by Rod Hague and Martin Harrop

Chapter Eighteen: Public Policy

Chapter Notes

  • Policy as a bundle of decisions and as an intention to decide similarly in the future. Policies can be contradictory and just window-dressing. The stages of the policy process: analytical not chronological.
  • Three models of policy-making: rational, incremental and the garbage-can. How the significance of goals varies between these models.
  • The rational model: what rational policy-making would look like, more than a description of how policy is or even should be made. Still, cost-benefit analysis as an approximation; useful when a choice needs to be made from a small set of options.
  • The incremental model: policy-making in small steps. The science of muddling through. Involves wide consultation, so linked to pluralism. Remedial rather than innovative.
  • The garbage-can model: large decentralized organizations lack overall coherence. Different units within them make their own decisions in response to immediate problems. No strategy, little policy. Universities as one example; governments as another.
  • Policy initiation and formulation: in the USA, the role of policy entrepreneurs in exploiting policy windows. More controlled party-based agendas in other democracies. The Commission as a central policy initiator in the EU.
  • Policy implementation. The top-down approach: achieve the outcomes set at the top. The bottom-up approach: local agents should use their unique knowledge to adapt policy to local level. Bottom-up approach – a form of governance with multiple stake-holders. Pluralism again.
  • Policy evaluation. Policy outputs (what government does) vs. outcomes (what government achieves). The problems of mushy goals and of goal-shift during implementation. Even outcomes can be manipulated though creaming, offloading and reframing by agencies. Naturalistic evaluation: deliver a narrative rather than specify quantitative results.
  • Policy review: to continue, revise or terminate? Once established, government functions usually persist, even though the agencies responsible for them change.
  • Policy instruments: the tools for translating policy into practice. Many available: can be grouped into command and control; financial; and advocacy. Criteria for policy selection: effectiveness (will it work?), efficiency (at what cost?), equity (is it fair?), appropriateness (does the instrument fit the problem?) and simplicity (is the policy manageable?)
  • Policy diffusion: the sequence though which a programme spreads across countries. Rogers’ diffusion of innovations: innovators, early adopters, the early majority, the late majority, laggards (and non-adopters). Mechanisms of policy convergence across countries: little explicit emulation but several other mechanisms: parallel solving of common problems, international agreements and international competition. Perhaps ideas rather than policies are the carriers of diffusion.
  • Public policy in authoritarian regimes: policy takes second place to politics as the regime seeks to maintain its position through patronage and rent-seeking, leading to policy inertia. Corruption precludes transparency. Weak civil society inhibits effective policy. Contemporary China as a partial exception: political flexibility, authoritarian traditions and respect for leaders permit top-down achievement of key objectives.
  • Public policy in competitive authoritarian regimes: strong political control of key economic resources, particularly commodities, with a freer market in less sensitive sectors of the economy. Russia as an example. The populist leader both draws on, and claims he is the only means of overcoming, the glaring gap between the poverty of the many and the wealth of the few.

Figures and tables


Multiple choice questions


Essays and term papers

  1. Compare the rational and incremental models of policy-making and suggest circumstances under which each is more appropriate.
  2. Why does public policy so often fail to serve its ostensible purpose?

Hague & Harrop, 2013 edn, ch. 18.

T. Birkland, An Introduction to the Policy Process: Theories, Concepts and Models of Public Policy Making
M. Bovens and P. Hart, Understanding Policy Fiascos
F. Fischer, Reframing Public Policy: Discursive Practice and Deliberative Practices
P. Gray and P. t'Hart, Public Policy Disasters in Europe
C. Knill and J. Tosun, Public Policy: A New Introduction
C. Lindblom, Politics and Markets
W. Parsons, Public Policy
P. Sabatier, Theories of the Policy Process
H. Simon, Reason in Human Affairs
D. Stone, Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making



Back to Resources page