What is the policy-making process

Policy-making process involves a linked series of actions or events1. It focuses on the way in which policy is made (process), rather than on the substance of policy itself and its consequences (product)2. In general, there are four main stages of the policy-making process, which are initiation, formulation, implementation and evaluation. The institutions or participants of policy-making process include political leadership, citizen participation or interest groups, legislature and legislators, bureaucracy and judiciary.

In this essay, I will use the government policy to overcome traffic congestion in Singapore as a case study to illustrate the different stages.

In my view, the implementation process is the most important stage in the policy process. Central to understanding policy-making process is the understanding of how decisions are made. Decision-making is a process that focuses on the people involved in the policy process and on the part of the process that deals with choosing among alternative course of action.

This led us to the different theories of decision-making process: the Rational Actor Model (Rationality), the Incremental Model (Incrementalism), Bureaucratic Organization Models and the Belief System Model.

The Rational Actor Model occurs in a very methodological, neat, problem solving process. Its features include the appraisal of problem, to identify the goals and rank order them, to canvass the possible alternatives, to consider the consequences of each alternative and finally to select the alternative that most closely matches the referred goals.

In the Incremental Model, decisions are made through small or incremental moves on particular problems rather than through a comprehensive reform program.

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It is also endless because it takes the form of an indefinite sequence of policy moves. It focuses on making necessary changes and sees policy as variations of the past. In this model, the decisions are the product of bargaining. It implies that policy-making is a messy or untidy process of muddling through. The Bureaucratic Organization Models basically means getting into the “Black Box”.

The “organizational process” model looks at values, assumptions and regular pattern of behavior in the organization. The policy itself is placed within the context of the organization’s objectives, overall strategy and structures. The “bureaucratic politics” model involves bargaining between personnel and agencies. Lastly, there is the Belief System Model where the role of beliefs and ideologies and political values held by political parties and politicians determine what is to be done.

Such ideologies often have the effect of excluding ideas, information and empirical evidence when they fail to support the political party’s core beliefs3. The first stage of the policy-making process is initiation or agenda setting process. Agenda setting is the process by which problems and alternative solutions gain or lose public and elite attention4. It means getting problems to government. The participants of this process include governmental and non-governmental actors. The first component of initiation gets at the recognition of the problem with agenda setting.

Without the perception of a problem, there is no incentive for the organization to disturb the status quo or to expend organizational energy initiating the policy process. A condition becomes a problem when we come to believe we should do something about them. A problem can be formally defined as a condition or situation that produces needs or dissatisfactions on the part of people for which relief or redress is sought5. Using the case study to illustrate this stage, traffic congestion (initially a condition) becomes a problem because it causes car owners to miss their appointments or be late for work.

Traffic congestion is really a matter of time and money. Government or authorities need to solve the problem as it would save a lot of time and money and this would improve the welfare of the population as a whole. Government authorities like the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and academics suggest that traffic congestion may develop due to the size of vehicle population or limited amount of road space. The second stage of the policy-making process is formulation. According to Charles Jones, ‘Formulation is a derivative of “formula” and means simply to develop a plan, a method, a prescription for acting on a problem’6.

In other words, formulation is a process of developing a plan or action to resolve a problem identified in stage one. It is about deciding what should be done, considering the alternatives and the actual drafting of legislation. In the case of the traffic congestion problem, the Chief Ministers, Cabinet and the Civil Servants are involved in the policy formulation. The roles of civil servants include information gathering, analyzing & advising. They advise the Ministers & the Cabinet for example on the cause of the problem, what options should be chosen & how the policy should be developed.

It thus gives them significant influences over policy formulation. The Ministers lack the expertise and time to perform many of these functions and are therefore dependent upon these Civil Servants. Next, the available options to solve the problem such as building more roads, widening existing roads or limiting vehicle use (by making it more expensive) are identified. Each of these options has benefits and costs. For example, building more roads involves financial costs, opportunity costs & disruption to communities but provides more road space.

After this, the option is finally chosen in this case study i. . to limit vehicle population by implementing the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system. The third stage is policy implementation. It involves ‘those activities directed toward putting a program into effect’7. Basically, it is concerned with putting the ideas of stage two into action. It is essentially a practical activity, as distinguished from policy formulation, which is essentially theoretical. The bureaucracy is the executive arm of this process. There are three sets of activities that the bureaucracy engages in order to execute a course of action over time.

The top-level bureaucracy (Cabinet and Ministers) is involved in the interpretation activity i. e. the translation of program language into acceptable and feasible directives. The mid-level bureaucracy (Civil Servants) is involved in the organization activity i. e. the establishment of units and methods for putting a program into effect. The Street-level bureaucracy (Personnel of LTA) is involved in the application activity i. e. the routine provision of services, payments, or other agreed-upon program objectives or instruments.

Returning to the case study, the Singapore government implemented the ERP system in 1999 to better manage road use. The Ministry of Transport, the LTA and the Subordinate Courts are involved in the implementation stage. Basically, the LTA sets the amount that motorists have to pay at different times of the day. Motorists who pass through an operational ERP gantry without a properly inserted Cash Card in the In-Vehicle Unit (IU), or with a Cash Card with insufficient balance to pay for the ERP charges, will have to pay an administrative surcharge plus the ERP charge within two weeks of the violation8.

