Public Policy Formulation-2: Process & Challenges
(Part 2 of my 4-part series of articles on public policy formulation and analysis)
The policy formulation and implementation process differ from country to country depending upon the nature of the state (federal or unitary), the form of the government (presidential or parliamentary), style of governance (authoritarian or democratic), the strategic culture(mindset) of its ruling elite (security conscious or welfare oriented), the composition of society, its administrative culture, etc.
In any political system, the role of the leader is very crucial but the degree of his influence is directly proportionate to the governance structure of the country. Thus, in a totalitarian state, a leader plays larger than life role in policy formulation while in a purely democratic set up his discretion to formulate a policy is greatly curtailed by the requirements of intentional consensus he has to build to frame a policy. Most countries fall in between these two extremes.
Thus, a charismatic leader in a democratic setup may play a dominant role than the institutional consensus would have warranted otherwise. On the other hand, a weak leader in a totalitarian state may have to accommodate the wishes of the other members of the ruling elite in formulating a policy
Process of Public Policy Formulation-Dye’s Five Stage Model
In a democratic set up the process of policy formulation is a multilevel and multi-sectoral phenomenon. Different interest groups compete with one another for the formulation of a public policy which results in a maximum gain for their respective group members. Thomas Dyes has suggested the following Five-Stage Model of public policy formulation
1. Problem Identification: In this first step of public policy formulation, the problem is identified, its nature described along with its history, the number of people affected, and why the existing policies cannot solve this problem. This is often a lengthy process because correct diagnosis is extremely essential for devising suitable remedies.
2. Policy Formulation: After the problem is identified, the next step is the formulation of a policy to resolve it. This is is an iterative process marked by discussions and debates between government officials, interest groups, or individual citizens to set clear goals, and list the steps to achieve them. The formulation step often includes discussions of alternatives, solutions, potential obstacles, and how to measure the effects of policy changes. After having an in-depth discussion, a consensus is developed on possible alternatives for its approval by the competent authority.
3. Policy Adoption: The main purpose of this activity is to help the decision-makers to make a better choice amongst the alternatives. In this process, it is very essential to establish viable criteria for analyzing the alternatives. To compare and measure alternative policies, economic or social benefits must be considered in the selection of any policy alternatives. The result of each alternative policy is evaluated and compared to select the viable alternative
4. Policy Implementation: In these steps, the defining agencies and organizations are involved, and responsibilities are assigned to each agency on their part. This stage requires close communication and coordination between the involved agencies, sufficient funds and staff to carry out the tasks, and overall compliance with the new approach for achieving the desired objectives of public policy.
5. Policy Evaluation: In this step, the policy is evaluated to know how it is working after the policy is implemented, how far it has been able to resolve the problem of the society, and whether the selected policy is implemented properly to achieve the targeted policy objectives. Deficiencies in execution are identified and rectified. There is various type of evaluation methods for the assessment of policy such as cost-benefit analysis, multicritics analysis, economic impact, and developing forecasting.
This is an excellent model built by an expert in this field. However, I would prefer the following Six Stage Model of Public Policy Formulation suggested by Almond and Powell for political science
1. Interest Articulation
2. Interest Aggregation
3. Rule Making
4. Rule Implementation
5. Rule Adjudication
6. Monitoring, Evaluation, & Feedback
Let me explain these stages in detail
A. Interest Articulation
Public policy is only formulated when there is a pressing need for it. The need for formulating a new policy or replacing/amending an existing one can arise out of any one or more of the following reasons.
1. Structural Changes: Every society undergoes structural changes over a period which necessitates the formulation of policies to cope with the changed circumstances. Or there may arise a need to amend any previous policy on account of new challenges. For example, demographic transition in a developing country will result in a greater number of young people entering the labour market for which job opportunities will have to create. On the other hand, the same demographic change in a developed country will mean more people are becoming aged for whom greater and specialized health facilities have to be created.
