(Sample Material of Public Administration Study Kit: Public Policy: Models of policy-making and their critique

Sample Material of Public Administration Study Kit (Paper - I)

Chapter X - Public Policy: Models of policy-making and their critique

Models of Public Policy and their Critique

The idea of models and frames that structure and provide a discourse of analysis came into use in the 1970s and 1980s. They were thought of as modes of organising problems, giving them a form and coherence. A model involves the notion of constructing a boundary around reality, which is shared or held in common by a group of scholars or a theorist. When we study public policy we must be aware of how different models of analysis define and discuss problems, and how these clash and shift around:

Systems Model for Policy Analysis

The policy-making process has been regarded by David Easton as a ‘black box’, which converts the demands of the society into policies. While analysing political systems David Easton argues that the political system is that part of the society, which is engaged in the authoritative allocation of values.

The Estonian ‘black box’ model

Above figure gives an idea of what Easton describes as apolitical system. Inputs are seen as the physical social economic and political products of the environment. They are received into the political system in the form of both demands and supports.

Demands are the claims made on the political system by individuals and groups to alter some aspect of the environment. Demands occur when individual or groups, in response to environmental conditions, act to effect public policy.

The environment is any condition or event defined as external to the boundaries of the political system. The supports of apolitical system consist of the rules, laws and customs that provide a basis for the existence of apolitical community and the authorities. The support is rendered when individuals or groups accept the decisions or laws. Supports are the symbolic or material inputs of a system (such as, obeying laws, paying taxes, or even respecting the national flag) that constitute the psychological and material resources of the system.

At the heart of the political system are the institutions and personnel for policy-making. These include the chief executive, legislators, judges and bureaucrats. In the system’s version they translate inputs into ‘outputs. Outputs, then, are the authoritative value allocations of the political system, and these allocations constitute public policy or policies. The systems theory portrays pubic policy as an output of the political system.

The concept of feedback indicates that public policies may have a modifying effect on the environment and the demands generated therein, and may also have an effect upon the character of the political system, Policy outputs may generate new demands and new supports or withdrawal of the old supports for the system. Feedback plays an important role in generating suitable environment for future policy.

Limits of  Systems Approach to Policy Analysis

The usefulness of the systems model for the study of public policy is, however, limited owing to several factors. It is argued that this input-output model appears to be too simplistic to serve as a useful aid-to understanding the policy-making process. This model is accused of employing-the value-laden techniques of welfare economics, which are based on the maximization of a clearly defined ‘social welfare function'. Another short-coming of the traditional input-output model is that it ignores the fragmentary nature of the ‘black box’. The missing ingredients in the systems approach are the “power, personnel, and institutions” of policy-making. Lineberry observes that in examining these “we will not forget that political decision-makers are strongly constrained by economic factors in the environment in the political system.”

The Estonian model also ignores an important element of the policy process, namely, that the policy-makers (including institutions have also a considerable potential in influencing the environment within which they operate. The traditional input-output model would see the decision-making system as “facilitative” and value-free rather than “causative”, i.e., as a completely neutral structure. In other words, structural variations in the systems are found to be having no direct causal effect on public policy.

Further, it is argued that both the political and bureaueratic elite fashion mass opinion more than masses shape the leadership’s views. The concept of ‘within puts’ as opposed to inputs has been created to illustrate this point. Thus, policy changes may be attributed more to the political and administrative elite’s redefinition of their own views than as a product of the demands and support from the environment. Quite often, policy initiation dues emerge from the bureaucracy. Under certain situations, the bureaucracy becomes a powerful institution in formulating and legitimizing policy. In the Western democracies, the bureaucracy’s role in the shaping of policy direction is largely technical and fairly minimal. The policy direction remains, still largely, in the traditional domain of the political elite. On the other hand, in a developing country like India where the state’s objectives are not fully articulated and clear, the bureaucracy easily capitalises on the process of policy selection out of alternative policy strategies. It does participate in the formulation of public policy in addition to performing purely technical tasks. Finally, the extent to which the environment, both internal and external, is said to have an influence on the policy-making process is influenced by the values and ideologies held by the decision-makers in the system. It suggests that policy-making involves not only the policy content, but also the policy-maker’s perceptions and values. The values held by the policy-makers are fundamentally assumed to be crucial in understanding the policy alternatives that are made.

Institutional Approach to Policy Analysis

In a democratic society, a state is a web of government structures and institutions. The state performs many functions. It strives to adjudicate between conflicting social and economic interests. The positive state is regarded as the guardian of all sections of the community. It does not defend the predominance of any particular class or section. Ideally speaking, it has to protect the economic interests of all by accommodating and reconciling them. No organisation has ever been able to succeed in its objectives across the whole range of public policies; and policy issues tend to be resolved in ways generally compatible with the preferences of the majority of the public.

