Policy Analysis’s Impact on Policymaking

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

Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below, p. 24-25) describes the decline and resurgence of the perceived influence on policymaking.

“The high point in the fortunes of policy analysis and scientific decisionmaking was in the 1960s, when the United States decided to adopt the Planning-Programming-Budgeting System (PPBS), later adopted in Canada as well, and then made program evaluation mandatory, thus setting off a boom in the industry in the 1970s (deLeon, 2006). A natural question was whether all this activity was having any effect on the policy process. Carol Weiss and her colleagues began a series of studies through the 1970s to answer this question. Their conclusion was that the “implications of explanatory studies and the recommendations from policy-oriented studies seemed to have little effect on either the day-today operations of program management or the long-term directions of public policy” (Weiss, 1983, p. 217). If it was clear that policy analysis did not influence the policy process directly, then what contributions did it make? One early argument was that policy analysis and the rest of the social sciences have a broad “enlightenment” function, providing broad ideas, concepts, insights, and theoretical perspectives (Janowitz, 1972). Another version of this image is the “limestone” metaphor, to capture how science enters politics: “It relies on indirect or cumulative interest and requires no action other than the research itself and the presentation of the findings in a readable way. If circumstances permit (and the research has no control over many of them) the work may, in combination with other work with a similar theme and message, seep into the public consciousness” (Thomas, 1987, p. 57).

“There is much to these criticisms, and they have had powerful impacts on the way in which policy analysis is theorized and practised. However, in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in policy and in developing strong policy capacity, a resurgence that has been evident both in Canada (Oliphant & Howlett, 2010) and abroad. There are several broad explanations for this (Pal, 2012). In many countries, after a long focus on management of existing resources through the 1990s to deal with deficits and financial constraint, the realization dawned that just “minding the store” was not enough. Countries faced major challenges and rapidly shifting environments, and without guides, strategy, or vision – in short, public policy – they would be rudderless. Other countries, such as those in Central and Eastern Europe, lacked a policy tradition – orders had come down from the Communist Party in Moscow – and so they found themselves grappling with similar imperatives, but from a position that forced them to reinvent and reconsider the assumptions both of their state systems and of policy analysis (as understood in the Western state tradition). The continued turbulence of the 2008 financial crisis left the public sector, and hence, intelligent public policy, as the only bulwark against disaster.”

See also: Policy AnalysisPal’s Good Governance Benchmarks.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

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


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

The references cited by Pal in the passage above are:

deLeon, P. (2006). The historical roots of the field. In M. Moran, M. Rein, & R. E. Goodin (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of public policy (pp. 39–57). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Janowitz, M. (1972, July). Professionalization of sociology. American Journal of Sociology, 78, 105–135.

Oliphant, S., & Howlett, M. (2010, August). Assessing policy analytical capacity: Comparative insights from a study of the Canadian environmental policy advice system. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, 12, 439–445.

Pal, L. A. (2012). Frontiers of governance: The OECD and global public management reform. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Thomas, P. (1987). The use of social research: Myths and models. In M. Bulmer (Ed.), Social science research and government: Comparative essays on Britain and the United States (pp. 51–60). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Weiss, C. H. (1983). Ideology, interest, and information: The basis of policy positions. In D. Callahan & B. Jennings (Eds.), Ethics, the social sciences, and policy analysis (pp. 213–245). New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 27 March 2017.

Image: Stanley, Impact, at http://lightinghomes.net/gallery/impact.asp, accessed 27 March 2017.