Policy Analysis and Policy Evaluation

… a core concept used in Evaluation and Performance Measurement and Atlas108

Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below) describes the relationship between policy analysis and policy evaluation.

Pal writes (pp. 271-272):

“Policy analysis, defined as the disciplined application of intellect to public problems, encompasses everything from reading a newspaper to careful scientific research. In practice, much of what passes for professional policy analysis is called “policy evaluation.” It is conducted by governments as well as private firms, assumes a mastery of certain quantitative and qualitative techniques, and is aimed at the improvement or betterment of public policies and programs. Its central questions are these: Does this program do what it is supposed to be doing? If not, why not? What should be done? Policy analysis is openly prescriptive, and serves to monitor government activities. Policies attempt to solve or manage public problems; at some point governments (and citizens) need to know whether interventions are making a difference and are worthwhile. Since most government services are on a not-for-profit basis, there are no clear market signals – profit, loss, increase or decrease in demand – to measure performance.

The alleged indispensability of evaluation

Pal writes (p. 271):

“Consult any text on policy analysis and you will find passages extolling the indispensability of policy and program evaluation. It could hardly be otherwise, given that program evaluation is primarily about trying to figure out how successful a policy has been, whether it met its objectives, how far it fell short, and what might be done to improve its impact.”

But, but, but …

“The same passages that extol evaluation, however, are usually complemented by ones that say it is expensive, difficult, rarely conclusive, and politically unpopular. Precisely because evaluation is so potentially crucial to the fortunes of a policy or program, opponents and supporters work hard to get the evaluation results they need to strengthen their case – that is, if evaluation takes place at all. Not only is it politically sensitive (who wants to hear bad news?), it can seem secondary to the really important job of designing and implementing solutions to public problems. Policy evaluation therefore has enjoyed more theoretical than practical popularity, and in Canada at least, has not been enthusiastically supported either as a government or as a third-party (foundation or think-tank) activity.”

Evaluation’s comeback

“This situation is changing. The renewed emphasis on results, accountability, and performance, coupled with a shift to public–private partnerships and networks of collaboration, increases the need for evaluation because it places new pressures on governments to demonstrate value for money. Not only does evaluation have a higher profile, but also different forms of evaluation (such as client satisfaction and overall program performance) are becoming increasingly important.”

See also: Contrasting Purposes of Evaluation.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Evaluation and Performance Measurement (core topic) in Evaluation and Performance Measurement and Atlas108 Analytic Methods and Evaluation.


Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, Nelson Education, Toronto. See Beyond Policy Analysis – Book Highlights.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 28 September 2017.

Image: DOKEOS, at https://www.dokeos.com/quiz-e-learning-evaluation-multiple-choice-questions/, accessed 10 April 2017.