In the pluralist society, the activities of individuals and groups are generally directed toward governmental institutions, such as, the legislature executive judiciary, bureaucracy, etc. Public policy is formulated, implemented and enforced by governmental institutions. In other words, a policy does not take the shape of a public policy unless it is adopted and implemented by the governmental institutions. The government institutions give public policy three different characteristics, Firstly, the government gives legal authority to policies. Public policy is the outcome of certain decisions and is characterised by the use of legal sanctions. It is regarded as a legal obligation, which commands the obedience of people. Secondly, the application of public policy is universal. Only public policies extend to all citizens in the state. Thirdly, public policies involve coercion. It is applied to the acts of government in backing up its decisions.

As such, there is a close relationship between public policy and governmental institutions. I t is not surprising; then, that social scientists would focus the study of governmental structures and institutions. The institutional study has become a central focus of public policy. Thus, one of the models of the policy-making system might be called the institutional approach because it depends on the interactions of those institutions created by the constitution, government or legislature.

In policy-making; different individuals and groups, such as, the Executive or Cabinet, the Prime Minister, the Members of Parliament, bureaucrats, or leaders of interested groups exercise power. Each exercise of power constitutes one of the influences, which go to make up the policy-making process.

This is to say that there is a process through which public policy is enacted. The process generally comprises a sequence of related decisions often made under the influence of powerful individuals and groups, which together form what is known as state institutions. The institutional approach is also concerned with explaining how social groups and governmental institutions bring influence to bear on those entitled to take and implement legally binding decisions. Such decision-makers include those who hold office within the formal and constitutional system of rules and regulations, which give formal authority and power to the various positions within the governmental structures and institutions. The institutional approach attempts to study the relationship between public policy and governmental institutions.

Institutionalism, with its focus on the legal and structural aspects of institutions can be applied in policy analysis. The structures and institutions and their arrangements and interactions can have a significant impact on public policy. According to Thomas Dye governmental institutions are structured pattern of behaviour of individuals and groups, which persist over a period of time.


Traditional, the focus of study was the description of governmental structures and institutions. The approach did not, however, devote adequate attention to the linkages between government structures and the content of public policy. The institutional approach was not backed by any systematic enquiry about the impact of these institutional characteristics on public policy decisions. The study of linkage between government structures and policy outcomes, therefore, remained largely unanalyzed and neglected.

Despite its narrow focus, the structural approach is not outdated. Government institutions are, in fact, a set of patterns of behaviour of individuals and groups. These affect both the decision-making and the content of public policy. The institutional approach suggests that government institutions may be structured in such ways as to facilitate certain policy outcomes. These patterns may give an advantage to certain interests in society and-with hold this advantage from other interests. Rules and institutional arrangements are usually not neutral in their impact. In fact, they tend to favour some interests in society over others. Certain individual groups may enjoy, therefore, greater power or access to government power under one set of structured patterns than under another set. In other words, ‘there is the impact of institutional characteristics on policy outcomes. Under the institutional approach one can study the relationships between the institutional arrangements and the content of public policy. The policy issues can be examined in a systematic fashion with a focus on institutional arrangements.

The value of the institutional approach to policy analysis lies in asking what relationships exist between institutional arrangernent and the content of public policy and also in investigating these relationships in a comparative fashion. However, it would not be right to assume that a particular change in institutional structure would bring about changes in public policy. Without investigating the true relationship between structure and policy, it is difficult to assess the impact or institutional arrangements on public policies. In this context, Thomas Dye says, “both structure and policy are largely determined by environmental forces, and that tinkering with institutional arrangements will have little independent impact on public policy if underlying environmental forces-social, economic, and political-remain constant”.

Rational Policy-Making Model

Rationality and rationalism are words too often found and used in the literature of social science, but they are more widely espoused than practised in policy-making. However, rationality is considered to be the ‘yardstick of wisdom’ in policy-making: This approach emphasises that policy-making is making a choice among policy alternative on rational grounds. Rational policy-making is “to choose the one best option”. Robert Haveman observes that a rational policy is one, which is designed to maximise “net value achievement”.

Thomas Dye equates rationality with efficiency, In his words,” A policy is rational when it is most efficient that is, if the ratio between the values it achieves and the values it sacrifices is positive and higher than any other policy alternative”. He further says that the idea of efficiency involves the calculation of all social, political, and economic values sacrificed or achieved by a public policy, not just those that can be measured in monetary terms, hence political policy-makers should be rational. But it is not easy. In order to be rational, it is desirable that there should be:

(i) identification and determination of the goals;
(ii) ranking of goals in order of importance;
(iii) identification of possible policy alternatives for achieving those goals; and
(iv) cost-benefit analysis of policy alternatives.


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