Monday, April 28, 2014

MODELS OF POLICY MAKING AND THEIR CRITIQUE

In public policy, models constitute frameworks through which the problems faced and processes involved in the making of public policies are analysed. Some of the models proposed by the social scientists for public policy analysis are presented below:


  1. Systems Model




The systems approach to policy analysis can be shown in the Figure below :

The Eastonian Black Box Model

The figure above gives a rough idea of the policy making process. In this model the policy making process is regarded as black box which converts the demands of the society into policies. This model is also called the Estonian ‘black box’ model. In this model the intra-societal environment consists of following factors:

  • Ecological system

  • Personality system

  • Biological system

  • Social system


The extra-societal environment consists of :

  • International political systems

  • International social systems

  • International ecological systems


The above figure represents an idea of “political system” according to Easton. The political system receives demands and supports as inputs which may by physical, social, economic and political products of the environment. Demands are the claims made by the individuals or groups on the political system to change some aspect of the environment. Supports are the rules, laws and customs which provide a basis for the existence of the political community. Support is rendered in society when the individuals or groups accept these laws, rules and customs.

At the center of the political system are the institutions and the personnel who are involved in the policy making. These may be chief executive, legislators, bureaucrats and judges etc. They translate inputs to the outputs. According to Easton political system is that part of society which is involved in the authoritative allocation of values. This way outputs mentioned above are the authoritative allocation of values and these constitute the public policies. Hence according to the systems model of public policy, public policies are the outputs of the political system.

Feedback depicted in the figure means that the public policies may have an impact on the environment of the political system and in turn may be influenced by the same. Public policies may generate new demands or new supports or may withdraw the old ones.

Critique of Systems Model


The systems model gives a very useful insight into the study of public policy. However due to several factors its useful is somewhat limited. It seems that the systems model assumes a very simplistic notion of public policy in the form of input-output system. The nature of ‘black box’ is assumed to be straightforward while in reality it is not so. The factors such as ‘power, personnel and the institutions’ have been neglected in this analysis of black box. The analysis done by Easton also lacks in considering the fact that the public policy makers also have an impact on the external environment in which they function. The traditional input-output model also depicts decision making system as value neutral structure. In other words the structural variations in the system of decision making are not shown to have any effect on the public policy. It has also been mentioned that in developing countries many a times it is the political and administrative elite which refashion the mass opinion rather than the other way round. For example, many policy initiatives emanate from the bureaucracy itself. In the western democracies, the role of bureaucracy is largely technical and minimal in policy making while in developing societies its role is legitimized and it exercises lot of influence over the political elite in choosing the various policy alternatives. So the “inputs" as mentioned in the Eastonian model need not always influence the public policy. Concept of “within puts” has been enunciated to illustrate the above mentioned point. This makes it clear that not only the ‘policy content’ but also the values of the policy makers matter much while formulating the public policies.


  1. Institutional Approach




Public policy is formulated, implemented and enforced by the governmental institutions. A policy does not take the shape of public policy unless it is adopted and implemented by the governmental institutions. Three important characteristics of public policies related to the government are:

  • Legality & legitimacy of public policies is due to government

  • Public policies are applicable to all the citizens in the state

  • Coercive element is involved in public policies


As there is close relationship between the public policies and the governmental institutions some social scientists also focused on the functioning of government structures and institutions. This institutional approach has become one of the themes of public policy analysis and it studies the interactions of institutions created by the government, legislature and the constitution e. g. Members of Parliament, Prime Minister or Cabinet etc. The influence exercised by all these institutions goes a long way in shaping the public policy.

Traditionally the institutional approach focused just on the study of structures and institutions of government and did not devote attention to the linkages between these governmental institutions and the public policies. But now it has within its ambit the impact of these institutions on the content of public policy and the decision making. For example, this approach suggest that the government institutions may be structured in such a way that they facilitate certain policy outcomes. This may give advantage to certain sections of society and could disfavor certain other sections. Generally institutions and rules are not neutral in their impact. They tend to favour/disfavor certain interests in society i. e. some sections may enjoy more power under one set of arrangements in comparison to others.

