Public Policy Formulation and Analysis

During the last few years public policy studies have been receiving a lot of attention in the academic circles all over the world for diverse reasons. Besides the increasing awareness about the role and importance of public policy formulation and implementation in tackling the multifaceted challenges being faced by every country, the main reason for this interest in public policy issues has been the increasingly assertive role of the civil society organisations and the media. They want to know the way public policies affecting a common man are formulated and the manner in which governance apparatus works so as to enable them to make informed judgments andtake appropriate actions.
In this article we will examine the way policies are formulated, implemented and monitored, the steps involved and the activities to be performed in the various steps. It also lists the criteria to judge the efficacy of a policy and ends with the major weaknesses of policy formulation in a typical developing country like Pakistan.
What is a Public Policy?
Public Policy is a formal documented statement of intentions and sets of actions of a government to either remove certain deficiencies or improve the conditions in any particular area of concern/interest. Thomas Dye defines it as “Whatever governments choose to do or not to do” (1987) while according to Anderson it is a “Purposive course of action or inaction undertaken by an actor or a set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern” (1994) .
A policy could either be a part of an overall development policy and strategy of the country i.e. Growth Strategy for Pakistan prepared by the Planning Commission or it could be a specific document addressing a particular issue i.e. Food Security Policy, Poverty Reduction Strategy, National Housing Policy, Climate Change Policy etc
Policy formulation and implementation is not a random act of an organization, rather it is a deliberate action taken by a competent authority which initiated the action and is approved by the public representatives, usually the minister in charge of a ministry or the cabinet.
Although it is not a piece of legislation approved by the parliament in the form of an act of parliament, it has the sanctity of its own and can be used as a reference for dispute resolution in the court of law. In some cases the policy itself or parts of the document, which is in essence a value judgment of the regime in power, could be converted into an act of parliament.
Public policy formulation is the exclusive domain of the elected representatives of the county; however it is implemented by the state apparatus which formulates strategies to implement it. Consequently policy is distinct from the strategy in the sense that while the policy is fairly general in nature indicating what is to be done and why, the strategy outlines the exact measures to be taken for realizing the goals and objectives set out by the policy.
As the faithful implementation of a policy duly approved by a competent authority is the foremost duty of a civil servant, his performance will be invariably judged by the way he implements the policy for effective service delivery and consumer satisfaction. That is why ,in the contemporary world, the need for effective, informed and neutral policy makers and public servants is ever increasing as the issues pertaining to government are becoming more complex in nature.
Sources and Drivers of Policy Formulation
Need for formulating a new policy or replacing/amending an existing one can arise out of any one or more of the following reasons;

  • Societal structural changes-Demographic transition, economic transformation, social reengineering, globalization etc may necessitate formulation of new policies to cope with the emerging challenges.
  • Regime change– New political elite coming into power invariably brings a new agenda, a new vision and a new mission for which new policies are needed
  • Donors/world institutions-Aid given by these institutions may  be contingent upon certain policy changes, structural reforms
  • Global commitments-State may have entered into international conventions which normally need local policy formulation
  • Pressure groups-industrial ,agricultural lobbies, social causes advocacy groups can force state for making policies for their own benefits
  • Court Orders-Superior courts sometimes pass orders for formulating clear policies or review an existing policy while hearing any case

Process of Policy Formulation and Implementation
Policy formulation and implementation process comprises four interlinked stages;

  1. Initiation of Policy Process

There are a variety of reasons for governments to take the initiative for developing a policy e.g.:

  • Awareness of a precarious internal security situation.
  • Pressure on the government to provide cheap housing
  • Needs to change the employment  conditions
  • Pursuit of food security objectives national agenda

Once it has been decided to formulate a policy to address a problem, an in-house or multisectoral task force is constituted to diagnose the situation, formulate a draft policy document and submit it to the relevant authority for its validation.

  1. Draft Policy Formulation and Validation

Policy formulation is an iterative process, comprising various sub-steps and involving all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the policy is realistic, feasible, widely accepted and supported, and that can be effectively implemented. There are two options for preparing a policy document each having advantages and disadvantages:

  • Integration of policy concerns into overall and sectoral policies. While this approach has the advantage that it ensures integration of policy concerns in other relevant sector policies, the flip side is the risk of conceptual ambiguities and inconsistencies in the pursuance of objectives in the different sectors.
  • Preparation of a sector-specific policy document, which has the advantage of providing a consistent framework of objectives and policy measures. However there is a danger that the different sector ministries feel less committed to make their contribution to policy formulation and implementation.

