A Guide to Public Administration & Policymaking
How Stakeholders in The Public Policy Debate Make Their Views Known
In public policy, stakeholders may include any person or organization whose interest may be positively or negatively affected. This includes government organizations and private businesses of all sizes, local authorities, and the public. These different stakeholders make their views known in any number of ways such as media, legislation, special interest groups and lobbyists. For instance, when a community desires to have tougher crime legislation the individuals comprising that community might form small groups or associations that will serve to represents the interest of the community. This is a special interest group and this group serves a purpose of uniting likeminded individuals and unifying these individuals with voting leverage. Governors or state representatives are forced to deal with these special interest groups especially when their numbers are large enough to affect election results.
Stakeholders also use representation as a means of making views known. For the average citizen, making one’s position known on policy debate is difficult. In a democratic system representation provides the means for making individual views known. This is perhaps the most common form of making stakeholder views known.
How Diverse Groups & Individuals Form Issue Networks & Interest Group Coalitions
Issue networks are the mutually beneficial relationships between interest groups. The relationships within these issue networks typically only serve to benefit the groups involved by pursuing a favorable policy for the interest groups. Issue Networks seek to support the public interests, not private ones, by seeking to benefit a wide ranging constituency that supports their side of the issue (Barbour and Wright, 2009). This makes issue networks a place of unlikely bedfellows at times. For instance, democrats might vote along side of republicans when an issue network represents an interest that crosses both party lines (Barbour and Wright, 2009). For instance, groups that support strong military might vote alongside groups that are religious and opposed to military spending when it comes to issues such as banning gays in the military. It is also important to note that different Issue networks also compete with one another, as in the case of proponents and opponents of abortion. These groups are often composed of religious, nonreligious, and many other competing groups but they find unity in one particular issue. When a particular policy has been achieved the issue networks have a tendency to fall apart as there is no longer a need for them. Sometimes they will alter their agenda to protect the policy such as in the issue of Abortion and the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.
Globalization & Policy Debate
Globalization presents a wide array of issues within policy debate. Many of these issues are of a protective interest such as trade, labor restrictions, unions and tariffs. The scope of globalization encompasses foreign and domestic policies. One of the many issues surrounding globalization has been the loss of jobs to foreign markets. When the United States and Mexico entered in the free trade agreement known as NAFTA, many jobs were lost to the cheaper labor of workers in Mexico. This brings about policy issues such as international labor standards and the ability to enforce these policies. These policy issues become complex and become international problems as many countries vie for fairness in these policy demands. For instance, international labor standards often involve the development of ethical supply chains and enforcement of these policy creations. This practice is at its core questionable since it invokes an attitude of superiority. As well, the practice creates complex social issues that could potentially lead to problems. Requiring a supplier to pay certain wages that are above normal for the supplying country can be seen as a questionable moral practice (Collinson, 2001). This makes the stakeholders in issues of globalization enormous in numbers and the situations complex.
How Stakeholders Decide The Importance of Information to Act Upon
In accordance with Stakeholder Theory, stakeholders decide which information to act upon through a process of analysis that identifies the individuals or groups that are likely to affect or be affected by a proposed action. Stakeholders assess the impact of the action on themselves and on others. This information is used to assess how the interests of those stakeholders should be addressed in a project plan, policy, program, or other action. Stakeholder analysis is a key part of stakeholder management.
Stakeholder analysis has several methodologies with mapping being the most common. In this method stakeholders are identified by levels of power, either high or low power. The information which is disseminated through this method is then analyzed and used to make decisions which are in the best interest of all parties. The key to stakeholder decisions is that all parties are recognized as stakeholders. The only difference is the levels of influence or need that each party plays in the policy creation process. The analysis of information from these parties becomes a needs analysis which is used to determine which form of information to act on. The development of policies in this manner comes strictly from acting on the determination of needs.
How Primary Source Information Varies Among Demographic Groups
There are significant differences in demographic groups and primary sources of information. For example, older Americans are less likely to use the internet as younger Americans. These individuals are far more likely to use television and newspapers. There are many aspects to this demographic difference that can be troublesome to policy makers. The use of internet for the younger generation has made the communication process faster and easier. However, many of their constituents are still not computer savvy and this means creating lines of communication that cross all mediums. For some policy makers this is not difficult but for others the simple placement of information on a website does not ensure that stakeholders have been informed. As more and more organizations and agencies are converting to web based communications there are many stakeholders that left in the dark.
There are many other demographic situations that create problems for policy makers. For instance, the US has an incredibly large Hispanic population that is continuing to grow. Policy makers must accommodate this population which often only speaks Spanish. There are many problems with translating policies for this demographic since the media still caters almost exclusively to English speakers. While there are Spanish stations these are usually confined to cable networks where available.
