Defining Policy Formulation

Topics Remarks
Two aspects: technical and political The literature typically features either one or the other, rarely both simultaneously.
Define policy formulation Define as both effective + acceptable
The policy formulation The formula is essential:
Analysis + Authorization = Formulation
Thus two roles: Analyst and policy maker, but the latter has the responsibility

The idea of policy formulation suggests several images. The literature typically features either one or the other, rarely both simultaneously. The technically minded see this as an act of correct analysis, finding the optimal solution to a complicated problem. The politically minded see it as gaining support for a policy through the cumbersome legislative process. The former casts policy formulation in terms of rationality; the latter in terms of compromise and majority-building. Here, both are right. ^

Definition of Policy Formulation

Let-us again start with the consideration of a definition:

Policy formulation is the development of effective and acceptable courses of action for addressing what has been placed on the policy agenda.

Notice that there are two parts to this definition of policy formulation:

  1. Effective formulation means that the policy proposed is regarded as a valid, efficient, and implementable solution to the issue at hand. If the policy is seen as ineffective or unworkable in practice, there is no legitimate reason to propose it. Policy analysts try to identify effective alternatives. This is the analytical phase of policy formulation.

  2. Acceptable formulation means that the proposed course of action is likely to be authorized by the legitimate decision makers, usually through majority-building in a bargaining process. That is, it must be politically feasible. If the policy is likely to be rejected by the decision making body, it may be impractical to suggest it. This is the political phase of policy formulation.

There are, then, two aspects to policy formulation: the analytical and the political. First, effective policy alternatives, presumably based on sound analysis, must be conceived and clearly articulated. Second, a political choice among these alternatives must be made: The policy must be authorized through a political process, such as legislation or regulation. Both phases --- analysis and authorization --comprise policy formulation. ^

Analysis + Authorization = Formulation

The definition of policy formulation can be represented by this formula:

Analysis + Authorization = Formulation

The tidy division of labor incorporates two distinct roles professional policy analysts, working both inside and outside government, use their formidable kit of analytical tools to study an issue and to devise policy alternatives which appear to address the issue at hand. This presumably brings theory and knowledge into policy formulation.

Elected or appointed officials, however, have the final choice among alternatives presented. We like to think that they bring judgment, wisdom, and accountability to policy formulation. Both analysis and selection involve values, but this is often hidden in the case of the former, but certainly not the latter. ^

Two Complementary Roles: Analyst and Decision Maker

Both roles should complement each other. The policy planners are expected to contribute sound technical analysis regarding means, behavior, cost, implementation strategy, and consequences, good or bad. Technical analysts, however, are not held accountable to the public. The elected or politically appointed officials do not necessarily have the analytical ability to address the problem. The judgment as to goals, trade-offs, value priorities, and weighing the overall effects are left to the decision makers who are, in theory, accountable under our representative form of government.

The arrangement works to the extent that the analysts are keen and informed and that the decision makers exercise sound judgment and are responsive. If the policy goes awry, we might ask if the technical analysis was faulty or if the political actors either exercised bad judgment, excluded effective alternatives, misdefined the problem, or "played politics" with public policy. Either way, we assume the politicians are ultimately charged with policy making and that they will properly be held accountable by the public.

But let's make this point again, since it is so important: Elected or appointed officials, however, have the final choice among alternatives presented. ^

The Public Policy Cycle Web Site | Page: © Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. | ™ ProfWork |
Initialized: July 11, 2001| Last Update: 8/15/2008