This method for solving problems at times appears to be trial and error rather than a comprehensive evaluation of policies or systems (Timmer, 2004). This may be in part due to the fact that we are in a time when resources are limited and the economy is such that new programs often cannot be developed and existing programs are struggling to sustain financially. Therefore, the ability of policy makers to make changes to societal circumstances relies on incremental changes to expenditures and manpower in order to facilitate change (Jones, 1973). These shifts often need to occur within existing frameworks in order for the possibility of improvement to exist. For example, in order to implement policy change, resources may need to be shifted from one service area to another in a small but meaningful way.
Policy decisions can be tested and adjusted as they are implemented and executed in order to ensure that they are effective. Since this model makes common the notion of small steps, revisions of current practices will become more readily accepted. According to Timmer (2004), decision making in this manner can be viewed as a state of continued negotiation and adjustment.
The history of implementation of procedures to address truancy can be seen from an incremental model, in that although policies have been in place for quite some time, only small changes that build off existing policies have occurred. The incremental model certainly explains why we have not seen major changes in the manner in which truancy is address nationwide and more specifically in the state of California. In deciding to implement this ordinance of a daytime curfew for school age children, the city council is building from California state law that finds youth in violation if they are missing from school for any period greater than 30 minutes during the school day.
The first step of implementing the day time curfew builds upon this legislation. Sanctions will be imposed in a graduated fashion with each incidence receiving a more severe infraction from being returned to school up to being arrested and detained. This policy is built upon the knowledge that truancy is an issue in Richmond with as many as 450 students having unexcused absences on any given day (Rogers, 2010). This is an incremental approach that focuses on the problems rather than setting a future oriented goal such as that 90% of youth who attend the school system will be excited about participating in the education system. It can be viewed as a deficit approach, how to fix what is broken.
This ordinance will be implemented in a gradual manner and appears to be designed in such a manner that one piece will be implemented at a time to ensure that it is effective, a trial and error approach. For example, under current procedures youth have been detained and brought to the police station to await their parent's arrival. However, at times this has proven to be an inefficient use of police resources as it can take a great deal of time for a parent to arrive to pick up their child. Under the new ordinance, a police officer now has the discretion to bring the youth to the parent's place of employment and eventually to a receiving facility for truant youth.
This legislation has been met with much resistance including opponents who are concerned with the criminalization of youth. Despite this, these incremental changes were approved by the city council. This may not have been the case if the proposal had called for radical measures. This ordinance was unanimously voted on by the city council which tells us that the changes to existing programs were small enough that all parties were able to see the benefit in their implementation. Educational policies aimed at decreasing truancy often times have not been updated to address the growing number of youth who are truant every year. In some cases these policies were not seen as needing to be changed.
The incremental model was designed by Charles Lindblom who explained it as continually building upon what is in existence, step-by-step, and in small increments (Timmer, 2004). Any changes from the status quo are marginal and only a small number of options are explored to address any given issue (Timmer, 2004). The end result is only minimally different from the policies that are already in place. Policy makers utilizing this model tend to focus on the problems that need to be fixed rather than goals to be achieved (Timmer, 2004). Since the implementation of any new policy often requires some form of consensus amongst policy makers, small changes are more likely to be accepted by the majority and therefore much policy development occurs in an incremental manner (Timmer, 2004).
The reality of truancy is that all students should be in school each and every day with very few exceptions. Richmond, CA strives to achieve this goal of regular school attendance by truant youth through the implementation of their ordinance that bans youth from being seen in public during normal school hours (Rogers, 2010). Youth who are found to be in violation of this ordinance are subject to sanctions, which in many cases will be graduated to address continued noncompliance. The goal of the interventions is geared at dissuading youth from truancy and the potential for other socially unacceptable outcomes.
Areas of continued research should focus on identifying rates of truancy amongst youth as accessibility to this information is sporadic, oftentimes categorized as absent without any control for excused vs. non-excused absences (Garry, 1996). The clarification of factors that place youth at risk for truancy and interventions geared at reinforcing missing social networks and addressing high-risk areas will be integral to helping to decrease the incidence of truancy. Given that truancy has been shown to be correlated to delinquency and criminal activity, priority should be given to addressing this issue prior to its escalation.
The incremental approach to policy development is built with the knowledge that very rarely can an issue be addressed permanently at one moment in time (Timmer, 2004). For example, plans to address truancy 10 years ago when numbers were low are going to need to be modified in order to address the truancy of a growing number of youth. Policymakers need to keep revisiting policies as situations change in order to ensure effective interventions (Timmer, 2004). The incremental model can explain why despite the great amount of attention that has been paid to juvenile truancy and resulting delinquency, there have not been more significant policy changes to address this growing issue.
The recent steps taken by Richmond, CA in their policy initiative to address the matter of truancy will lead to a reduction in the number of youth who are absent from school daily without a valid excuse. The proposed graduated sanctions coupled with interventions geared at identifying factors contributing to truancy will provide for a comprehensive approach to truancy reduction, one that will hopefully empower families to become involved in their children's outcomes.
California Department of Education (2010). Truancy. Retrieved from:
Garry, E.M. (1996). Truancy: First step to a lifetime of problems. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, 1-7.
Hanney, S.R., Gonzalez-Block, M.A., Buxton, M.J., & Kogan, M. (2003). The utilisation of health research in policy-making: Concepts, examples and methods of assessment. Health Research Policy and Systems, 1-28.
Jones, T.E. (1973). Assessing the impact of incremental policies. Policy Studies Journal, 2(2),
109-112. DOI: 10.1111/1541-0072.ep11739136
Rogers, R. (2010, April 7). City looks to crack down on truancy, will impose daytime curfew.