Problem Definition: Multiple ‘Problems’, Different Frames, and False Representations

  • Leanne McCarthy-Cotter


This chapter focuses on the problem definition stage. It demonstrates that the developments highlighted in Chapter  2 fed into how the ‘problem’ was defined, how the policy was represented, and subsequently, how policy-makers utilised ‘problem representation’ as a power resource to pave the path for successful passage of the policy. In the case of 1991 Child Support Act, there were considerable links between how the problem was defined and the policy’s subsequent failure. This chapter argues that there were numerous actors in the policy-making process, each viewing the policy through a different frame, and thus attaching different definitions of what the problem was that the policy sought to rectify. The chapter highlights that there was an unclear definition of the ‘problem’, which led to ambiguous and incompatible aims and objectives being contained within the Bill. The chapter argues that it is important to view ‘problem representation’ as being different to ‘problem definition’, and indeed how ‘problem representation’ is a tactic used to mask true motives and objectives. The chapter ends by arguing that Thatcher and the Treasury deployed this strategic use of ‘problem representation’ to frame the debate in terms of parental responsibility to children and an attempt to remedy a failing system. It demonstrates that Thatcher and the Treasury hid their definition of the problem under the problem identified by Newton and Mackay, using language and imagery to begin setting the agenda to not only garner popular support, but also limit any potential opposition. It stresses that even before the formal policy-making process had begun, the roots of policy failure had started to spring.


Problem definition Problem representation Frames Imagery Problem identification Strategic representation Problems Issues 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leanne McCarthy-Cotter
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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