Whichever option is chosen, there are normally four phases in draft policy formulation and its validation process 

  • PHASE- 1

A task force composed of representatives of key stakeholders is established for draft policy formulation. It may form sub-teams consisting of representatives of the concerned ministries to deal with specific issues

  • PHASE -2

During this phase, a first round of policy formulation workshops should be conducted at central and decentralized levels to diagnose the situation by collecting and analyzing relevant data and information, reviewing existing policies, stocktaking of existing initiatives and consulting relevant governmental and non- governmental organizations

  • PHASE-3

In this phase the task force will produce a first draft of the policy document(s). The document needs to set out the objectives to be achieved, and to address all relevant issues related to where action is required. 

  • PHASE- 4

On the basis of the feedback on the first draft, the task force will prepare a revised second draft policy document, setting-out the objectives, priorities, and an outline of the policy measures to be taken to achieve the objectives. This second draft will be presented to the head of the Ministry/department who will have to endorse the policy.
Once validated, the concerned ministry or department gets its approval from the competent authority usually the minister or in case of multisectoral policy, the cabinet. If it affects the provinces, then the approval of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) is mandatory.

  1. Policy Implementation

On the basis of the measures and priorities defined in the document, a Strategic Plan of Action for implementing the policy measures will have to be formulated. There can be three types of policy measures:

  1. Regulatory type wherein a set of rules, regulations and procedures are recommended for the public authorities and applied in policy implementation.
  1. Programme type wherein the recommended policy measures are implemented through launching of specific programmes/ projects.
  2. Combination of the regulatory and programme types of policy measures. This type of combined measures is needed in the following cases:

Needless to reiterate, implementing the policy approved by the competent authority is role of the civil servants who are responsible for its effective and efficient execution

  1. Policy Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is an essential element of policy formulation and implementation cycle to ensure that the policy is effective in achieving the objective and take mid-term corrections where needed by providing the government and other stakeholders with up-to-date information on the state of implementation of the policy and assessing whether the implementation of the policy is on track towards attaining the planned objectives.
While a central M & E unit is responsible for the compilation and analysis of the M & E results of all related interventions, different stakeholders should perform M & E at all levels of policy implementation and monitoring activities by different organizations need to be harmonized. At certain time intervals, comprehensive evaluations of the progress in implementation and achievements of the policy will need to be conducted.
Components of Policy
Typically promulgated through official written documents under the signature of the competent authority, such documents often have standard formats which generally have following elements;

  • Context and Intent, outlining why there is a need to issue the policy particularly the intent that led to the creation of the policy, and what are its desired effects or outcomes.
  • Definitions, providing clear and unambiguous definitions for terms and concepts used in the policy document to obviate the possibility of their multiple interpretations.
  • Scope describing the segments of people, regions of the country and organisations which will be affected by this policy. It may include certain groups, areas or organisations for preferential treatment or exclude certain people, organizations, or actions from the policy requirements.
  • Date of Application which indicates when the policy will come into force. Normally policies are applicable with effect from a future date but in exceptional cases, a policy can have retroactive application for very valid reason.
  • Policy Directions indicating the specific regulations, requirements, or modifications that the policy intends to promulgate. General in nature, these statements give the broad directions to those implementing it regarding the actions to be taken. Based on these statements, a strategy or set of strategies will be prepared by those responsible for its execution
  • Institutional mechanism whereby the parties and organizations responsible for carrying out individual policy statements are designated.
  • Repeal clause whereby similar policy issued in the past or its certain clauses are repealed

Features of a Good Public Policy
Once a draft is presented to the Ministry by the consultants it is the duty of the junior officers to study it, give their inputs and then present it to their seniors for approval. Accordingly a public servant should be not only well versed with the procedure for policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation but also be aware of the features of an effective policy.However, sometimes these junior officers are not well versed with the process of scrutinizing these drafts and the public policy drafted by the consultant either remains unattended or submitted to senior officers without any sufficient inputs by them. In this post we will discuss the way a civil servant should examine the draft of a public policy document in the light of the following criteria;

  • Internal Consistency
  • External Consistency
  • Legal/Constitutional Validity
  • Technical Feasibility
  • Resources Availability
  • Financial Viability
  • Economic Benefits
  • Social Acceptance
  • Political Commitment
  • Environmental Compliance

Internal Consistency
An effective policy is a comprehensive document covering all the relevant issues specifically indicating the areas it would cover,  the groups of people to be  affected, date of its application and the repeal of the previous policies totally or to the extent the new policy overrides them. Similarly depending on prevailing conditions, which needed to be remedied, appropriate policy measures are also explained in the documents. For example if the problem is to overcome the acute housing shortage in area, then policy documents should indicate the measures to be taken for overcoming this problem. i.e.

