illustrate about the policy process, formulation and design, and implementation (as applicable); or what would it require if developing a policy to address a social condition?
    • Agenda setting
    • Formulation stage
    • Legitimation stages
    • Implementation stage
    • Evaluation stage
  • Second, to arrive at a normative conclusion around the policy itself (strengths and shortcomings) apply Frank Fischer’s method of evaluating outcomes, objectives, goals and ideological commitment.  What does it reveal about the policy’s formulation and implementation?  What does it say about the scope of a policy approach to resolve a social condition?
    • Technical-Analytic Discourse: Program Verification
    • Contextual Discourse: Situational Validation
    • Systems Discourse: Societal Vindication
    • Ideological Discourse: Social Choice

Source: Fischer, Frank. (1995/2005). Evaluating Public Policy. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall.

  • Develop and defend an argument based on these findings to support your conclusions about the effectiveness of your chosen policy.  Do you have recommendations based on your analysis to offer the policy makers?
  • Lastly, write a policy brief.  As you will see from Pennock (2019) and from your own research there are several formats and names for what I am referring to as a policy brief.  You may find that agencies may have their own formats, content, suggested length and names such as decision paper, policy memorandum, position paper etc. Following are some general points about the purpose, content, and format for policy briefs. 

Remember, the policy brief is not an academic paper.  It is a professional paper you may be required to write, or one you may initiate to bring about change.  Key differences are a concise problem statement with recommended solutions come at the beginning of the paper, either in an executive summary or as the opening to the brief.  Some characteristics of a policy brief:

  • Purpose: to obtain a decision usually on a course of action to address a problem
  • It may be biased on one direction, however, consideration to supportable opposing viewpoint(s) lends credibility.  Bias needs to be supported.
  • It should be written with brevity yet clear and precise
  • Background information, context, and rationale should be supported by research (in your paper), which should be cited
  • Implications of acting/not acting should be clear
  • Conclusion should wrap up and be direct
  • It is effective to us graphics to help summarize (see GAO)

General format of a policy brief:


II.          Problem Statement – to be concise and to the point

III.         Recommendation (s) – clearly articulated

IV.        Background

V.          Rationale

VI.        Implications

VII.       Conclusion(s)

Components IV – VII may vary as stand-alone paragraphs but should be covered in the brief.

The policy brief should be 1-2 pages.

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