Policy Analysis

Submitted by admin on Mon, 08/22/2016 - 00:47

The main thing to realise about policies is that they nearly always are formed in response to a problem that has occurred. The same applies to rules (if an organisation has them) and also even to Laws. Laws and Policies are two sides to the same coin – there are always new events that don’t fit well in the existing system, so policies and laws are often made to try and prevent this happening. Of the two, policies are more positively directed (the carrot) and laws are often more punitive and controlling (the stick).

Admittedly, policies are also sometimes made as a result of a goal/idea/vision.

Policies can be made at any level, from a kindergarten to a nation – it is always the same process, and this has been studied by many academics, and there is now a range of policy analysis techniques which offer ways to develop “better policies”.

My preferred policy analysis method is taken from “Policy Analysis for the Real World”, Hogwood and Gunn, Oxford UP, 1984. They were respectively lecturer and professor at the University of Strathclyde.

Their main method follows the following pattern (perhaps referring mostly to the highest level of government, but still of relevance at all other levels:-

  1. Issue Search – getting the right issues on to the agenda (who sets the agenda ?). It is sometimes worth deliberately searching for all the issues involved in the problem situation
  2. Issue Filtration – which issues are referred to which administrative or legislative bodies to be dealt with ? At what level do these bodies or people function ? What political considerations and fixed positions already exist ? How central is the issue ? What might the exercise cost for study, analysis and then action ? They suggest outline procedures for this important and often neglected stage.
  3. Issue Definition. People in different positions have different views of the issue (it’s more useful to call it an issue, not a problem) – it may also be called an opportunity or trend. Much of this is a political process (again, in whatever organisation), and it may need to be rescued in some way from rhetoric. Developing some sort of shared value system and then making an agreed value judgement would be the ideal here. National policies on “deviant” behaviours of all types (sexual, health, behavioural) show the challenges involved in defining a problem in a way that leads towards any sort of positive outcome. In the UK, Royal Commissions are sometimes used for these issues.
  4. Forecasting. In making any decision, we are making assumptions about the future on the basis of what we know about the present and the recent past. E.g. if we are making policies about road building, then we need to know how many vehicles there are, how far they travel, and at what times and where to. Sometimes information like this is essential, but, it can be expensive to acquire it, but even more expensive if we make a bad decision on the basis of bad information
  5. Objectives and Priorities. Having done all the groundwork above, we come to the central point of setting objectives for a policy area, and perhaps also setting organisational goals (perhaps more accurately, the goals of the dominant group within the organisation). There may be a number of formal stages
    1. Where are we now ?
    2. Where do we want to be ?
    3. What is stopping us ?
    4. What help do we need from other agencies ?
    5. What do we ourselves need to do ?
    6. How would we handle multiple objectives ?
    7. How would we recognise “success” ? and should this be quantified ?
    8. On what conditions is success dependent ?
    9. What if we don’t achieve the objectives ?
    10. There are several stages for prioritising the objectives
      1. Intrinsic Criteria – is the issue susceptible to treatment ?
      2. Demand – will people pay for a better service ?
      3. Need – how prevalent is the problem/issue/lack ?
      4. Net social and economic benefit
      5. Which areas / social groups / dependency groups / intervention types / Agencies are most involved in these particular objectives
  6. Options Analysis. Perhaps the above procedures will be sufficient to generate clear and achievable objectives. However, there may still be a number of options, e.g. the options for energy conservation – coal, nuclear, sustainable. Many of the options will have different advantages and disadvantages, and these may need to be evaluated in full. Perhaps there would be “winners and losers” and the effects of this may need to be migrated in advance. There are many techniques, such as formal risk analysis that might be used as part of this step.  Often decisions are made where the short-term benefits are high, but the long-term benefits are negative, and these also may need to be mitigated or plans made about what to do if a tipping-point is reached. A budget may be needed !
  7. Implementation. Often this has been ignored in the past, but it can be essential. Policies can fail for a number of reasons,
    1. Circumstances may change and become unfavourable
    2. Insufficient time, energy or resources to achieve success
    3. The energy or resources were not available at the required time and format
    4. That the actions were taken adequately but did not impact the perceived problem – causality was missing
    5. There is insufficient commitment, or those in authority did not get compliance

      There are many different approaches to implementation – administrative and managerial, political, structural, behavioural, and sometimes a combination of these can be used
  8. Evaluation. The progress can be monitored in many ways – surveys, statistics, interviewing. However, there may be side effects and other influences that can be determined, and costs may have been more or less than expected too. Who should do the evaluations, and what counts as success ? What has been gained or learned ?
  9. Policy Succession and Termination. A new problem may now be the new priority, so new policies will be needed. The whole process may need to be terminated – e.g. India is close to eradicating polio due to the efforts of huge numbers of dedicated staff. How can all the skill, experience and enthusiasm be made use of ? What about the organisational structures that are no longer needed ?

These are their main headings, and some of the main points, but by no means all !

I highly recommend this book – looking through it again to extract these steps reminds me what a wealth of understanding and technique there is available in the academic world.