Home Political science The tools of policy formulation
Venues of use: what factors shape the selection and deployment of particular tools?
Originally, in the policy instruments literature the choice between tools was regarded as mainly determined by ideological factors (Doern and Phidd 1992). However, this assumption was quickly dropped and researchers set about exploring more specific/conditional factors. These are generally divided into the characteristics of the instruments themselves (whether they open up or close down; whether they match the steps in formulation - see above) and various external factors (actor constellation; situational/contextual conditions such as prevailing institutions; and international factors) (Báhr 2010, p.3; Peters 2002; Eliadis et al. 2007, p. 40).
The literature on policy formulation tools is still too immature to test these explanations, although the authors of the chapters in Part III were asked to select different tool-venue relationships and explore them from their preferred theoretical vantage points. Nevertheless, taken together the 11 chapters hint at some possible explanations which could, in future, be more systematically tested. A number of attributes characteristic of the tools are cited in several of the chapters. For example, is a tool capable of (or salient to) the main policy formulation tasks to be addressed? A computer model, for example, must be capable of manipulating certain key variables to be deemed worthy of consideration. Similarly, indicators that are measurable, simple and adaptable appear more likely to be taken up than others. The idea, commonplace in the policy instruments literature, that policy tools are in principle substitutable (Hill 2009, p. 178), does not seem as applicable to policy formulation tools.
Regarding factors external to the tools, international factors are noted in several of the chapters, including the perceived need to follow EU requirements (Chapter 9) or align to OECD best practices (Chapter 7) -or, in the case of participatory tools (Chapter 2), the relatively weak compulsion to apply them expressed in some international legal agreements. Legalization as a potential driver of tool use is also noted in a number of chapters (including 6 and 7). In the UK and Canada, Chapters 7 and 8 respectively suggest that pressure from ministries of finance lies behind the relative popularity of CBA. By contrast, the use of MCA, indicators and most participatory tools is less likely to be mandatory (Chapters 2 and 6). Consequently, there is a live debate on what can be gained (and also conceded - see Chapter 2) by legislating to force tool use. Finally, the fit between a tool and its external environment (including the policy design space) appears to be a critical determinant of the extent to which they are used in policy formulation. The fit can, of course, be manipulated by any of the actors discussed above.
To conclude, there do appear to be clear and discernible patterns in the way that policy formulation tools are used. Whether one starts with the tools and looks across to the venues (in other words, Chapters 2-7) or explores different combinations of tools in and across particular venues (in other words, Chapters 8-12), the patterns seem to recur and hence in principle seem worthy of further exploration. Indeed, one especially intriguing possibility is that the most significant differentiating factor may eventually be policy type, not venue, something which was not fully captured in Figure 1.1. A number of chapters (including 4, 6, 8 and 9) reveal that certain types of tools are more commonly deployed in relation to particular policy areas and problems (for example, the correlation between modelling/scenarios and areas of scientific uncertainty such as climate change), but there may be others, as the authors of Chapter 9 imply.
The two questions posed at the beginning of this section on 'venues' may appear rather straightforward. They are of course basically congruent with the two questions that Salamon (1989, p. 265) originally posed, namely: what influences the choice of tools? And what policy consequences ('or effects') does this choice have? Indeed, the first of these - the selection of tools - is to a large extent the issue of policy formulation in a nutshell (Howlett - in Hill 2009, p. 176). But they are unlikely to be easy questions to answer; after all, Salamon's intervention has pretty much defined the research agenda in the instruments sub-field for the last 25 years. In a later section, we suggest that the most preferable way to relate these questions to policy formulation tools is to start from a set of sound theoretical bases.
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