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The Turn Back to Policy Formulation Tools

Nowadays, interest in policy formulation tools appears to be growing strongly once again, for several reasons. First, new tasks other than knowledge creation are being found for tools such as CBA and indicators. As noted above, they are seen as a means to implement the New Public Management agenda, for example. According to Boswell et al. (Chapter 11, this volume), they seek to incentivize improvements in performance, monitor progress and ensure political accountability. In many OECD countries, tool use has been institutionalized through systems of Regulatory Impact Assessment (Turnpenny et al. 2009; Nilsson et al. 2008). In developing countries (Chapter 10, this volume), tools are being used to rationalize policymaking in situations where the public sphere is still relatively weak, vis-a-vis traditional forms of politics based on patronage.

Second, the emergence of ever more complex policy problems has generated a fresh wave of interest in more sophisticated policy formulation tools such as scenarios and computer-based forms of modelling. There is a growing appreciation amongst practitioners and academics that policies in these areas will not 'design themselves' (Howlett and Lejano 2013, p. 14); according to Lindquist (1992, pp. 128-129), they: need new analytical tools that will help them to diagnose and map the external environments of the public agencies, to recognize the inherent tensions and dynamics in these environments as they pertain to policy development and consensus building, and to develop new strategies for 'working' in these environments in the interests both of their political masters and those of the broader communities they serve.

Tools, in other words, are no longer the preserve of technocrats operating in cloistered backrooms, well away from the public gaze. Unfortunately, there remains a lack of understanding of which tools are being used and how well they are performing in relation to this considerably longer list of tasks and purposes. In the UK, the Cabinet Office was sufficiently concerned to institute a wide-ranging review, which called for 'a fundamental change in culture to place good analysis at the heart of policymaking' (Cabinet Office 2000, p. 5). It asserted that 'the use of analysis and modelling in the US is more extensive .. . and of much better overall quality' (Cabinet Office 2000, p. 99), but acknowledged that there was no systematic audit of use across jurisdictions which could be used to identify best practices. Following a major failure in the use of models in UK government, a wide-ranging review was eventually undertaken in 2013 which reported that around 500 computerized models were being used, influencing many billions of pounds of government expenditure (HM Treasury 2013, p. 33). Yet this transformation in the tools of policy formulation being used seems to have escaped the attention of most policy scholars.

Third, the growing interest in policy formulation tools could also be seen as one symptom of the gradual re-discovery of policy design as both a policy goal (in other words, through state-led policymaking) and a research topic (Howlett et al. 2014). Far from reducing the need for state involvement, the emergence of a more complex, networked society and austerity pressures, makes it more important for interventions to be carefully targeted and legitimated (Howlett and Lejano 2013, p. 12). One way the pressure upon the state to discharge these functions manifests itself is in the perceived need for tools to formulate 'better' policies. Several of the chapters in this book (for example, Chapters 3, 9 and 12) make repeated references to tools that seek to engage with complex policy problems that are uniquely interconnected and cross-jurisdictional in their scale and scope, and have a very strong public interest dimension.

Finally, the number of policy formulation tool types has grown significantly in recent years. And as they have emerged from the analycentric 'backroom' (Self 1981, p. 222), the expectation has grown that they will respond more sensitively to changing contextual conditions and public expectations, somewhat addressing Wildavsky's (1987, p.vi) call for policy to be seen as an art and a craft rather than a technocratic exercise in selecting and employing tools to 'solve' problems. In the next section we attempt to bring a greater sense of analytical order to the expanding list of tools, methods, tasks and expectations.

 
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