The “Inherent Vices” of Policy Design: Uncertainty, Maliciousness, and Noncompliance

Michael Howlett, Ching LEONG


Policy designs must not only “work” in the sense of accomplishing their goals but must also

work in their intended fashion. Most research to date has focused on the former topic and

dwells on the technical aspects of how various tools and instruments could be utilized to

achieve the aims and goals of policymakers. This branch of research tends to underemphasize

the difficulties inherent to policy making including policy contexts that are often highly uncertain,

policymakers who fall short of an idealized version of high capacity, well-intentioned

decisionmakers grappling with relevant public problems, and policy-takers who fail to comply

with government wishes. These “inherent vices” of policy making are factors which contribute

to policy volatility or the risk of policy failure. The paper stresses the need for improved risk

management and mitigation strategies in policy formulation and policy designs to take these

risks into account. It sets out and develops an approach borrowed from product failure management

(in manufacturing)


policy design

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@Annual Review of Policy Design ISSN: ISSN 2291-6989