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Policy analysis

Policy analysis is "determining which of various policies will most achieve a given set of goals in light of the relations between the policies and the goals".[1] However, policy analysis can be divided into two major fields. Analysis of existing policy which is analytical and descriptive—i.e., it attempts to explain policies and their development. Analysis for new policy which is prescriptive—i.e., it is involved with formulating policies and proposals (e.g., to improve social welfare).[2] The area of interest and the purpose of analysis determines what type of analysis is conducted. A combination of two kinds of policy analyses together with program evaluation would be defined as Policy studies.[3]

Policy Analysis is frequently deployed in the systems analysis as instituted by United States Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara[4]


  • Approaches 1
  • Methodology 2
    • Dimensions for analyzing policies 2.1
    • Five "E" approach 2.2
  • Evidence based Models 3
    • Types of Policies 3.1
    • For Governments 3.2
      • Process model 3.2.1
    • For Public Institutions 3.3
      • Rational model 3.3.1
      • Incremental Policy 3.3.2
    • For Workplace 3.4
      • Group model 3.4.1
    • Techniques used in Policy Analysis 3.5
  • Evaluation 4
    • NCCHPP's 10 Steps for conducting a policy evaluation 4.1
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Various approaches to policy analysis exist. The Analysis ‘of-for’ policy is the central approach in social science and educational policy studies which is linked to two different traditions of policy analysis and research frameworks. The approach of analysis ‘for’ policy refers to research conducted for actual policy development, often commissioned by policymakers inside the bureaucracy within which the policy is developed. Analysis ‘of’ policy is more of an academic exercise, conducted by academic researchers, seeking to understand why a particular policy was developed at a particular time and the effects, intended or otherwise, of that policy.[5]

There are, in addition three general approaches that can be distinguished: the analycentric, the policy process, and the meta-policy approach.[2]

The analycentric approach focuses on individual problems and their solutions; its scope is the micro-scale and its problem interpretation is usually of a technical nature. The primary aim is to identify the most effective and efficient solution in technical and economic terms (e.g. the most efficient allocation of resources).

The policy process approach puts its focal point onto political processes and involved stakeholders; its scope is the meso-scale and its problem interpretation is usually of a political nature. It aims at determining what processes and means are used and tries to explain the role and influence of stakeholders within the policy process. By changing the relative power and influence of certain groups (e.g., enhancing public participation and consultation), solutions to problems may be identified. One way of doing this followed a heuristic model called the policy cycle.

The meta-policy approach is a systems and context approach; i.e., its scope is the macro-scale and its problem interpretation is usually of a structural nature. It aims at explaining the contextual factors of the policy process; i.e., what are the political, economic and socio-cultural factors influencing it. As problems may result because of structural factors (e.g., a certain economic system or political institution), solutions may entail changing the structure itself.


Policy analysis uses both qualitative methods and quantitative methods, including case studies, survey research, statistical analysis, and model building. A common practice is to define the problem and evaluation criteria; identify and evaluate alternatives; and impede or recommend the policy accordingly. Promotion of the best agenda's are the product of careful back-room analysis of policies by a priori assessment and posteriori evaluation.

Dimensions for analyzing policies

There are six dimensions to policy analysis categorized as the Effects and Implementation of the policy across a period of time. Also known as "Durability" of the policy, which means the capacity in content of the policy to produce visible effective compatible change or results over time with robustness.[6]

Effectiveness What effects does the policy have on the targeted problem?
Unintended effects[7] What are the unintended effects of this policy?
Equity[8] What are the effects of this policy on different groups?
Cost What is the financial cost of this policy?
Feasibility Is the policy technically feasible?
Acceptability[9] Do the relevant policy stakeholders view the policy as acceptable?

The strategic Effects dimensions can pose certain limitations due to data collection. But the analytical dimensions of Effects directly influences Acceptability. The degree of Acceptability is based upon the plausible definitions of actors involved in Feasibility. If the Feasibility dimension is compromised, it will put the Implementation at risk, which will entail additional Cost. Finally Implementation dimensions collectively influence a policy's ability to produce results or impacts.

Five "E" approach

  • Effectiveness: How effective ?
  • Efficiency: How efficient ?
  • Ethical considerations: Ethically sound ?
  • Evaluations of alternatives: How good ?
  • Establishment of recommendations for positive change: What can be established ?

Evidence based Models

Many models exist to analyze the creation and application of public policy. Analysts use these models to identify important aspects of policy, as well as explain and predict policy and its consequences. Each of these models are based upon the types of policies.

Types of Policies[10]

  • Government (e.g. federal, provincial, municipal)
  • Policies adopted within public institutions (e.g. hospital, child care centers, schools)
  • Workplace (e.g. policies that govern employees)

Some evidence supported models are:

For Governments

Public policy is determined by political institutions, which give policy legitimacy. Government universally applies policy to all citizens of society and monopolizes the use of force in applying policy. The legislature, executive and judicial branches of government are examples of institutions that give policy legitimacy.

