Policy Cycle

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

Concept description

The European Geosciences Union (reference below) defines the policy cycle as “an idealised process that explains how policy should be drafted, implemented and assessed.”

It notes that the policy cycle “serves more as an instructive guide for those new to policy than as a practical strictly-defined process, but many organisations aim to complete policies using the policy cycle as an optimal model.”

Many differing versions of the policy cycle have been formulated. One four-stage characterization is:

  • Problem recognition / framing
  • Policy formation
  • Policy implementation
  • Monitoring / evaluation

The European Geosciences Union uses a six-step characterization:

1 – Agenda setting:

“This step identifies new issues that may require government action. If multiple areas are identified they can all be assessed, or particular issues may be given a priority.

Example: a foresight study may indicate that the growing population and steadily increasing energy consumption per capita will require an increased energy production. This, along with the need to reduce emissions and limit future climate change, may result in policymakers deciding to increase solar panel production and usage.”

2 – Formulation:

“This step defines the structure of the policy. What goals need to be achieved? Will there be additional implications? What will the costs be? How will key stakeholders react to these effects?

Example: Should governments offer tax-breaks to start-up renewable energy companies? Or should they offer individual subsidies to solar panel buyers? What might be the effects of these actions?”

3 – Adoption:

“Once the appropriate approval (governmental, legislative, referendum voting etc.) is granted then a policy can be adopted.

Example: A nation-wide policy to increase solar capacity can be implemented by the national government, but changing a law will require a vote in Parliament.”

4 – Implementation:

“Establishing that the correct partners have the resources and knowledge to implement the policy. This could involve creating an external organisation to carry out actions. Monitoring to ensure correct policy implementation is also necessary.

Example: Administration processes to allow organisations and individuals to apply for solar energy subsidies / tax benefits need to be created.”

5 – Evaluation:

“This step assesses the effectiveness and success of the policy. Did any unpredicted effects occur? These assessments can be quantitative and/or qualitative.

Example: The UK and Germany introduced highly popular solar energy policies. Energy production at certain times of the day and year have substantially increased. Occasionally more energy is being produced than is needed, which leads to further questions about how to handle the ‘excess’ energy.”

6 – Support / maintenance:

“This step studies how the policy might be developed, or provides additional support for its continuation. Additionally, the policy can be terminated if deemed redundant, accomplished, or ineffective.

Example: Even if a policy is considered a success, should it be continued? Should solar panel policies be continued, or should policies now focus on improving national electric grids, or should energy storage policies be developed instead?”


European Geosciences Union, The policy cycle, at https://www.egu.eu/policy/basics/cycle/, accessed 21 May 2018.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

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

Page created by: Alec Wreford and Ian Clark, last modified 21 March 2018.

Image: European Geosciences Union, The policy cycle, at https://www.egu.eu/policy/basics/cycle/, accessed 21 May 2018.