If the administrative charge and the ERP charge are not paid within this period, they will receive a Notice of Traffic Offence offering to compound the offence payable within 28 days9. Upon expiry of the Notice, the matter will be referred to the Court. There is also composition fine for passing through an ERP gantry without an IU. The final stage is policy evaluation. Given the imperfect nature of formulation and the contingent nature of implementation, a policy will meet with varying success.

In the evaluation stage, analysts will return to evaluate the policy to determine whether it is producing the desired results, to recommend whether it ought to be modified, and even to determine whether resources should be shifted to other programs. The results of evaluation may suggest that the policy ought to be abolished or replaced with a new approach to the issue. This often-ongoing evaluation may well serve to set the agenda again, setting off another round through the policy process. Success itself has to be evaluated.

For instance, the ERP system may be relatively effective in managing traffic conditions along major roads and within the central business district, but at the cost of reducing disposable income. This would in turn increase the cost of living & the costs of businesses. The authorities might incur a backlash or criticism from the people. Therefore the costs and benefits need to be examined in every case. Side effects must be taken into account. The government can be seen to create its own problems, which then require new public policy to deal with them.

The government may, for example, choose to cut down the steep prices of the ERP system or to widen existing roads. In my view, the implementation process is the most important stage in the policy process. It is an important but frequently overlooked step. Firstly, lacking proper implementation, policy innovation and selection may end up being little more than intellectual exercises. Indeed, faulty policy implementation can invalidate the earlier, carefully considered steps in the policy-making process and thereby intensify the original problem. This stage then, warrants our careful attention.

Secondly, policy failures mostly occur at the implementation stage. This is because policy-makers have not paid enough attention to policy implementation. To identify the problems caused by implementation, one needs to first acknowledge the difference between non-implementation and unsuccessful implementation. Unsuccessful implementation is where the failure is in the policy or the theory it is based upon. This may happen due to insufficient resources, organizational complexity, inadequate planning, inflated aspirations and complex environments. Non-implementation is when a policy is not put into effect as it was intended.

It could be that those involved in its execution are uncooperative or inefficient. ‘Government influence on the interpretation and application of laws, rules and guidelines is seen to be diluted by the delegation of wide discretion to those actually carrying out the policies’10. Besides, the government may leave it to the discretion of agencies and Civil Service departments. Hence, the problem of unclear objectives is noted. There is a need during the implementation stage for an understanding and agreement on clear objectives, which must persist throughout the implementation stage, for it to be successful.

Thirdly, different implementing agencies may depend on other agencies for success. The smaller the number of relationships between agencies and the smaller their importance, chance of success would be greater. The more they depend on others the more inefficient they will become. In addition, administrators can face many obstacles outside their control, as they are external to the policy or the implementation process. Sometimes these can be put down to bad luck, like physical obstructions such as drought upsetting an agricultural program.

Sometimes it may be political obstacles that get in the way, as with the public condemnation of the Poll Tax in Europe, leading to reforms in the policy cycle. However, this is not to say that the other stages of the policy-making process are unimportant. We still need to consider the relative importance of other stages as well because any policy failure may be due to the problems arising from these stages. Policy initiation is crucial in that it sets the political agenda by both defining certain problems as issues and by determining how those issues are to be addressed.

Problem definition and policy formulation have contingent or dependent relationships. Problems need to be defined first before policy formulation on a particular course of action is made. As Charles Lindblom says ‘Policy-makers are not faced with a given problem’11. Policy-makers are constantly probing, searching and redefining problems and issues. Basically, how one diagnoses a problem would determine one’s prescription. Formulation is also important because it includes a number of analytical steps such as the decision about how to decide, assessing the various options and selecting the best, and the actual drafting of legislation.

It is the decision-making stage of the policy process. It is the most overtly political stage insofar as the many potential solutions to a given problem must somehow be winnowed down to one or a few picked and readied for use. Obviously, most possible choices will not be realized. Moreover, the policy-makers might get it wrong at this stage by choosing the wrong approach and this can result in policy failures which subsequently occur at the implementation stage. Policy success does require that policy be formulated upon a valid theory of cause and effect.

Formulation should be based on adequate understanding of the problem; otherwise it can lead to reasoning of its effects which are very different from the eventual actuality. If policy does fail, it might be this underlying theory that is at fault. Undoubtedly, the evaluation stage is also important. This process is required as our understanding of social issues and the effect of government intervention is imperfect. We cannot be certain of the results a policy will bring or of the efficiency and success of implementing it. Therefore there is a need for evaluation in the policy-making process.

It must be decided whether the policy meet the objectives it was designed for. Even when a policy has enjoyed some level of success it is unlikely that it will act as maintaining this level of improvement. It is more likely to lead to a continuation or modification of the existing policy. In conclusion, policy-making process is a long-term matter starting with the establishing of goals and moving through the selection of alternatives and to the implementation and evaluation of the solution. Nonetheless, ‘policy-making is instead a complexly interactive process without beginning or end’12.

This process model is criticized as being too ordered, predictable and rational. In actuality, policy does not follow this sequential order of approach. Moreover, the boundaries between the different stages are blurred. For instance, policy implementation may lead to problem definition and policy evaluation is a constant activity. They are not restricted to a stipulated stage or time. In my view, the implementation process is the most important stage in the policy process, as a policy will remain as an idea if it is not implemented.

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What is the policy-making process. (2017, Dec 13). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-policy-making-process/

What is the policy-making process
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