British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 19 notes - Issues, Problems and the Policy Process

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  • Policy making may be analyzed as a cycle involving a number of stages, including issue emergence, problem definition, option appraisal, policy formulation, legislation and legitimation, implementation, monitoring and review.
  • The crucial first stage is for an issue to get onto the political agenda, and to be identified as a priority.
  • Once an issue is on the agenda, it is not necessarily self-evident what the ‘real problem’ is. Some familiar and recurring problems have been defined very differently. The problem may be ‘captured’ and defined by a particular interest in their own terms.
  • Various options or proposed solutions may be appraised using a variety of ostensibly rational techniques. However, much policy making in practice appears incremental rather than rational, and some argue that the incremental approach may be preferable.
  • A policy may be clearly announced, or emerge over time. Some analysts suggest that non-decision-making explains more about the nature and distribution of power than decision-making.
  • A policy is normally decided well in advance of legislation or some other form of formal legitimation. However, legitimation is crucial for public acceptance and democratic accountability. Sometimes problems with legitimation may effectively derail a policy.
  • Policies may not always be effectively implemented for a variety of reasons, including inherent problems, lack of resources, dependence on other agencies or interests for implementation, and political difficulties.
  • There is extensive machinery for the monitoring and review of policy. This may not always work as well as it might and can be counter-productive, but is essential in measuring efficiency and effectiveness. It can reveal that existing policies are not working, and thus inaugurate a new policy cycle.