2. Pressure Groups: The demand for public policy formulation may start from a group of people facing a problem who use different media to air their grievances. Different interest groups formulate their own sets of demands for their presentation to the policymakers. In this endeavour, they are involved in alliance building with other groups with whom they can enter into giving and taking agreements. Press is one important vehicle for airing their demands which are extensively used during the elections by different interest groups to ensure their interests are reflected in the manifestos of the political parties contesting the elections. They use the services of the lobbyist not only at this stage but also at the other stages. With greater empowerment of the people, certain lobbies have become more active. These pressure groups, industrial, agricultural lobbies, and social causes advocacy groups can force states for making policies for their benefits
3. Regime Change: New political elite coming into power invariably brings a new agenda, a new vision, and a new mission for which new policies are needed. In democracies, this new vision/mission is based on the expressed opinion of the public attitude or beliefs about current socioeconomic issues.
4. Donors/World Institutions: Increasingly world organizations are becoming very penetrative and demanding with the result that any aid given by these institutions is invariably contingent upon carrying out a certain type of socio-economic reforms in the recipient states. To meet their demands, the recipient state has to make new policies or amend the existing ones. These demand certain policy changes, structural reforms
5. Global Commitments: In these days of a rapidly globalizing world, every state is a signatory to one or more types of international conventions which normally need local policy formulation.
6. Court Orders: Superior courts sometimes pass orders for formulating clear policies or review an existing policy while hearing any case
B. Interest Aggregation
At this stage, the political parties enter the arena. A political party is a diverse conglomeration of groups of people, each using its platform to advocate and advance its corporate interests. Serving as a bridge between the public and the government, political parties not only help the institutions and processes of a government, but also enable people to participate in elections and other processes of governance, educate them and facilitate them to make policy choices. Faced with a set of conflicting demands by their members or constituents, party leaders aggregate these competing demands into viable policy options. These policy options are reflected in their election manifestos during the election campaigns or presented through their elected members. Some parties will develop draft legislation and attempt to work up some policies to be ready for implementation. Once converted into policy, political parties have to ensure that these are implemented in the letter and spirit-hence their role in M&E
C. Rule Making/Policy Formulation
Many use this stage as interchangeable with overall public policymaking which is not true. Policy formulation is an iterative process, comprising various sub-steps and involving all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the policy is realistic, feasible, widely accepted, and supported, and that can be effectively implemented.
Rulemaking is no doubt the most important stage of the entire chain, yet it is only one rung in a staircase of public policy formulation.
There are two options for preparing a policy document, each having advantages and disadvantages:
a) Integration of policy concerns into overall and sectoral policies. While this approach has the advantage that it ensures integration of policy concerns in other relevant sector policies, the flip side is the risk of conceptual ambiguities and inconsistencies in the pursuance of objectives in the different sectors.
b) Preparation of a sector-specific policy document, which has the advantage of providing a consistent framework of objectives and policy measures. However, there is a danger that the different sector ministries feel less committed to making their contribution to policy formulation and implementation.
Whichever option is chosen, there are normally four phases in draft policy formulation and its validation process
PHASE- 1: A task force composed of representatives of key stakeholders is established for draft policy formulation. It may form sub-teams consisting of representatives of the concerned ministries to deal with specific issues
PHASE -2: During this phase, the first round of policy formulation workshops should be conducted at central and decentralized levels to diagnose the situation by collecting and analyzing relevant data and information, reviewing existing policies, stocktaking of existing initiatives, and consulting relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations
PHASE-3: In this phase, the task force will produce a first draft of the policy document(s). The document needs to set out the objectives to be achieved and address all relevant issues related to where the action is required.
PHASE- 4: Based on the feedback on the first draft, the task force will prepare a revised second draft policy document, setting out the objectives, priorities, and an outline of the policy measures to be taken to achieve the objectives. This second draft will be presented to the head of the Ministry/department who will have to endorse the policy.
