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THE TOOLS OF POLICY FORMULATION

Definitions and Typologies

In Chapter 1, we argued that policy formulation tools constitute a particular category of policy tools, which is analytically distinct from the implementing instruments exhaustively catalogued by Salamon (2002) and the procedural instruments identified by Howlett (2000). We defined 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.

On reflection, we believe that this definition is sufficiently broad to capture all the relevant tools, including, crucially, those developed within both positivist and post-positivist traditions. Below, we dwell a little more on what is meant by the tasks of policy formulation. But for now, it is sufficient to note that a broad definition allows the full range of tools explored in this book to be brought out of the 'back room' and studied in a more politically attuned and comparable fashion.

A broad definition also allowed us to propose a comprehensive typology of the main tool types (see Table 1.1), which maps onto - to quote our definition - 'the interlinked tasks of policy formulation'. Crucially, it relates the tool functions as they are often presented - in other words, according to idealized, 'textbook' functions - to the policy formulation tasks that they have potential to be harnessed to in practice. The typology does this by deliberately not, as has often been done in the past, drawing on the 'idealized' policy appraisal steps or the internal specifications of particular tools, both of which assume that the tools are centre-stage. Rather, it attempts to situate tools within an appreciation of what actually goes on in policy formulation.

At the broadest level (and drawing on Chapters 2-7), the various tools do seek to address different policy formulation tasks. For example, scenarios were originally created to explore different visions and objectives, as opposed to recommending a particular policy response, a task for which CBA was designed and appears much better suited. In addition, to the extent that their main task is to collect, condense and make sense of policy-relevant information, there appears to be no significant overlap between policy formulation tools and the main implementing instruments. In fact, they are different entities: policy formulation tools can and are used to assess the impacts of different implementing instruments.

However, when confronted by the rich empirical detail contained in Chapters 2-7, we can appreciate that Table 1.1 misses some important nuances. First, many of the main tool types contain many more subtypes than we originally expected. For example, there are prospective, explorative and descriptive types of scenarios; descriptive, performance and composite types of indicators; and multi-attribute, outranking and interactive forms of MCA. And one of the striking findings of Chapter 2 was that participatory tools are in fact an agglomeration of many different tools and methods. Nonetheless, speaking in favour of Table 1.1, there does not appear to be a significant degree of overlap between the main subtypes.

Second, in spite of this variety, many tools do not simply stand alone as separate and clearly specified entities. Some appear to defy the assumption that their application is necessarily an exclusive, expert-led affair; for instance, scenario tools, CBA and MCA can all be applied in a more or a less participatory fashion. Third, and relating to how tools may - in theory - be applied in practice, some of the more technical, substantive and content-related tools (such as CBA) seem to have relatively 'hard' boundaries, which in turn encourage score cards and other measures of the quality of application. By contrast, the more process-based tools such as scenarios and participatory tools have relatively fuzzy boundaries, with much less agreement on purposes and methods of quality evaluation. For these, the quality of application is even more value-laden a judgement. This could be why some chapters (for example, Chapter 2) have the word 'tools' in the title whereas others (for example, Chapter 7) refer to 'a tool'.

Finally, tools do not necessarily map neatly onto policy formulation tasks; they may be appropriate for different tasks in different ways. To take two examples, the same tools may be used for options assessment and to assist with selecting a policy design, and scenarios can be used to characterize problems as well as clarify objectives. This should not be too surprising: in Chapter 1 we noted that the policy formulation tasks are often interlinked in practice and do not necessarily follow a linear progression. Expecting anything different would be to conflate policy formulation with an idealized conception of policy assessment.

Therefore, on closer inspection, creating a usable typology of formulation tools is not as straightforward as one might imagine. In fact, this difficulty might explain why so many tool developers and users have invested so much (perhaps far too much?) time and effort in debating typologies and toolkits (Chapter 1) of decision support tools. Simply listing the policy formulation tools (as is done in Table 8.2, for example) is not a typology; similarly the distinction between simple, formal and advanced tools (see Chapter 1) does not appear to suffice either (for example, depending on the venue of use, CBA can be practised in all three forms). If used flexibly, therefore - an assumption which we open up a little more below -we believe that Table 1.1 offers a sufficiently sharp analytical device for organizing and making sense of the main (sub)types, and flagging how they are intended to work in principle. It provides a better way to organize the formulation tools than the broader typologies that have been created to encompass all tools and instruments (such as Hood (1983)). And, crucially, when used alongside the more finely grained typologies that have been developed for the implementing (Salamon 2002) and procedural instruments (Howlett 2000), it draws the observer's attention to some significant differences that have not attracted sufficient discussion in the instruments literature until now.

So far the discussion of Table 1.1 has been about policy formulation tools as they are designed and could theoretically be deployed. In the following subsections we explore - via our analytical framework - how these tasks (or uses) work out in practice.

 
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