Process model

Policy creation is a process following these steps:

  • Identification of a problem and demand for government action.
  • Agenda setting
  • Formulation of policy proposals by various parties (e.g., congressional committees, think tanks, interest groups).
  • Policy selection/adoption and enactment of policy; this is known as Policy Legitimation.
  • Policy Implementation which has the plausible solution.
  • Policy Evaluation.

This model, however, has been criticized for being overly linear and simplistic.[11] In reality, stages of the policy process may overlap or never happen. Also, this model fails to take into account the multiple factors attempting to influence the process itself as well as each other, and the complexity this entails.

For Public Institutions

One of the most widely used model for Public Institutions are of Herbert A. Simon, the father of rational models. It is also used by private corporations. Though many criticise the model due to characteristics of the model being impractical and lying on unrealistic assumptions. For instance, it is a difficult model to apply in the public sector because social problems can be very complex, ill-defined and interdependent. The problem lies in the thinking procedure implied by the model which is linear and can face difficulties in extra ordinary problems or social problems which have no sequences of happenings.

Rational model

See Rational planning model for a fuller discussion

The rational model of decision-making is a process for making sound decisions in policy making in the public sector. Rationality is defined as “a style of behavior that is appropriate to the achievement of given goals, within the limits imposed by given conditions and constraints”.[12] It is important to note the model makes a series of work conditions, such as The model must be applied in a system that is stable; The government is a rational and unitary actor and that its actions are perceived as rational choices; The policy problem is unambiguous; There are no limitations of time or cost.

Furthermore, in the context of that public sector policy models are intended to achieve maximum social gain. Simon identifies an outline of a step by step mode of analysis to achieve rational decisions. Ian Thomas describes Simon's steps as follows:

  1. Intelligence gathering — A comprehensive organization of data, potential problems and opportunities are identified, collected and analyzed.
  2. Identifying problems — Accounting relevant factors.
  3. Assessing the consequences of all options — Listing possible consequences and alternatives that could resolve the problem and ranking the probability that each potential factors could materialize in-order to give a correct priority in the analysis.
  4. Relating consequences to values — With all policies there will be a set of relevant dimensional values (for example, economic feasibility and environmental protection) and a set of criteria for appropriateness, against which performance (or consequences) of each option being responsive can be judged.
  5. Choosing the preferred option — The policy is brought through from fully understanding the problems, opportunities, all the consequences & the criteria of the tentative options and by selecting an optimal alternative with consensus of involved actors.[13]

The model of rational decision-making has also proven to be very useful to several decision making processes in industries outside the public sphere. Nonetheless, there are some who criticize the major problems faced when using the rational model arise in practice because social and environmental values can be difficult to quantify and forge consensus around.[14] Furthermore, the assumptions stated by Simon are never fully valid in a real world context.

Deficiencies of Rationalism — gap between planning and implementation. Ignores role of people, entrepreneurs, leadership, etc. Technical competence along is not enough (ignores the human factor). Too mechanical an approach, organizations are more organic. Models must be multidimensional and complex. Predictions are often wrong; simple solutions may be overlooked. The costs of rational-comprehensive planning may outweigh the cost savings of the policy.

However, Thomas R. Dye, the president of the Lincoln Center for Public Service states the rational model provides a good perspective since in modern society rationality plays a central role and everything that is rational tends to be prized. Thus, it does not seem strange that “we ought to be trying for rational decision-making”.[15]

Incremental Policy

See Incrementalism for a fuller discussion

This model relies on the concepts of incremental decision-making such as satisfying, organizational drift, bounded rationality, and limited cognition, among others. Basically can be called "muddling through." It represents a conservative tendency: new policies are only slightly different from old policies. Policy-makers are too short on time, resources and brains to make totally new policies; past policies are accepted as having some legitimacy. Existing policies have sunk costs which discourage innovation, incrementalism is an easier approach than rationalism, and the policies are more politically expedient because they don't necessitate any radical redistribution of values. This model tries to improve the acceptability of public policy.

Deficiencies of Incrementalism — Bargaining is not successful with limited resources. Can downplay useful quantitative information. Obscures real relationship being political shills. Anti-intellectual approach to problems; no imagination. Conservative; biased-against far-reaching solutions.

For Workplace

There are many contemporary policies relevant to gender and workplace issues. Actors analyze contemporary gender-related employment issues ranging from parental leave and maternity programs, sexual harassment, and work/life balance to gender mainstreaming. It is by the juxtaposition of a variety of research methodologies focused on a common theme the richness of understanding is gained. This integrates what are usually separate bodies of evaluation on the role of gender in welfare state developments, employment transformations, workplace policies, and work experience.

