Policy Consistency

… a core concept used in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101

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Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below) states that policies are expected to be consistent in three interrelated ways:

  • internal consistency
  • vertical consistency
  • horizontal consistency

He illustrates these with the figure to the right.

Pal writes (pages 13-14):

“Policies are expected to be consistent in several interrelated ways (see Figure 1.2). First, as noted above, we expect policies to have an internal consistency among the three elements of problem definition, goals, and instruments. Second, we expect a policy to have vertical consistency in the sense that the programs and activities undertaken in its name are logically related to it. This is in part the nub of implementation. Policy statements are normally fairly abstract and general. They must be actualized through an implementation process that elaborates programs and activities to give the policy effect. A municipal policy to maintain the livability of the downtown core assumes programs and initiatives that support business and residential developments in that area. If the municipality simultaneously had programs to disproportionately encourage suburban development, these would, on their face, appear inconsistent with the larger policy framework.

“A third type of consistency is horizontal consistency, or consistency within the wider policy space and across policy fields, not just within them. This is an expectation that what governments do in one field will not contradict what they do in another. A fiscal policy of restraint coupled with high spending in a wide variety of areas makes no sense – as the struggles of countries like Greece to reduce their deficits in 2011-12 illustrated. This type of consistency is important in democratic politics, since it implies that there is an underlying philosophy of government that cuts across all policy fields. From a policy perspective, when people vote, they often vote less for specific policies than for the “whole package.” It is a way of ensuring a degree of accountability, since every part of the government is expected to follow a broadly consistent line of policy. Horizontal consistency varies considerably in the real world, both because of the sheer sprawl of government and the existence of multiple jurisdictions. There are so many actors with some influence over the policy process, and so many agencies with relatively autonomous control of their policy fields, that it is not unusual to have quite widely disparate policy frameworks operating at the same time, even within the same policy space.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Policy Analysis and Process (core topic) in Policy Analysis and Process and Atlas101.


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 12 April 2017.

Image: Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, page 13, Nelson Education, Toronto.