Crique of institutional approach


The importance of institutional approach to policy analysis lies in analyzing the relationship between the governmental institutions and the content of public policy. However it cannot be mentioned that the public policies will be affected by institutions independent of the environmental factors e. g. environmental factors may change so that the changes in the structures of governmental institutions have little effect on the content of public policy. So the fact that the institutional approach to policy analysis neglects the environmental effects on the public policies is the biggest criticism of this approach. Thomas Dye was of the same opinion. Further with the advent of the behavioural studies in the field of public administration, the institutional models of policy analysis have given way to the studies based on the group, systems and elite models. The pressure groups and pressure politics also influence the content of public policies and it would be wrong to believe that public policies originate only in the governmental institutions. Still the institutional model has great use in understanding the governmental structures and institutions which influence the policy making in government.


  1. Rational Policy Making Model




This approach emphasizes that policy making is making a choice among the policy alternatives based on the ‘rationality’ i. e. rationality is considered to be the ‘yardstick of wisdom’ according to this model of policy analysis. Rational policy making is to choose one best option. According to this approach rational policy is one that maximizes the ‘net value achievement’. Thomas Dye equates rationality with efficiency i. e. a rational policy should be one in which the ratio of values it achieves and the values it sacrifices should be positive. These values are calculated not in just monetary terms but in social, political and economic terms.

In social sciences there are many models of rational decision making system e. g. Thomas Dye has given following model of a rational approach to decision system.

Thomas Dyes model of Rational Approach to Decision System

Critique of Rational Policy Making Model


According to Herbert Simon ideal rationality is difficult to achieve for the policy makers and what is often achieved is ‘bounded rationality’ as the ‘rationality’ of the decision makers is bounded by the ‘cognitive and emotional capacities’. The concept of rationality is often espoused than practiced in social sciences. There are many constraints to realization of ideal rationality. These are:

  • The process of rational decision making may turn out to be so tedious that it may become an exercise in itself rather than the actual realization of goals.

  • Optimal results in the form of ‘net value achievement’ may not always be produced by the rational decisions because the public interest is considered to be more than just the sum of individual interests.

  • Policy makers are seldom motivated to make decisions based on rationality but try to maximize their selfish interests.

  • The time available for thorough analysis may be too short for the policy makers e. g. in the legislatures there is always a shortage of time.

  • In the absence of consensus over societal values rationality is difficult to achieve by weighing different values relatively.

  • Issue of political feasibility also comes up while framing rational policy decisions. Elected representatives do not wish to risk their chances of getting re-elected due to rational decisions.

  • It is difficult to do cost benefit analysis of different social, economic and political values.

  • It becomes difficult to co-ordinate the actions of different specialists in bureaucracy to arrive at a rational decision.

  • Sometimes accepting a technical solution seems to be undemocratic e. g. decisions of shifting industries out of big cities to their outskirts seem to be based undemocratic to the people.


Due to all these reasons, to many decision making theorists, making rational policies seems to be utopian and idealistic goal which is impossible to achieve. According to Herbert Simon, a “good” decision will do even if it is not the best decision. Despite all these criticisms rational approach to policy analysis is useful in atleast analyzing the constraints to policy making process.


  1. Lindblom’s Incremental Approach




As a response to the traditional rational model of decision making, Lindblom presented his incremental approach to policy making. In 1959, Lindblom published an article titled “Art of Muddling Through" which became quite famous in the field of public policy. Lindblom mentions that rational decision making is not possible for ‘complex policy questions’. He propounded the concept of 'successive limited comparisons’ or ‘branch decision making’. By incrementalism Lindblom means building up step by step in small degrees from the current situation. This was in contrast to the ‘root’ approach advocated by other policy analysts which meant starting anew every time. He mentions the constraints of time, intelligence and cost in the making of rational decision making. He favours ‘successive limited comparisons’ and this process leads to ‘bounded rationality’.

