Policy Formulation & Implementation - Problem Analysis

Jamil Rabah

Once the results of a policy analysis are available, a certain policy has to be formulated accordingly, which then will form the basis for a political decision or concept? The framework for analysis described below, which has been developed according to the theory of Stokey and Zeckhauser, will serve as a guideline.

Framework for Analysis

The following framework for analysis is to help examine a certain policy and establish a context:

Establishing the context: What is the underlying problem that must be dealt with? What specific objectives are to be pursued in confronting the problem?

Laying out the alternatives: What are the possibilities for gathering further information?

Predicting the consequences: What are the consequences of the alternative actions? What techniques are relevant for predicting these consequences? If outcomes are uncertain, what is the estimated likelihood of each?

Valuing the outcomes: By what criteria should we measure success in pursuing each objective? Recognizing that alternatives will be superior with respect to certain objectives and inferior with respect to others, how should different combinations of valued objectives be compared with one another?

Making a choice: Drawing all aspects of analysis together, what is the preferred course of action?

In principle, the whole purpose of politics is to make life better, although there is a problem as to how we define better. People in Iraq would define a better life in a different manner to people in Norway. So we want to make life better within our own traditions and within our own society, but resources are limited and we have to make choices, to establish priorities.

The first step as a policy analyst is to establish the context by asking, what is the problem, what is required to solve the problem, and what would be the consequences if the problem is not tackled?

In the second stage, alternative methods of solving the problem must be selected. The questions to be asked are how to get information, what kind of information should be used, is the information accurate?

The third step, predicting the outcomes, is very difficult. Let us take a very simple example. Someone wants to have an outdoor party; it is October, and it might or might not rain. He cannot simply go ahead and make all the arrangements; he has to predict the consequences of different alternatives, make ‘contingency plans’ as strategists sometimes call them. He has to check all possible options and assess the probability of all these options, and then choose the most logical option.

The fourth level of any analysis is to value the outcomes and to determine the kind of measurements to be used. We have to define our variables, not as abstract notions but as concrete variables, we have to know which measurement to use, and the kind of data and techniques.

And the fifth and final stage, is to make a choice based on all the alternatives and consequences that have already been considered. Businessmen are actually sometimes more successful than politicians in making decisions based on an in-depth analysis of the problem, because they know that if they take the wrong decision they are going to lose a lot. Politicians often make decisions based on common sense, but they do not delve deeply enough into problems.

Data Gathering

A very concrete example illustrates how data is gathered: as a decision-maker, I want to know whether people are happy or not with the peace process in order to make my decisions. I can gather data through surveys, interviews, the media, focus groups, and existing sources. Information is very important, but you always have to check its appropriateness. The broadest kind of information you can obtain on a certain population is by carrying out a census, but this involves a great deal of expense and many different kinds of problems. The tendency, therefore, is to rely on surveys and polls, especially when working on social aspects, which are of the greatest importance to policy makers at the political level.

What kind of sample do I take? When doing a survey on the Palestinians, a sample size of around 1,200 people, selected by random, meaning each Palestinian over 18 years of age has an equal chance of being selected, should give you quite good results. But the size and the composition of the sample are not the only things that are important; one also has to think about the correctness of the question and the right wording. If the question reads, for example, "The Israelis say that President Arafat is a very bad president, what do you think?" it is a very loaded question, and one will quite naturally reply, yes of course he is. Therefore, the phrasing of the question must be considered carefully.

Eventually you need to decide what results to publish. When I was working with the JMCC, many newspapers used to publish results that showed the PNA in a positive light. There were many results that were negative, but they were never shown. People from the opposition would call and say, "Your facts are all wrong, we do not trust you, you are telling us everything is fine and everyone is happy!" Always remember that information is often picked to serve certain purposes but can only be understood appropriately in its entireness and comprehensiveness.

Another element that has to be taken into account is the so-called margin of error, and the fact that in any survey, the results are not totally accurate. If a sample size comprises 1,200 people, and everyone has a chance of being selected, then you have a margin of error of plus or minus 2-3%. So if 50% of people say they support the peace process, the true percentage is not 50%, but actually somewhere between 47-53%. This does not mean that the poll is inaccurate. Look at all the predictions that were made during the last Israeli elections. Right up until the end, people thought Peres was going to win; the failure to predict Netanyahu’s victory was not only due to the margin of error, but also because of a second factor, the so-called floating voters - people who change their mind at the last minute during elections, and in Israel this can mean anything up to 15% of those eligible to vote.

Sometimes it is a good idea to have a focus group, in order to gain a better idea about a problem’s dimensions, different trends in society, etc., and then to go into the field to do further research. Policy analysts face many restrictions - time, lack of money, etc., - but one should always make the greatest effort to acquire as much precise information as possible.

Group Exercise: Taking a Policy Decision

The Problem

Do we need a tertiary hospital in the West Bank?


Discuss the question based on the framework for analysis discussed above and whilst assuming that all the relevant data is available;

Treat the case as hypothetical, but as realistically as possible, for example, by taking into account the restraints of limited financial resources. Bear in mind that there are specialized hospitals in Jordan and that many people rely on Hadassah Hospital in West Jerusalem.

In coming to a decision, take into account problems of location, insurance, funding, sustainability, feasibility, etc.

Present recommendations and alternative policy options, as well as their likely consequences, on which decision-makers would be able to base their decision.

Remember that decision-makers need a simple, straightforward report, including a very concrete summary of the options discussed.

The Decision

The consensus at the end of the exercise was that a specialized hospital was badly needed, but that its establishment, under the current circumstances, does not seem to be feasible. In order to improve health-care, the only possible alternatives appeared to be to focus on improving the services in existing hospitals as well as, for the time being, transferring difficult cases to outside hospitals, e.g., in Jordan. The discussion leading to these recommendations showed the complex interaction of many variables in preparing a policy decision, such as location, taxes, insurance, personnel, funding, etc. Moreover, participants soon became aware of the importance of looking at the linkages between these different factors and the consequences of different policy alternatives.

Illustration of the Consequences of a Decision

The importance of considering possible consequences of a policy option was illustrated by another example. At a certain crossroads in Ramallah, a serious accident occurred when a bus turned left into the main street. In order to avoid this problem in the future, the municipality closed the middle barricade in the main street so that cars would no longer be able to turn left at this particular spot. Although the solution eradicated the possibility of a similar accident taking place, it only led to new sources of danger, such as cars making U-turns around the newly closed middle barrier when attempting to turn left from the main street. The municipality had clearly failed to give proper consideration to the consequences of its new policy.