  • Relaxation of legal framework if it is considered to be too rigid.
  • Availability of technical and financial support to builders and developers
  • Provision of incentives to builders by promising the buying of unsold units at cost prices.
  • Facilitating the access of certain sections of society through easy availability of finance.

It should also ensure that no two or more parts of the proposed policy contradict one another. Its findings should be in harmony with the facts and figures given, correct inferences have been drawn from this evidence and in order to ensure the sustainability of the policy, the institutional mechanism and procedures for its successful implementation have been laid down. Needless to reiterate an internally contradictory policy document or incomplete policy has remote chances of successful implementation or realization of intended objectives  
External Consistency
No policy is a stand-alone set of measures, rather a cross cutting set of measures. Consequently while preparing a policy, linkages and cross cutting nature of any policy must be addressed. It should not only be in sync with the overall aims and objectives of state but should try not to be in conflict with other policies of the state, promulgated to achieve its objectives. It must therefore review other existing policies that affect or will be affected by the proposed policy. In case of inconsistency, the draft policy formulators should revise its provisions as far as possible or should start consultation with the stakeholders for resolving the inconsistency.
Policy must also take into account contingency provisions for such events which are likely to affect its implementation. For example food security document must keep in mind the adverse effect of climate change, floods. Similarly the planning policy should cater for the possibility of earthquakes in an area prone to such calamity and provide for strict building code, including laying down guidelines and technical specifications.
Legal/Constitutional Validity
Any proposal made in a policy document against the law of the land is ab initio void. Constitution is a social contract between the state and the society and you, as the public servants and as government servants, are under oath to protect it. That’s why the opinion of the Ministry of Law on all policy documents is mandatory. Never skip it whatever may be the urgency
Technical Feasibility
A policy which proposes actions/projects which are not feasible in the given set of technology/techniques is doomed to be a failure. The essential questions that help in testing the operational feasibility of a system include the following:

  • Is the project feasible within the limits of current technology? Does the technology exist at all?
  • Is it available within given resource constraints? Manpower, finances, software and hardware? Necessary technical expertise?
  • Are the current technical resources sufficient for the new system?
  • Can they be upgraded to provide to provide the level of technology necessary for the new system?

Declaring first use of nuclear weapons as a cornerstone of your defence policy is feasible only if you have the capability to develop the atomic bombs and appropriate delivery systems.
Resources Availability
It is easy to include grandiose projects while announcing the development policy of a country but it will remain only a   pipe dream if you lack administrative wherewithal or adequate financial resources to carry out these projects.
Financial Viability
Ideally all the projects proposed in a policy document should be self financing which is a guarantee for their long term sustainability. Few of the questions you should ask are;

  • How much investment is required for the proposed project/programme ?
  • At what level the project will break even?
  • How much profit will it be making ?if in loss ,what will be its quantum and how to cover it ?
  • Are the assumptions made in the proposed projections supported by realistic assessment of objective realities?
  • Are there any variables to which the project is most sensitive? What will be the effects of any changes in these variables?

We should not be shy of imposing user charges because people are willing to pay if they get quality service. Imposition of user charges, with suitable exemptions for the poorer sections of society, not only creates ownership among the stakeholders but also ensures greater accountability because people paying the user charges will demand transparency
Economic Benefits
Of course not all projects could be self financing, particularly if they are meant for social welfare. However all out efforts be made to ensure that if a proposed project is not  financially viable, it  must be economically beneficial to majority of the public, directly as well as indirectly. Motorways are never financially viable but their socio –economic spinoffs justify their construction in terms of costs-benefits ratio which are the most frequently used method for evaluating the effectiveness of a new project.
Social Acceptance
Normally a policy must be in harmony with the social norms and values of a society. Allowing gambling as a source of generating revenue is not a good policy measure. However, there are times when a policy must be formulated to change these very social norms such as child marriage, bonded labour etc. Needless to say a policy should not be discriminatory unless affirmative action is proposed-quota for rural areas is discriminatory in nature but is needed in a country with vast rural/urban divide
Stakeholders’ Consultation/Acceptance
Policy should be prepared in consultation with maximum number of stakeholders, institutions/stakeholders clearly identified and their respective roles stated. There must be an institutional set up for effective coordination among these stakeholders for the resolution of any dispute during implementation of the policy. Some of the stakeholders are

