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Re-assembling the Field: A Definition and a Typology

To move forwards, we draw upon Jenkins-Smith (1990, p. 11) by defining a policy formulation tool as: a technique, scheme, device or operation (including - but not limited to - those developed in the fields of economics, mathematics, statistics, computing, operations research and systems dynamics), which can be used to collect, condense and make sense of different kinds of policy relevant knowledge to perform some or all of the various inter-linked tasks of policy formulation.

But what are the main tools of policy formulation and which of the interlinked formulation tasks mentioned in this definition do they seek to address? Today, the range of policy formulation tools is considerably wider and more 'eclectic' (Radin 2013, p. 159) than it was in Lasswell's time. While keenly aware that typologizing can very easily become an end in itself, developing some kind of workable taxonomy nonetheless remains a crucial next step towards enhancing a shared understanding of how policy formulation tools are used in contemporary public policymaking.

We propose that the five policy formulation tasks outlined above -problem characterization, problem evaluation, specification of objectives, policy options assessment and policy design - may be used to structure a typology of policy formulation tools, based on what might be termed the 'textbook' characteristics of what they may be capable of. We also draw on Dunn's (2004, pp. 6-7) schema of three types of tasks associated with policy formulation tools (problem structuring, forecasting and recommending), and de Ridder et al.'s (2007) typology of assessment tools (see Table 1.1). In Table 1.1, the first two tasks of 'problem characterization' and 'problem evaluation' broadly correspond to Dunn's (2004) problem structuring - that is, tools that produce information about what problem to solve. The remaining three tasks correspond to Dunn's forecasting -hence tools that produce information about the expected outcomes of policies - and also recommending - hence tools that produce information about preferred policies.

Following Thomas (2001, p. 218), the consensus building or 'consolidation' that can occur throughout the formulation process may draw on feedback or consolidation tools for communicating findings back to policy actors. These can include many of the same sorts of tools presented under 'problem characterization', such as stakeholder meetings, the elicitation of public perceptions and/or expert opinions.

 
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