Policy Design

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

Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below, p. 174) defines policy design as the process of choosing the most appropriate instrument to deal with the policy problem as it has been defined in order to achieve a given policy goal.

Pal writes (pages 129-130):

“Policy design is a mix of inspiration and technique. The inspiration comes in framing the policy issue [see Issue Framing] in ways that make sense of the problem and provide a broad sketch of how to tackle it. The technique (though not without its creative side either) comes in the detailing of what tools to use, and in what combination, to achieve a given end. The tools will vary with the task at hand, sometimes involving expenditures, sometimes regulation, partnerships, or the exchange of information. Policy design usually will draw on all of these and more, and then be bundled into programs. …

“Policy design is about choosing the most appropriate instrument to deal with the policy problem as it has been defined in order to achieve a given policy goal. This choice implies that a key criterion in instrument choice and policy design is effectiveness – getting the job done. Efficiency – getting the job done with the least resources – is typically considered another key criterion. The reality of politics means that popularity and re-election cannot be left out of the mix of motives; indeed, they may be overpowering at times. But if one adds the inevitably creative aspect of policy design to the range of criteria by which that design might be judged, it is clear that coming up with a list of tools is no easy task. In fact, while lists abound, and while some agreement on at least the major policy instruments and their characteristics exists, there is little agreement (or knowledge) of how and when particular mixes of instruments should be used in policy design. Like a list of the letters in the alphabet, the keys on a piano, or all the possible ingredients in five-star French cooking, the best that an inventory can provide is a sense of the possibilities of language, music, or cuisine. Choice and design are marked as much by art and circumstance as they are by technique.”

See also: Typologies of Policy Instruments; Pal’s Classification of Policy Instruments.

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.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 31 March 2017.

Image: Silvia Barbero & Agnese Pallaro, Systemic Design, at http://systemic-design.net/rsd-symposia/rsd5-2016/policy-design/, accessed 27 March 2017.