Public Policy Tools and Practices

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Public Policy Tools and Practices

In this week’s Discussion, you analyzed leadership as a tool for implementing public policy. For this Assignment, you are asked to review a case study that presents a general challenge to implementing public policy. As a student of public policy, you should weigh which tools and practices may be most useful in addressing challenges related to the implementation of public policy. Before you begin the Assignment, think about which tools of democracy you might use as a policy maker in the implementation of public policy in general.

Policy makers may use a variety of means to help them implement public policy. Regulations, tax incentives, grants, and public-private partnerships are a few examples of tools and practices of democratic governance. Ideally, the tools selected for policy implementation are well suited for the task, but this is not always the case. Unfortunately, many public endeavors fail not because of bad policy but because of poor choice and implementation of tools and practices. The success or failure of public policy may depend greatly on the tools selected for implementation. Tools and practices that may be well suited for implementation in one policy area may lead to failure in another. Therefore, it is important that tools and practices are wisely chosen and appropriate for the policy area at hand.

To prepare for this Assignment:

  • Review the “Case Study: The Winds of Change” document (located in this week’s Learning Resources) and think about the challenges encountered in the scenario.
  • Select the tools and/or practices that you think might be effective in implementing the policy change presented in the case study.
  • Consider the strengths and limitations of the tools and practices you selected.
  • Reflect on whether tools and practices of democracy are effective in implementing public policy.

The Assignment (2–3 pages):

  • Briefly describe each of the tools and/or practices you selected for the Assignment.
  • Explain why you think each might be effective in implementing the policy change presented in the case study.
  • Evaluate the tools and/or practices you selected in terms of their strengths and limitations.
  • Based on your evaluation, draw at least one conclusion about the effectiveness of tools and/or practices of democracy in implementing public policy.

Support your Assignment with specific references to all resources used in its preparation. You are asked to provide a reference list only for those resources not included in the Learning Resources for this course.


Ethical and Social Change

Marcel Kitissou, PhD
School of Public Policy and Administration
Walden University

I think we have ethical conflicts all the time. It is the nature of public policy because the choices are not always convergent and sometimes they are mutually exclusive.

But let’s take the example with development in countries, particularly in Africa. When you have to choose between developing large-scale agriculture to feed the hungry but at the same time have to displace people from their ancestral land. Most of colonial struggle came from land issues, access to land issue. Even the Mau-Mau in the 50s against the British. South Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe. Recent conflict in Ivory Coast is a land-based conflict. And Darfur, it is a land-based conflict that has been created by global warming.

When you are aware of the situation and you have to displace people in order to implement agricultural policies to feed those people, there is a hard choice to make there. Would it be fair that people leave their ancestral land when they have buried their parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters where they have their shrine, where the ethnic group identify themselves with a particular section of the country? So, is it ethical to displace them in order to develop the economy or is it ethical not to displace them and not do anything to improve the economy? The tradeoff is always there and it depends on how you deal with people in these kinds of situation how to associate with them.

Let me give you another example from South America. I will not name the country. So, women are generally the ones that go to the river to fetch water. They walk kilometers to find a river and fetch water. And one person, an engineer, one time built a public fountain in the middle of the village. But still women would pass the public fountain and still walk kilometers to fetch water. Why? Because first they haven’t been consulted before the decision was made and implemented so they don’t feel committed to that particular realization. And, second, the river is where – it functions like a public forum, is where women go and talk freely, exchange idea and gossip. So, do you provide public fountain or do you let the women feel free to exchange ideas away from the society?

So those ethical dilemmas are not always resolved. But as I said, governance is conflict management. So people have to be part of the decision making so that they are committed to make it work. And that is one way you can resolve your own ethical dilemma in making public decisions.

Dwight Toavs, PhD
School of Public Policy and Administration
Walden University

Let me pose an example of an ethical challenge. And this is a real one, and it is an ongoing one. All of you are familiar with the Snowden disclosures of sensitive classified information. Recently, there was a televised interview by one of the major news channels, and you may have or may not have seen that. In that– and I saw parts of it– Snowden claims that he is a public- spirited citizen doing his ethical duty to disclose what he perceives as wrongdoing.

Is that really it? Or is, as others claims, that he’s a traitor who knowingly disclosed sensitive information out of malice or some perceived injustice done to him or to others? This is an example of an ethical challenge.

And the question for public policy is– how do you deal with it? It hasn’t been resolved. Discussions are continuing, and I’m sure they’re going to continue for sometime in the future.

In the past, we’ve also had cases of these opposed ethical challenges that involve investigations and changes in policy. One past case that comes to mind is domestic spying on civilians by FBI agents during the Vietnam era.

As a result of that, the Church Commission headed by Senator Frank Church had investigations and hearings. And there were clear cases documented of government wrongdoing, which resulted in a series of policy initiatives that put some significant limits on what FBI was allowed to do.

Another case that happened in the 1980’s dealt with the IRS and the collection tactics that IRS agents used. There was a citizen’s outcry over the tactics, and an investigation revealed that the incentive system in many ways was responsible for this which rewarded agents for the numbers of cases that they closed and the amount of money that they recovered. So they had every incentive to use whatever tactics they could to close their cases.

There’s also a contemporary and ongoing case– like the Snowden case we already talked about– and this has to do VA and medical care for veterans and then the charges of falsified records to gain performance bonuses.

So given these, I would like to leave you with a couple of questions. What does it mean to be ethical? And what are your personal standards of ethical behavior?

