Pal’s Elements of Policy Content

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

Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below) describes the three key elements of policy content as:

  • Goals
  • Problem Definition
  • Instruments.

He illustrates how these elements interconnect, and the fact that they are influenced by actors and related policy frameworks with the figure below.

Pal writes (pages 11-12):

“Note that [the figure] connects these elements in a loop. While problem definition is central to an understanding of policy in a logical sense, in reality, the three elements are inextricably entwined. Policymakers’ goals orient them toward certain problems they think need solving; expertise with a set of policy tools encourages one to seek out problems and goals that are consistent with what is achievable with the tools. Moreover, it is virtually impossible to understand any one of these elements without considering the others. In this sense, policy analysis is usually iterative: it moves through the loop several times, refining an understanding of any one element in light of the others. The two diamonds at the bottom of the figure refer to actors and related policy frameworks. These are not directly “elements of policy content,” but they are important contextual factors that enrich one’s understanding of a given policy.”

“… The loop also suggests that there will be consistency between the different elements. A definition of a problem should “fit” somehow with the instruments and goals. Policy consistency [see Policy Consistency] is an important concept to appreciate, since it underpins both what we do as policy analysts and how we perceive public policies as citizens.”

See also: Pal’s Aspects of Problem Definition; Pal’s Classification of Policy Instruments.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Policy Analysis and Process (core topic) in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101.


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

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 12 April 2017.

Image: Bales, Head, Heart, and Hands, at, accessed 12 April 2017.