Policy Design and Non-Design: Towards a Spectrum of Policy Formulation Types

Michael Howlett, Ishani Mukherjee


Public policies are the result of efforts made by governments to alter aspects of behaviour – both that of their own agents and of society at large - in order to carry out some end or purpose. They are comprised of complex arrangements of policy goals and policy means matched through some decision-making process. These policy-making efforts can be more or less systematic in attempting to match ends and means in a logical fashion or can result from much less systematic or rational processes. “Policy design” implies a knowledge-based process in which the choice of means or mechanisms through which policy goals are given effect follows a logical process of inference from known or learned relationships between means and outcomes. This includes both ‘good design’ in which means are selected in accordance with experience and knowledge and ‘bad’ or poor design in which principles and relationships are incorrectly or only partially articulated or understood. In other circumstances, however, policy decisions are more highly contingent and driven by situational logics, bargaining or opportunism than result from careful deliberation and assessment. To distinguish these from poor design, these results can be thought of as “non-designs”. This paper considers the question of both design and non-design modes and formulates a spectrum of policy formulation types which helps clarify the nature of each type and the likelihood of each type of policy process unfolding.


Policy Design

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