, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 97-121

The powers of problem definition: The case of government paperwork

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Problem definition is a package of ideas that includes, at least implicitly, an account of the causes and consequences of undesirable circumstances and a theory about how to improve them. As such, it serves as the overture to policymaking, as an integral part of the process of policymaking, and as a policy outcome. In each of these roles it seems to exert influence on government action. Distinguishing among the roles clarifies the nature of that influence. A case study examines the transition from one problem definition to another in the domain of information collection by the federal government. The rise of the Paperwork Reduction definition illustrates the variety of ways in which problem definition has powerful consequences.