Once the draft is put up, it is scrutinised by the select/standing committee where all those likely to be affected by the implementation of the proposed policy may be called for hearing of their views. Lastly, it comes to the decision-making forum-cabinet or the parliament where it is again discussed and fine-tuned. Once a consensus has been reached or the majority has agreed, the policy is approved. After its validation, the concerned ministry or department gets its approval from the competent authority usually the minister or in the case of multisectoral policy, the cabinet. If it affects the provinces, then the approval of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) is mandatory.
D. Rule Implementation
Although policy formulation is the prerogative of the elected members of the country, its implementation in letter and spirit rests with the bureaucracy. Based on the measures and priorities defined in the document, the bureaucracy formulates a Strategic Plan of Action for implementing the policy measures. There can be three types of policy measures:
a) Regulatory type wherein a set of rules, regulations, and procedures are recommended for the public authorities and applied in policy implementation.
b) Programme type wherein the recommended policy measures are implemented through the launching of specific programmes/ projects.
c) Combination of the regulatory and programme types of policy measures.
In case of any difficulty, the bureaucracy is supposed to bring it to the notice of those who formulated it and get it revised
E. Rule Adjudication
Courts normally do not interfere in executive affairs under the well-known concept of Separation of Powers. If the policy formulated by the elected representatives against the fundamental law of the land i.e., the Constitution or its implantation itself may result in gross injustice to the public. In both the cases, the judiciary itself or on the petition of anyone adversely affected can take action and either refer it back to the elected representatives for its re-examination or it can strike it down completely
F. Monitoring, Evaluation, & Feedback
No policy formulated by the elected representatives can be without flaws nor it is etched in stone. Here the press and civil society play a very important role by pointing out the anomalies or the adverse consequences of any policy formulated or being implemented. This feedback plays an important role in amending a policy formulated or even its repeal if needed.
Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is an essential element of policy formulation and implementation cycle to ensure that the policy is effective in achieving the objective and take mid-term corrections where needed by providing the government and other stakeholders with up-to-date information on the state of implementation of the policy and assessing whether the implementation of the policy is on track towards attaining the planned objectives.
While a central M & E unit is responsible for the compilation and analysis of the M & E results of all related interventions, different stakeholders should perform M & E at all levels of policy implementation and monitoring activities by different organizations need to be harmonized. At certain time intervals, comprehensive evaluations of the progress in implementation and achievements of the policy will need to be conducted.
Iron Triangle of Public Policy
There is a complex relationship among the institutions responsible for formulating and implementing public policies in a country. All these actors could be grouped into three distinct categories namely political elites (government and opposition), bureaucracy (civilian and military), and private sector, both for-profit and not-for-profit organisations. Every entity in these categories strives hard to safeguard its respective vested corporate interests more than the stated welfare objectives in such a way that even without entering into a formal or informal understanding, its core interests are always protected.
Gordon Adams has rightly described this tripartite relationship as the “iron triangle of Public Policy”, because of its inherent strength as it is not in the interests of any component to break the triangle. politically active members of these groups sharing a common interest or goal ensure that their core interests are not hit by any public policy even if they may or may not be the primary beneficiaries of any public policy.
This Iron Triangle of Public Policy can be presented in the form of this diagram
In this Iron triangular relationship, the first relationship is between the interest groups and the members of the parliament. Interest groups such as organisations, for-profit or not-for-profit, provide electoral support to the members of the parliament who in turn favour them with legislation friendly to the corporate interests of these organisations.
The second relationship in this triangle is the one between the members of the parliament and the bureaucracy. Members of the parliament provide the bureaucracy perks and political support and get reciprocal support from them in the form of extra fast execution of the policies going in favour of these members of parliament.
The third relationship exists between the bureaucratic apparatus and the organisations, whether they are for-profit firms or NGOs. Despite being a neutral agency, the bureaucracy seeks to create and consolidate its power base by relaxing regulatory control on these organisations in return for their lobbying efforts for the bureaucracy.
