Bardach’s Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving

… a core concept in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107

Concept description

Eugene Bardach, in his classic textbook (reference below), sets out eight steps to practical policy analysis.

The eight steps

The following are direct quotes:

  1. Define the problem. Your first problem definition is a crucial step: it gives you both a reason for doing all the work necessary to complete the project and a sense of direction for your evidence-gathering activity. And in the last phases of the policy analysis, your final problem definition will probably help you structure how you tell your story. (p. 1)
  2. Assemble some evidence. All of your time doing a policy analysis is spent on two activities: thinking (sometimes aloud and sometimes with others) and hustling data that can be turned into evidence. Of these two activities, thinking is generally the more important, but hustling data takes much more time: reading documents, hunting in libraries, poring over studies and statistics, interviewing people, traveling to interviews, waiting for appointments, and so on. … The real-world settings in which policy analysis is done rarely afford the time for a research effort that would please a careful academic researcher. In fact, time pressure is probably almost as dangerous an enemy of high-quality policy analysis as is politically motivated bias, if not more so. Therefore, economize on your data collection activities. The key to economizing is this: try to collect only those data that can be turned into “information” that, in turn, can be converted into “evidence” that has some bearing on your problem. (p. 11)
  3. Construct the alternatives. By alternatives I mean something like “policy options,” or “alternative courses of action,” or “alternative strategies of intervention to solve or mitigate the problem.” (p. 16)
  4. Select the criteria. It helps to think of any policy story (see Step Eight) as having two interconnected but separable plotlines, the analytic and the evaluative. The first is all about facts and disinterested projections of consequences, whereas the second is all about value judgments. Ideally, all analytically sophisticated and open-minded persons can agree, more or less, on the rights and wrongs in the analytic plotline and on the nature of its residual uncertainties. But this is not true with regard to the evaluative plotline – where we expect subjectivity and social philosophy to have freer play. The analytic plotline will reason about whether X, Y, or Z is likely to happen, but it is in the evaluative plotline that we learn whether we think X or Y or Z is good or bad for the world. (p. 31)
  5. Project the outcomes. For each of the alternatives on your current list, project all the outcomes (or impacts) that you or other interested parties might reasonably care about. This is the hardest step in the Eightfold Path. Even veteran policy analysts do not usually do it very well. Not surprisingly, analysts often duck it entirely, disguising their omission by a variety of subterfuges. Hence, the most important advice about this step is simple: do it. (p. 47)
  6. Confront the trade-offs. It sometimes happens that one of the policy alternatives under consideration is expected to produce a better outcome than any of the other alternatives with regard to every single evaluative criterion. In that case – called “dominance” – there are no trade-offs among the alternatives. Usually, though, you are less fortunate, and you must clarify the trade-offs between outcomes associated with different policy options for the sake of your client or audience. (p. 63)
  7. Decide! This step appears in the Eightfold Path as a check on how well you have done your work up to this point. Even though you personally may not be the decision maker, you should at this point pretend that you are. Then, decide what to do, based on your own analysis. If you find this decision difficult or troublesome, the reason may be that you have not clarified the trade-offs sufficiently, or that you have not thought quite enough about the probability of serious implementation problems emerging (or not emerging), or that a crucial cost estimate is still too fuzzy and uncertain, or that you have not approximated carefully enough the elasticity of some important demand curve, and so on. Think of it this way: unless you can convince yourself of the plausibility of some course of action, you probably won’t be able to convince your client – and rightly so. (p. 69)
  8. Tell your story. After many iterations of some or all of the steps recommended here – principally, redefining your problem, reconceptualizing your alternatives, reconsidering your criteria, reassessing your projections, reevaluating the trade-offs – you are ready to tell your story to some audience. The audience may be your client, or it may include a broader aggregation of stakeholders and interested parties. It may be hostile, or it may be friendly. Your presentation may be a one-time-only telling, or it may be merely the first effort in a planned long-term campaign to gather support behind a legislative or executive change. (p.70)

See also: Implementation Theory.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Implementation and Delivery (core topic) in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107


Eugene Bardach (2012), A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis – The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving, Fourth Edition, Sage, Los Angeles.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 12 September 2017.

Image: From cover of Bardach book, accessed 6 April 2017.