Public Policy Formulation & Analysis: A Handbook (2nd Edition)

Shahid H. Raja
4 min readMar 17, 2018

Following is the abridged version of the first chapter of my above-mentioned book, available at Amazon. Kindly click the URL given below to see its details

Public policy studies have gained attention due to the role of civil society organizations and the media in understanding policy formulation and implementation.

Definition of Public Policy:

Public policy is a formally documented statement of intentions and actions a government takes to address deficiencies or improve conditions in a specific area.

Key definitions include whatever governments choose to do or not to do’ and ‘A purposive course of action or inaction undertaken by an actor or a set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern’.

Features of Public Policy:

Public policy can take different formats, such as an overall development policy or a specific document addressing a particular issue.

Policy formulation is a deliberate action taken by a competent authority and approved by public representatives.

Policies have intrinsic sanctity and can be referenced for dispute resolution.

Policy formulation is the domain of elected representatives, while the state apparatus carries out implementation.

There is a distinction between policy and strategy, with policy indicating what is to be done and why, while strategy outlines specific measures.

Types of Public Policies:

  • Distributive policies affect specific groups and have far-reaching impacts.
  • Redistributive policies affect the majority, such as compulsory pension contributions.
  • Regulative policies impose good business practices on corporations.
  • Constituent policies are converted into proper legislation.

Importance of Policies:

  • Policies create awareness among the public and stakeholders about the government’s resolve to address pressing issues.
  • Policies are part of the bigger picture and provide clear guidelines for problem-solving.
  • Policies ensure transparency in government intentions, actions, and resource allocation.

Components of Public Policy:

  • Policies typically include a preamble, definitions, scope, date of application, policy directions, institutional mechanisms, a repeal clause, and more.

Approaches to Public Policy Formulation:

Public policy formulation can be viewed from different angles, including the institutional approach, the elite-mass approach, the group approach, the systems approach, and the streams and windows approach.

Each approach offers a unique perspective on determining and implementing public policy.

  1. Institutional Approach: The institutional approach sees public policy formulation as the outcome of a neutral and rational process carried out by authoritative institutions. In this approach, public officials and administrators play a crucial role in implementing policies decided upon by these institutions.
  2. Elite-Masses Approach: The elite-masses approach argues that public policy formulation is driven by the interests of the powerful elite, who allocate state resources for their benefit.
  3. Group Approach: The group approach emphasizes the role of societal pressure groups in public policy formulation. These pressure groups engage in intense lobbying and bargaining to safeguard their corporate interests, influence policymakers, and shape public policy.
  4. Systems Approach: The systems approach treats public policy formulation as a mechanical process where inputs from the environment are transformed into outputs by the political system.
  5. Streams and the Windows Approach: The streams and windows approach explains public policy formulation as a convergence of three streams, creating a ‘Window of Opportunity’ for consensus policy to emerge. These three streams include the problem stream, the political stream, and the policy stream, which must all converge to open a policy window.


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