Gregory Dixon, PhD
School of Public Policy and Administration
Walden University

One of the biggest challenges that anybody in a position of public leadership has to face is the fact that ethics are going to be a constant concern. Ethical challenges recur again and again and again in any kind of leadership position in any organization. Oftentimes, these challenges come up in very mundane ways that’s not necessarily some big crisis of ethics but a constant concern about whether or not you, as a member of a public organization, are fulfilling the duties that you need to fulfill to your stakeholders, to your funders, and to the people providing oversight.

One of the biggest challenges that often takes place, particularly for experts working in public organizations, is that experts may identify what is a very beneficial policy, a very powerfully useful and important policy, but that policy does not have the support of the public or of elected officials. And one of the challenges then is– how do you balance your responsibilities and your duties to your constituents and your stakeholders with the fact that they may want you to do things that are actually detrimental for them?

And one of the classic examples that we get about this– “we” who study international political economy– oftentimes will raise on this is– free trade is something that has been shown for a long period of time to be beneficial for the community as a whole in the long term. Now, there’s a lot of caveats to that in the short run and so on. But economists have shown pretty clearly that, over time, free trade makes everybody better off.

But free trade almost never has a very powerful constituency that makes up a majority of a country’s population. And so here we have something that’s been very clearly demonstrated to be beneficial but is almost never popular. And so a challenge for a public administrator can be knowing that there are things that would potentially benefit stakeholders and constituents but that those stakeholders and constituents don’t see as beneficial in the same way.

Those ethical challenges will arise all of the time, and it’s difficult then to hold to the duty to carry out your beneficial policies, but at the same time, having to recognize that you have to carry out what is ultimately the will of the people as exercise through their elected officials.

So one of the challenges then is– how do you balance your commitment to fulfilling your obligations to the community and your commitment to doing what is best for the community? And one of the big things that people have to find is the right balance.

Occasionally, as a public administrator, you may also find yourself in much more serious ethical dilemmas– ones that really have high and powerful impacts, both on public policy and on sort of one’s personal commitment to various positions.

This is often the case in foreign policy because you will be forced with situations that have to balance not necessarily the best alternative but the least worst alternative. And we see this very frequently with considerations having to do with human rights and protections of individuals.

There are a whole series of laws that exist to promote human rights and to protect individuals, both in American domestic politics, but also in international law as well. And the United States and other countries have committed to uphold these rights. And yet, oftentimes, upholding those rights may require you to do things that your ethical values tell you are not correct. If human rights are being violated in a significant conflict and one is a pacifist, the need to use force to intervene to protect human rights may conflict with one’s own pacifist morals.

It’s also possible that a policymaker will have to come to the conclusion that effective intervention to protect peoples’ rights is simply impossible. And so one has to accept the fact that we will not be upholding our commitments to these issues, not because we don’t want to, but because it’s a practical impossibility for us, either materially or because of politics. The sad truth is that oftentimes human rights is a low priority, particularly in democracies, if the human rights violations are taking place elsewhere.

So ethical challenges will range from sort of day-to-day mundane issues of trying to best balance your commitment to your stakeholders and your constituents and to those providing funding and oversight to sometimes much more complicated and more difficult choices where you may have to question whether or not your core values are compatible with the types of policies you’ll be asked to implement.

Positive social change is something that public administrators will have to include in their basic ideas about ethics. Part of the ethic of public service is to promote the positive growth of the society in which you operate. And you have to balance that desire with the need oftentimes to educate people to show that what you’re talking about and what you want them to do is, in fact, positive and is, in fact, going to move things in a better direction. So the constant day-to-day struggle to promote positive actions, positive direction is something that public administrators have as part of their job, part of their duties.

Tony Leisner, PhD
School of Public Policy and Administration
Walden University

Of the many, many students that I have worked with from West Africa over the years, one of the most common concerns and one of the things they want to address is corruption.

And a recent example would be in Mali where you have one of the poorest countries– I believe the second or third poorest country– in the world. And they had a newly-elected president. They have had a military that is underpaid and undertrained that’s been under attack by Al Qaeda.

And they elected a new president after a military coup. And the first thing the president did is bought himself a $40 million dollar aircraft for his personal use. And this in a country that has a military with no aircraft to fight Al Qaeda, and it just portends a history of many of the leaders who have ended up with mansions in Switzerland, massive bank accounts. And the corruption, of course, if it’s at the top, will spread all the way down to the bottom. And this is a serious issue in these newly-independent countries, and it’s something that is worthy of any student’s efforts to address.

One of the ways that we can measure social change, in particular in Africa, is through the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which has been doing a longitudinal study for over a decade examining the development of such things as public safety, education, poverty alleviation, food security, and equity for women. And until women can own property, inherit property, attend school, and be assured of some form of healthcare, we need more policy change. We need more work on recognizing the rights of the people in the country.

We’ve seen some of this. Particularly Ghana has been a good example of that. We’re seeing a lot of improvement, although controversy, in Nigeria. Goodluck Jonathan is going to have to make a more aggressive stance about protecting the children that are missing and dealing with some of the religious strife. These are all initiatives that need to be brought by the people who have elected their presidents and have elected their officials where that is the situation.


  • Rohr, J. A. (2007). Ethics and comparative administration. Public Integrity, 10(1), 65–74.
    Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.
  • Wedel, J. R., Shore, C., Feldman, G., & Lathrop, S. (2005). Toward an anthropology of public policy. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 600(1), 30–51.
    Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.
  • Dobel, J. P. (2006). Public management as ethics. In The Oxford handbook of public management, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 161–181. Retrieved from
  • Lempert, R. J., Popper, S. W., Min, E. Y., & Dewar, J. A. (Eds). (2009). Shaping tomorrow today: Near-term steps towards long-term goals. Retrieved from
  • Document: The United Nations of South America (PDF)

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