Challenges in Public Policy Formulation
There are six types of challenges a policy-making institution has to encounter to be successful namely
1. Information Gap: The first challenge in any policy formulation process is the availability of accurate, timely, and relevant information about the issue needing policy. You cannot formulate an effective policy if there are gaps in the information available to you, particularly the priority to be attached to which aspect of the problem is under consideration.
2. Management Deficiency: There are different types of actors involved in the process of policy formulation. Needless to reiterate capacity of these actors will go a long way in determining the quality of policies made. If those who are to formulate policy do not have the requisite skills to assess the situation or interpret the information available or find out the causative relationships among the valuables, it is a non-starter
3. Institutional Handicaps: Policy formulation is a group activity by the designated institution. If the right man for the right job is true for effective and efficient management, then the right institution having the necessary wherewithal is the essential requirement for policy formulation
4. Resource Deficiency: It is easy to include grandiose projects while announcing the development policy of a country but it will remain only a pipe dream if you lack administrative wherewithal or adequate financial resources to carry out these projects.
5. Stakeholders’ Acceptance: Policy formulation is a complex process involving a large number of stakeholders; there is room for other groups to influence policy. This is made up of pressure groups, cause groups, trade unions, academics, and the media. It is an uphill task to arrive at a consensus. There must be an institutional set-up for effective coordination among these stakeholders for the resolution of any dispute during the implementation of the policy
6. Capacity Deficit of Bureaucracy: If policymaking is the prerogative and responsibility of elective members of parliament in a country, its implementation rests with another actor i.e., the bureaucrats who devise strategies to implement the directives given in the policy document. If a country’s bureaucracy is efficient, effective, and responsible, it will be reflected in the quality of implementation of the policies
Facilitating public participation in Public Policy Formulation
If we keep in mind the above-mentioned six stages through which a public policy passes before its enactment, we can understand that an active citizenry has ample opportunities to not only influence the process and outcome of the policy formulation process but can also reverse the outcome if they believe it to be not in the public interest.
They can use various channels and different techniques to participate in this process at various stages of public policy formulation. Some of the channels available are the media, print, electronic and social, civil society organisations, public representatives, and government servants. Similarly, they have some very effective techniques to press their demands such as writing letters to the press, opinion makers, and policy framers, giving interviews, holding conventions, and street demonstrations, to name a few
As you would have noticed, at each of these stages, members of the public have ample opportunities to influence the outcome of any government policy, its contents, and implementation procedure directly or through intermediaries. However, to facilitate the meaningful participation of the public in government policy formulation, there are four requirements
1. Literacy Rate: General literacy rate plays an extremely crucial role in ensuring effective, efficient, and equitable public policy formulation in a country. The uneducated masses make ill-informed choices to elect their representatives who are in turn ill-equipped to effectively address a country’s multi-dimensional public policy challenges. A country with a low literacy rate has few civil society organisations to effectively oversee the electoral processes and as such, the electoral frauds go undetected. The same is the case with its press; an insufficient literacy rate results in average quality news reporters, editors, and readers.
2. Fundamental Rights: Faithful implementation of fundamental rights like freedom of speech and association, granted by the constitution. Any restriction on these rights will adversely affect the meaningful participation of the public
3. Free Media: If there is freedom of speech but there are restrictions on the media whether press, TV, or social media by design or by default. it would again hinder public participation in a meaningful way in policy formulation
4. Independent Judiciary: The existence of an independent judiciary is the ultimate guarantee that the public will take an active part. Courts sometimes take Suo Moto notice or through pro bono public petitions or on the petition of any individual if they feel that there are restrictions on public participation in governmental affairs.
5. Fair Elections: Holding fair and free elections at regular intervals provides the best opportunity for the public to influence government policies by electing those whom they trust to safeguard their interests.
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