Issue Framing

… a core concept used in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101

Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below, p. 124) defines issue framing as “a way of depicting a policy issue or problem in broad and understandable, if somewhat simplified terms.”

Pal notes (p. 109-110) the two dimensions of policy framing, the first is analytical and emphasizes the logical elements that make up an argument or claim” while the second is part of policy communications, combining effective arguments “with powerful rhetorical tools such as metaphors and labels.”

Pal illustrates the analytical dimension of policy framing with a schema developed by Dunn:

“William Dunn (1993, 2008, Chapters 1, 8), for example, offers a schema to decipher the different statements that comprise any policy argument. Policy-relevant information (I) is the data or evidence at the policy analyst’s disposal. A policy claim (C) is the  conclusion of the policy argument, usually in the form of a recommendation on how to tackle the problem. A warrant (W) is an assumption that permits the analyst to move from the information to the claim. Warrants come in different forms – appeals to authority, to intuition, to values, and so on. Backings (B) are statements that provide support for warrants or neutralize possible criticisms or objections. Finally, qualifiers (Q) are statements that express the degree of confidence or certainty in the policy claim (e.g., “very likely” or “probably”).

“Take the question of legalization of marijuana, possession of which is currently a criminal offence in Canada and the United States. The policy-relevant information (I) in this instance would consist of medical evidence on the impact of marijuana use, the costs of enforcement, the rate of arrests for different groups, the effect of criminal records, the number of illegal grow houses, and so on. Those in favour of decriminalization would make that policy claim (C), based on several possible warrants (W): everyone uses it, whether it is legal or not; recreational use does not lead to addiction or impaired health, at least not any more than reasonable alcohol consumption; government has no role in regulating a substance like this. Backing (B) would come from statements producing evidence or arguments to support the warrant in question, and qualifiers (Q) would indicate the likelihood of a surge in addictions or drug use. Those opposing decriminalization would begin with much the same information (I), but, of course, make a completely opposite policy claim (C). The warrants (W) might be empirical (e.g., relaxation of controls will lead to a surge in use; the negative health effects are more than negligible; enforcing regulations is difficult) or moral (e.g., society is already too hedonistic). Backing (B) and qualifiers (Q) would be adduced to make the case stronger. As Dunn points out, understanding the structure of policy arguments helps us understand that often the same policy-relevant information (I) can lead to very different claims (C), based on different assumptions, values, and perspectives on the evidence (W). For example, there are provisions in Canada for the medical use of marijuana, a case where additional considerations about a specific population (those suffering ailments that marijuana can alleviate) are brought to bear. Making effective arguments is partly about assembling elements along these lines, but also combining them with powerful rhetorical tools such as metaphors and labels.”

See also Policy Images.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Problem Definition and Agenda Setting (core topic) in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101 Policy Analysis and Process.


Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, Nelson Education, Toronto. See Beyond Policy Analysis – Book Highlights.

References cited by Pal in the excerpt above are:

Dunn, W. N. (1993). Policy reforms as arguments. In F. Fischer & J. Forester (Eds.), The argumentative turn in policy analysis and planning (pp. 254–290). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Dunn, W. N. (2008). Public policy analysis: An introduction (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 31 March 2017.

Image: The Law Study, Framing of Issues and it’s Kinds, at, accessed 31 March 2017.