Group model

This policy is formed as a result of forces and pressures from influential groups. Pressure groups are informally co-opted into the policy making process. Regulatory agencies are captured by those they are supposed to regulate. No one group is dominant all the time on all issues. The group is the bridge between the individual and the administration. The executive is thus pressured by interest groups.

The task of the system is to

  • establish the rules of the game
  • arrange compromises and balance interests
  • enact compromises in policy
  • enforce these compromises

Other major types of Policy Analysis:-

a) Empirical, Normative Policy Analysis. b) Retrospective/Prospective Analysis. c) Prescriptive and Descriptive Analysis

Techniques used in Policy Analysis

  1. Cost Benefit Analysis
  2. Management by Objectives (MBO)
  3. Operations Research
  4. Decision making based on Analytics
  5. Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) & Critical path Method (CPM)


The success of a policy can be measured by changes in the behavior of the target population and active support from various actors and institutions involved. A public policy is an authoritative communication prescribing an unambiguous course of action for specified individuals or groups in certain situations. There must be an authority or leader charged with the implementation and monitoring of the policy with a sound social theory underlying the program and the target group. Evaluations can explain causal chains and what effects will be produced by program objectives/alternatives.

To obtain compliance of the actors involved, the government can resort to positive sanctions, such as favorable publicity, price supports, tax credits, grants-in-aid, direct services or benefits; declarations; rewards; voluntary standards; mediation; education; demonstration programs; training, contracts; subsidies; loans; general expenditures; informal procedures, bargaining; franchises; sole-source provider awards...etc.[16]

NCCHPP's 10 Steps for conducting a policy evaluation

Policy evaluation is used to examine content, implementation or impact of the policy, which helps to understand the merit, worth and the utility of the policy.[17]


  • Clarify the policy
  • Engage stakeholders
  • Assess resources and evaluability
  • Determine your evaluation questions
  • Determine methods and procedures
  • Develop evaluation plan


  • Collect data
  • Process data and analyze results


  • Interpret and disseminate the results
  • Apply evaluation findings

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ a b Bührs, Ton; Bartlett, Robert V. (1993). Environmental Policy in New Zealand. The Politics of Clean and Green. Oxford University Press.  
  3. ^ Hambrick, Ralph Jr.; Bardach, Eugene; Chelimsky, Eleanor; Shadish, William R.; Deleon, Peter; Fischer, Frank; MacRae, Duncan; Whittington, Dale (November–December 1998). "Review: Building the Policy Studies Enterprise: A Work in Progress". Public Administration Review 58 (6): 533–9.  
  4. ^ Radin, Beryl (2000). Beyond Machiavelli : Policy Analysis Comes of Age. Georgetown University Press.  
  5. ^ Khorsandi Taskoh, Ali. A Critical Policy Analysis of Internationalization in Postsecondary Education: An Ontario Case Study, The University of Western Ontario, October 24, 2014.
  6. ^ Salamon, 2002
  7. ^ Rychetnik et al., 2002
  8. ^ Potvin et al., 2008
  9. ^ Peters, 2002
  10. ^ Kim Bergeron, Florence Morestin et al.
  11. ^ Young, John and Enrique Mendizabal. Helping researchers become policy entrepreneurs, Overseas Development Institute, London, September 2009.
  12. ^ Herbert, Simon (1976).  
  13. ^ Thomas, Ian, ed. (2007). Environmental Policy: Australian Practice in the Context of Theory. Sydney: Federation Press.  
  14. ^ Morgan M.G., Kandlikar M., Risbey J., Dowlatabadi H. (19 March 1999). "Why Conventional Tools for Policy Analysis Are Often Inadequate for Problems of Global Change". Climatic Change 41 (3-4): 271–281.  
  15. ^ Dye, Thomas R. (2007). Understanding Public Policy (12th ed.). Prentice Hall.  
  16. ^ Michelle A. Saint-Germain, California State University
  17. ^ Morestin, F. & Castonguay, J., 2013

Further reading

  • D.W. Parsons. (1995). Public Policy: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Policy Analysis. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
  • Weimer, David (2004). Policy Analysis Concepts and Practice. Prentice Hall.  
  • Spicker, Paul (2006). Policy Analysis for Practice: Applying Social Policy. Policy Press at the University of Bristol.  
  • Fischer, Frank; Miller, Gerald J.; Sidney Mara S. (2006). Handbook of Public Policy Analysis: Theory, Methods, and Politics. New York: Marcel Dekker.  
  • William N. Dunn (2007). Public Policy Analysis: An Introduction, 4th ed. Pearson.  
  • Eugene Bardach (2011), A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving, CQ Press College.

External links

  • Harvard Kennedy School - Award winning PAEs
  • Lecture - Mel Cappe, Analysis and Evidence of Good Public Policy
  • The Policy Analysis Process - California State University, Long Beach
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