Critique of Incrementalism


The incrementalism has been criticised for being a piecemeal approach which can never bring about a significant progress and it can result at best in marginal improvements. It may happen sometimes that the old policy may be totally outdated requiring thorough reforms and should be replaced by new policy. It may also happen that the old policy might not have evolved properly. In all such cases since the old base has to be discarded incrementalism is not a reliable technique. Hence theorists have mentioned that incrementalism can lead to overlooking of potentially good and innovative policy alternatives. However the government agencies have a great deal of ‘sunk cost’ i. e. cost of buildings, staff, equipment etc. in the existing programmes. Hence if the policy is changed abruptly this huge investment goes waste. So considering factors such as ‘sunk cost’ and constraints of time, intelligence, cost and the uncertainties of new policy incrementalism is found to be safer and better option.

Incrementalism has also been criticised as being slow and essentially oriented towards stability i. e. status quo oriented. However if one considers the fact that in incrementalism one considers the policy options which are available at hand only and that new policy is built on the existing policy only, one can infer that in some situations incrementalism may turn out to be a speedier process also.


  1. Dror’s Normative Optimum Model




Dror criticised the incremental model of Lindblom on the ground that it is unjust as it creates more gap between those who have power and those who do not have The people who do not have power will find it more difficult to bring about change. He offers his alternative model which has the following features:

  • Need for rationality (Simon’s model)

  • Need for bringing about more management techniques at the lower levels to increase rationality

  • Policy science approach (as was mentioned by Lasswell) at the higher levels to deal with the complex problems of the society

  • Need to take into account values and irrational elements in decision making


Dror calls his model as “normative optimalism” because it combines the core elements of rational model (e. g. costs and benefits) with the ‘extra rationality elements which are excluded from the purview of the rationality model. A unique feature of this model is that it emphasizes on incorporative extra-rational elements like tacit knowledge, faith and personal experience. This has been done to fit it into reality. This model consists of around 18 steps divided into following stages:

  • Meta-policy making stage

  • Policy making stage

  • Post policy making stage


The meta-policy making stage concerns itself mainly with processing values, the policy making stage with allocating resources and post-policy making stage with the execution of policy. By this approach Dror seeks radical reform of the public policy making process.

Critique of Dror’s Model


Dror is of the view that improving public policy making process is necessary for human progress but he has given limited attention to public in his model. Dror has combined, both rational and extra-rational elements in his model but has not given any strategy for the same. His model is quite useful not in terms of prescription dimension but in terms of the framework in which he analyses the public policy.


  1. Mixed Scanning Approach




It was suggested by Amitai Etzioni that instead of adopting purely a ‘rational model' or purely an incremental model, it may be a suitable to choose both the models at a time in proper proportion. According to this model, a ‘Broad Social Survey’ is carried out in the first place to gather general information only. If this general survey reveals some trouble spots then in the second survey, an in-depth examination of those troubled areas only is undertaken. The advantage of this mixed scanning is that it encourages innovation, while at the same time it recognizes the impracticability of a comprehensive review of the entire system every time. Hence the approach infuses more amount of rationality in policy decisions and hence is an improvement over the bounded rational model of incrementalism.


