Harold Thomas (2001) has identified four tasks involved in policy formulation which each involve some element of formal policy analysis and which highlight how some options are carried forward while others are set aside: appraisal, dialogue, formulation or assessment, and consolidation.
In appraisal activity, data and evidence are identified and considered. This may take the form of research reports, expert testimony, stakeholder input, or public consultation on the policy problem that has been identified. Here, government both generates and receives input about policy problems and solutions.
Dialogic activity seeks to facilitate communication between policy actors with different perspectives on the issue and potential solutions. Sometimes, open meetings are held where presenters can discuss and debate proposed policy options. In other cases, the dialogue is more structured, with experts and societal representatives from business and labour organizations, for example, getting invited to speak for or against potential solutions.1
At the core of deliberations, formulation or assessment activity sees public officials weighing the evidence on various policy options and drafting some form of proposal that identifies which of these options will be advanced to the ratification stage. This can take the form of draft legislation or regulations, or it could identify the framework for a subsequent round of public and private policy actors’ deliberation in order to negotiate a more specific plan of action. This stage often involves formal techniques or instruments such as environmental
or regulatory impact assessments designed to focus attention to, and provide data on, certain key considerations of potential policy alternatives (Bregha et al. 1990; Franz and Kirkpatrick 2008; Lawrence 2001; Dalal-Clayton and Sadler 2005; Radaelli 2005; Turnpenny et al. 2008; 2009).
Making recommendations about which policy options to pursue will often yield dissent from those who have seen their preferred strategies and instruments set aside during earlier stages of formulation. These objections can be addressed during the consolidation phase, when policy actors often have an opportunity to provide more or less formal feedback on the recommended options and emergent policy design. Some actors who advocated alternative options may come around to joining a consensus on the merits of a particular course of action so that they can stay connected to official policy development efforts (Teisman 2000). Other policy actors may register their continued dissent. Leading policy-makers’ rejection of certain types of options need not be based on facts (Merton 1948), but if significant actors in the policy subsystem believe that something is unworkable or unacceptable, this is typically sufficient for its exclusion from further consideration in the policy process (Carlsson, 2000).