  • Provincial, district and community administrationsto identify and articulate problems at local level and often being responsible for and directly involved in the implementation of policy measures in the field.
  • Nongovernmental /Civil Society Organizationsin advocacy and awareness creation on the international and national scene, mobilization and provision of material resources, technical assistance, training and capacity building and community mobilization.
  • UN Agencies/Donors for policy analysis and advice, drawing from experience in other countries, provision of financial and material resources and technical assistance.

Political Commitment
Success or failure of any policy formulated depends a lot on the level and intensity of commitment of the elected representatives and the amount of consensus developed among the stakeholders for its execution. Developing intra-party as well as inter-party consensus for any proposed policy measure is basically the job of the minister in charge of the concerned ministry. However your inputs will be crucial in creating this consensus without which the chances of successful approval of the proposed policy are bleak.
Environmental Compliance
Environmental issues are now part and parcel of all policies. Although pushed by global entities, these considerations are beneficial for the country in the long run.
Public Policy Formulation in Developing Countries/Case Study-Pakistan
Looking at the history of policy formulation in a developing country like Pakistan we can highlight the following salient features of the policies made and/or in operation;

  • Mixed Bag
  • Procedural mismatch
  • Institutional overstepping
  • Structural flaws
  • Evaluation failure
  • Personality imprints
  • Global influences
  • Implementation inadequacies

 Mixed Bag
Pakistan can boast of some very good policies formulated and executed during its 65 years of formal existence as a nation-state. It has some glaring examples of poorly designed or badly executed policies. Sometimes it did not have a policy at all for a long time in the field in crucial sectors like agriculture and industry, land use, transport etc as is now. Examples of good policies-Pakistan Poverty Reduction Strategy, National Growth Strategy
Procedural Mismatch
Policy formulation is the exclusive domain of the elected representatives. However they do not take interest in its formulation and invariably just rubber stamp the policy drafted by the bureaucrats. Besides creating crises of legitimacy, it also creates crises of ownership as it does not properly reflect the wishes of the people. Who will monitor its implementation if those who were supposed to make it just abdicated their role?
Institutional Overstepping
Every institution is responsible to formulate policies belonging to its sphere with suitable inputs from all the concerned stakeholders. However in case of some very important national issues such as defence, national security, foreign policy etc the concerned ministries have been abdicating their responsibility and allowing others to call the shots
Structural Flaws
Some of the features listed before for judging the relevance and efficacy of a good policy are sadly missing in most of the cases. These include internal/external inconsistencies, lack of stakeholders’ participation, absence of evaluation mechanism etc
Evaluation Failure
Every policy must have some clearly defined evaluation mechanism not only to gauge its impact but also to learn lessons for future. Unfortunately this crucial element of policy formulation has been missing in most of our policies with the result that there has been not a single case of anyone held responsible for failure of policy formulation or its implementation.
Personality Imprints
Every policy has a champion behind its formulation. However once formulated by the elected representatives, apolicy reflects the wishes of the people and should be owned by the concerned institution even if there has been a champion behind it. However in case of Pakistan most of the policies are known by the name of the person who championed it and invariably go to cold storage when the personality is gone. This lack of continuity sends wrong signals to those interested to commit resources on long term basis.
Global Influences
Globalisation is affecting the policy formulation directly as well as indirectly in every country. This is all the more penetrative where the state is suffering from capacity and legitimacy deficits. Pakistan is no exception to this wholesale blind following of global actors’ prescriptions which can be visible in almost all major policies formulated. This is not bad if the policies formulated have been in sync with the wishes of the people but not in accordance with the wishes of foreign forces with one size fits all labels.
Implementation Inadequacies
One of the biggest charges against the policy formulation in Pakistan has been the inadequate implementation of policies. Basic reason for this lopsided implementation has been the absence of commitment/ lack of ownership at the political level or capacity deficit of those responsible for its implementation. Sometimes best designed policies are doomed because of inadequate funding or stoppage of their execution due to change of political elite.

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