Home Political science The tools of policy formulation
Chapter 1 conceived of the relationship between policy capacity and policy formulation tools in three main ways. First, there are the policy-analytic capacities that inhere within each tool; capacities that have already been partially discussed under the subheading of 'venues' above. Thinking more broadly about the main tasks of policy analysis in government - analysing problems, recommending responses, clarifying value choices and underlying assumptions, democratizing and legitimizing (Mayer et al. 2004, section 7) - it is obvious that each one is associated with different policy formulation tools. The more tools that a policymaker can draw upon, then ipso facto the greater her potential policy capacity. In principle, therefore, the presence and availability of policy formulation tools help to expand policy capacities, although we should not automatically assume that the relationship is immediate or unidirectional, as the previous sections have revealed.
Second, the chapters also raise the question of what policy capacities are in turn required by policymakers in order to employ - and perhaps more fundamentally to select - certain policy formulation tools. For example, the more rigidly procedural tools such as MCA and CBA are associated with demands for specialist staff, systems of training and oversight. Where these associated capacities are weak or not present, the utilization of the tool may be less effective than expected (see Chapters 8 and 9 for example). Chapter 7 suggests that one - and only one - of the reasons why benefits are more likely to be omitted in CBA calculations is because of the technical difficulty of accounting for them in situations of concentrated costs and dispersed benefits (a typical situation in many regulatory design situations) (Lowi 1972). Less overtly procedural tools such as scenarios and foresight exercises seem to require the presence of somewhat different capacities. For example, in many countries the application of such tools was institutionalized in central planning bureaus from the 1960s and 1970s (Chapter 3). Similarly, one of the prime movers in the dissemination of indicators has been the very national statistical offices that subsequently produce and report on their implementation. Finally (and as noted above), it may be important that national finance ministries and international organizations such as the World Bank and the OECD appear to have been the most enthusiastic adopters and advocates of CBA. Chapter 1 hints at the presence of a self-replicating logic: these ministries first push for the application of such tools and then use evidence of their patchy performance to justify the need for new capacities, such as training, more staff, and/or more oversight functions. The presence of strong associations between certain existing capacities and the selection of new tool capacities may not, therefore, be necessarily unidirectional (in other words, actors select tools) or open (in other words, there may be some inherent bias towards certain types of tools). We return to this point below. Staying for a moment longer at the more generic level, what a focus on these associated capacities may eventually provide is, for example, a means to understand the effects of deploying particular tools, how they might fit into or seek to stretch the existing 'design space' and so on.
Finally, several chapters open up the potentially very broad (but nonetheless important) question of what factors might conceivably enable or constrain the availability of the capacities associated with particular policy formulation tasks. The fact that critical supporting capacities may not automatically be available in all policy systems is raised in several chapters, but especially 8 and 9. For example, the authors of Chapter 8 on policy capacities in Canada demonstrate that the toolkit used is much larger than that summarized in Chapters 2-7. Moreover, they identify a pattern of increasing sophistication in policy analysis as one moves from the non-governmental sector to the governmental one, and from the less 'economic' units of government to the more economically oriented ones. Chapter 9 paints a similar picture of differentiated use across the EU.
To conclude (and as noted in Chapter 1), the term 'policy capacity' has been in good currency in public administration and institutional analysis for many decades (for a summary, see Weaver and Rockman 1993), but is now enjoying renewed interest in the context of the re-discovery of the state as a powerful agent of governing and a site of policy formulation (Howlett et al. 2014, p. 4; Matthews 2012; Jenkins and Patashnik 2012). What the chapters of this book offer is a different way to think about policy capacities, as well as a source of fresh insights into how patterns of capacity availability affect, and are affected by, the availability and use of certain tools. These relationships appear in a rather different form in developing countries and in complex, multi-level governance situations such as the EU, where capacities are inchoate and/or in a particularly strong state of flux (Jordan and Schout 2006; Hertin et al. 2009). In developing countries with weakly developed policy spheres, policy formulation tools such as CBA are promoted as a means of overcoming long legacies of political clientalism. However, those seeking to transplant policy formulation models unmodified from the OECD to such settings should be aware of the need for them to be underpinned by sufficiently strong capacities. Chapter 10 revealed that these tools were much more likely to be available when independent agencies are given control than when this task is allocated to government.
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