  1. Group Theory




This theory is relevant for the pluralistic societies in which a number of interest groups exist and compete against each other to have an upper hand in the society. For this they try to control public policy in their favour. These groups may have contradictory objectives. According to this view politics is actually the struggle among groups to influence the public policy. The political system manages group conflict by

  • Establishing rules of the game in the group struggle

  • Making an arrangement for compromises and balancing of interests among various groups

  • Enacting various laws


Public policy at any time is the equilibrium reached in this group struggle at that time. Relative influences of different groups determine this equilibrium. The whole meaningful political activity is described in terms of the group struggle only by the group theorists e. g. policy making echelon is viewed as busy in responding to the group pressures through making arrangements of compromising, negotiating and bargaining between the groups. Politicians and political parties form coalitions of groups. Among these groups some of the members could be common also i. e. some individuals could be members of more than one group. This overlapping membership prevents anyone group from going too far from the existing values. This helps in maintaining the equilibrium among the groups. This overlapping membership moderates the group conflict. It depends on the ecological conditions and the political culture of a society which type of group dominates in that particular society or the check each other through effective checks and balances.

Following situations may arise in group struggle :

  1. Domination of Stronger Group - When one group dominates. This is also called as “win-lose” situation.

  2. Optimisation Approach - The interests of all the conflicting groups are miximised. This is also called as “win-win” situation.

  3. Public Choice Approach - The government makes provision of number of options for the general public to choose from. Some options may be made more attractive by the mechanism of incentives and curbs.

  4. Trade Off Theory - The group may surrender its not so important demands while still pursuing for the most important ones. It is also called as “Mutual Accommodation and Adjustment”.

  5. Corporatism - All the groups may assemble against the government and protect each other’s interests. This unanimous opposition to government could take place despite the internal conflicts among the groups. Since government remains the only agency to provide goods & services in such a scenario, it may ignore public demands. Such a situation exists many a times in developing countries.


The main criticism of the group theory is that though it vividly describes the existing situation in many of the countries but still it perceives everything happening in society from just one perspective of group struggle. It is not a holistic approach. It describes the existing situation in many cases but not what it should be in future.


  1. Elite Theory




According to the elite theory public policies reflect the preferences and values of the governing elite. It is actually the elites who shape the mass opinion on policy issues rather than masses shaping the opinion of the elites. This is due to the fact that people are ignorant and ill informed about the crucial issues of public policy. Hence public policies are not the reflections of mass opinion but the preferences of elites. Due to this lack of information policies flow downward from elites to the masses and they are not result of demands raised by the masses. This downward flow of public policy has to be accepted by masses and only those non-elites could be admitted to the governing elite who accept the opinions of the elites. Although elites could be dependent on the masses for their survival through votes but once they come to power they become apathetic towards them. In such a scenario only incremental changes could be incorporated in the policies because status quo is sought to be maintained at all costs.


  1. Public Choice Theory




According to this theory public policy is collective decision making by self-interested individuals. Public choice theory is the economic study of non-market decision making especially the application of economic analyses to public policy making. Marketplace is considered to be an arena where individuals pursue their private interests and economics studies this behaviour. Similarly in the public arena individuals pursued their own notion of public interest and political science studied this behaviour. According to this theory all the political actors are self interest maximizing e. g. voters, taxpayers, legislators, bureaucrats, interest groups etc seek to maximize their personal benefits in politics as well as in marketplace. However “enlightened self interest” guides individuals to establish a government which could protect their life, liberty and property. Due to several conditions existing in external environment e. g. poverty, disparities, inflation etc. it is felt that market has felt and governmental intervention is suggested. But as a result of this following anomalies creep into the system overtime:

  • Politicians manipulate the economy to come again in power

  • Bureaucracy serves itself rather than public interest

  • Growth of liberal democracy fails to control political and bureaucratic power

  • Politicians make unrealistic promises to win votes


In this way public choice theory helps us to understand the behaviour of various political actors including interest groups and mentions that they pursue their self interest in the “political marketplace”.

There is lot of criticism about the basic assumptions on which public choice theory is based. It seems according to this view public policies are only the result of selfish behaviour of political actors and not of any moral behaviour. The main criticism of this theory is lack of empirical test and evidences in its favour. Only mixed evidences support public choice theory. According to critiques this theory opposes the state and social welfare spending simply because it favours market forces for “ideologically right wing reasons”.


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