Same Problem, Different Policies

A Framework for Examining Social Problem Constructions Over Time


  • Marietta Anne Barretti LIU Post



Social problem analysis, policy analysis, social constructionism


Educators teaching policy analysis can choose from many available frameworks, varying in purpose and approach. These frameworks typically advise students to view policies as transient and context-sensitive, but to view the problems activating the policies as objective and static conditions. How problems are variably framed in policy relative to how students are advised to analyze them has not captured the profession’s interest. This article presents 1) an overview of policy analysis frameworks; 2) a summary of findings from a recent study investigating how social policy texts advise students to analyze problems and; 3) a social constructionist framework (matrix) that provides an historical and contextual view of social problems and policy responses. This Problem-to-Policy framework corrects the omissions in most frameworks by including the forces that contributed to a problem’s discovery and construction, while also identifying periods of silence when the problem endured yet faded from view. The author argues that this framework bolsters policy practice by 1) emphasizing those problem frames and contexts that historically led to progressive policies and 2) underscores the urgency for social workers to engage with affected populations in the initial (re)claiming and (re)framing of problems, rather than during the later policy-making stages when constructions have already presaged policy responses.



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