Problems Caused by Interest Groups & Issue Networks?
Some of the problems associated with special interest groups and issue networks are the fact that they often do not represent the majority of voters, their interests are often driven for profit, and the they muddle the policy making process. Most special interest groups only represent a small portion of the population yet these groups typically have a large amount of leverage over policy makers because they collectively have leverage with voting. For example, only a small number of people say 15% support a bill to legalize marijuana. A special interest group for the passage of this bill represents this 15% and can apply pressure to congressmen to pass the bill because the group will vote against his or her reelection. This 15% becomes a substantial number when the person running for office is in close competition with another candidate.
Lobbyists and many special interest groups are hired by large corporations to make sure that laws are passed in favor of these corporate interests. These groups muddle policy making as policymakers struggle to weigh stakeholder interests and at the same time fund campaigns and appease the special interest groups. More often than not interest groups and issue networks place public interest behind their own. Yet, these groups have appeal to individuals who believe in their causes and want to see issues changed. By belonging to one of these groups the individual voter is given a larger collective voice in the political arena. This makes special interest groups and issue networks very appealing to many individuals.
Do interest groups hold too much power?
Yes, special interest groups have far too much power in the political arena. Their ability to raise money and apply pressure to policymakers is gives them the ability to force policy decisions that are often not in the interest of the American people. Certain religious groups have at the state level been able to create policy changes in education that were not in the interest of the students or the American people. In 1999 the Topeka Kansas Board of Education decided to delete the teaching of evolution from the states science curriculum. This decision came as a result of small religious special interest groups placing pressure on the Board of Education and State representatives. In fact later that year the decision was reversed and the pull of the religious groups in the area cost three members of the board their jobs (CNN Staff, 2001). These groups do not represent the majority of the population yet exert incredible control over voting since they band together to vote with the singular purpose of one issue in mind. While most voters are weighing voting options between candidates these special interest groups vote in solidarity even when their votes might be given to candidates who are less qualified for the position in other aspects than their issue.
An Effective Interest Group Campaign
There are many effective interest group campaigns and these campaigns are marked by a number of elements that make them successful. For example, “The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 required all states to raise their minimum purchase and public possession of alcohol age to 21. States that did not comply faced a reduction in highway funds under the Federal Highway Aid Act.” This bill applied pressure to states to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 because of public outcry from groups such as M.A.D.D. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. These groups wished to stop the escalating deaths of alcohol related motor vehicle deaths. At which time the highest death rate in alcohol related deaths was in the 18 to 21 age group. The federal government thought that by applying pressure to states to raise their drinking ages that this would solve the problem. MADD carried on a campaign of fear and despair in the late seventies and eighties that made many people believe that drinking and driving was an epidemic amongst 18 year olds. So powerful and strong was this campaign that each year states are forced to comply with the 18 age for legal drinking or run the risk of losing millions of dollars in federal highway funding.
What made the MADD campaign so significant is that it created a national movement to stop underage drinking and would change police a social outlook on drinking. Since the early days of MADD the view of underage drinking has become a viewpoint steeped in ideas of addiction and social disruption. While MADD has managed to change the drinking age and arguably altered the death rate of 18 -21 year olds in highway auto accidents, at the same time college binge drinking has taken on new proportions. Currently, there is a group fighting to reverse the drinking age, called the Amethyst Initiative. This group is not a bunch of college undergrads or teenagers protesting. The initiative is constructed by chancellors and college presidents across the country. These scholastics have called for the repeal of the 21 law in order to promote open forum discussion and alcohol education. These academics are also concerned with the effect that the 21 law is having on today’s youth. The following is their statement;
Twenty-one is not working…A culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking” — often conducted off-campus — has developed…Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.
Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer. By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.
The Amethyst Initiative seeks to abolish the 21 law and increase critical thinking and open discussion on the topic of drinking. As of right now the law forbids the use of alcohol to individuals under 21 and therefore there is no education. With the 21 law removed individuals will be allowed to learn responsible drinking behavior and not go to college to learn how to drink from other irresponsible individuals.
While work of MADD and its significance on policy cannot be argued its consequences is only beginning to be realized. Using media and radio to carry the message of underage drinking problems one group was able to alter the course of a nation’s policy. The significance of MADD’s policy leverage still exerts control even today as groups attempt to alter the age of drinking again.
Barbour C and Wright G.C. (2009) Keeping the Republic, Power and Citizenship in American Politics., Indiana University Press, IN.
Collinson, C. (2001). The Business costs of ethical supply chain management: south african wine industry case study. Natural Resources Institute, 128(2606)
CNN Staff (2001) Kansas restores evolution standards for science classes