Thursday, December 8, 2016

Review of Writing Effective Public Policy Papers Handbook


Information about the book

AUTHOR: Eóin Young and Lisa Quinn
TITLE: Writing Effective Public Policy Papers.
SUBTITLE: A Guide for Policy Advisers in Central and Eastern Europe.
PUBLISHER: Local Government and Public Service Reform Initiative.
YEAR: 2002
Pages: 113 P
REVIEWER: Mehdi ZOUAOUI, Education Consultant and Strategist


You can download the summary and review here


The authors of the guide laid a foundational background for people who aspire to write policies in a more logical way. The book is beneficial to junior consultants in the ascendancy of their career, students who are majoring in Public Administration and Public Policy as well as adventurers of international organizations and projects. It is also useful for professional consultants who are missing some gaps in writing policy papers. The book contains ample practical advices and outlines for writing policy papers including the soup and nuts. However, the handbook would have been more beneficial if it broke down these steps into manageable chunks for the sake of beginners through tutorials or activities that serve as a scaffolding support for them to practice the knowledge they gain. Having said that, the book implicitly implies the grasp of some previous knowledge in writing in general, and public policy in particular. What is worth noticing is that the authors always include a checklist by the end of each section that serves as reminder and take-away points.
Certainly, the world of academia is full of books and guidelines that were written in the field of policy making and writing such as: Writing White Paper: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged by Michael Stelzner(2007), and the newly published work entitled “Writing Public Policy: A Practical Guide to Communicating in the Policy-Making Process” by Catherine F. Smith (2015),  “A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving” by Eugene Bardach(2011), and many others. However, the present handbook unique feature is its practical aspect which makes it a good companion in writing policy paper.
Policy writing is one of the pillars for governmental affairs and therefore it should be characterized by a more pragmatic analysis that helps increase the rank of Human Development Index (HDI) in countries. While trying to convince the audience of that the policy is important , it is also important to mention that policy documents are not meant to be marketing papers or creative writing but their primary goal is to inform, enlighten, guide and not mere academic works even though it is tempting to lean towards one of the two paths: either professional or academic. Thus, keeping convenient distance between the two realms is always a welcome prospect, else the policy risks to be only a theoretical piece that lacks practical applicability or a professional policy that is not  based on valid scientific background.
As it is the case for other disciplines, the field of policy writing contains many other terms and genres  of writing that may look alike. In that context, the authors opted not to highlight the differences and analogies between these terms such as white paper, green paper that are mainly used in EU and United Kingdom.For example, the difference between a policy paper and a public policy paper is not explicitly demonstrated since the former may take several formulas such as policy briefs, white papers, and so on. In fact, the core feature that separates a public policy paper from the rest of  policies is that it carries governmental authoritativeness that gives it the power of abiding by all the stakeholders it covers.
Green papers are written early in the process of policy formulation for general public and stakeholders to identify potential solutions, whereas white papers are written at a later stage to summarise and communicate proposed policy solutions to the general public and relevant stakeholders. Position papers generally express the position taken by an organization in a specified policy area in an attempt to influence policy makers to adopt a stance that the organization is taking. Also, the word policy alone in its corporate environment means “predetermined course of action established as a guide toward accepted objectives and strategies of the organization”

The book did not  mention  the documents required for pre-policy stage, in-policy-stage, and post-policy stage to ease the process of writing policy paper for the involved writing team. The main documents for these stages are represented in the following chart:
Figure 03: Documents needed for pre-policy, in-policy, and post-policy writing

Reflecting on the alternatives that are going to be chosen, it is necessary that they have to be prioritized by rank and merged together whenever possible in order to make it easy to sacrifice some designed goals or values when the situation dictates to do so. This also should be accompanied by virtual scenarios for each alternative to gauge its strengths and weaknesses where the efficiency and effectiveness; reliability and validity of alternatives can be analyzed through SWOT and PEST methods.
As for monitoring, there are also other tools to ensure a smooth flow of the public policy such as: control, auditing, and assessment. Controlling entails the conformity of the policy paper with the rules of law, standards, and so on, while auditing is the process of trying to improve the public action by measuring the obtained state of affairs with the desired state of affairs. There is a common trend that some people and officials perceive assessment as an attempt to find the scapegoat to put blame on in a policy; however, assessment rather aims to uncover how a given action can be carried out more effectively and efficiently.  
There are some other techniques that allow to make more objective  evaluation avoiding any confounding variables that may alter the obtained outcomes such as difference of the difference that consists of studying the state of beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries before and after the reform; and the difference of the state of beneficiaries before and after the reform.
It is also important to involve citizens before, during and after evaluation so as to gain more insights and benefit and reach more visibility of the policy under study or analysis. The diagram below summarizes this point:
Review of Writing Effective Policy Papers   Google Docs.png
Figure 03: Involving citizens in evaluation

Certainly, evaluating a public policy is a cumbersome step institutionally or technically due to the many caveats that a policy maker may fall in such as mixing a correlation with a causality or falling into the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc by mixing a cause with an effec. Added to that, the problem of incidence where the expected beneficiary of the policy may not be the one reached in the policy and a totally different beneficiary may be affected. The multiplicity of effects may also result in a more complex and hard evaluation, and making the policy more concrete and applied is pitfall policymakers should be aware of because of the fact that if the policy cannot be implemented in the real world, there is no benefit designing it.
Also, in order to gauge the worthiness of a given public policy, it should be compared with other public policies even if they are different so as to predict what may go wrong and what needs to be changed, adapted, or even left out. This can be done by converting benefits and qualitative variables into metrics that can be quantitatively measured.
Also, it is crucial that evaluators are independent and use reliable and valid methods in order to avoid any possible bias. This can also be corroborated by creating an interdisciplinary group of evaluators that consist at least of these stakeholders: governmental coordinators such as court of audits, parliament, etc; related administration under question, and independent evaluators.
Council of Economic Analysis postulates that in order for an evaluation to be successful and credible it has to have at least the three following elements: access to data, expertise time, and dissemination of the results
Analyzing an existing policy is no easy process and involves different methods and dynamics to understand the macro-image of the policy. A more simplified way to keep in mind while analyzing the problem is to use the Tree Problem demonstrated in the graph proposed by  Mahabat Baimyrzaeva:
Figure 04: Tree Problem solving

Along with the definitions chosen in this book a public policy can also be defined  as “a strategic action carried out by a public authority in order to mitigate or advocate a given phenomenon happening in society”. This will allow the analysis of  a public policy in the light of six dimensions:
  1. Effects: which covers three elements:
    1. Efficiency:
    2. Effects non investigated yet:
    3. Equity:
  2. Application that includes:
    1. Costs:
    2. Feasibility:
    3. Acceptability:
Besides the classification of  policy provided in the book that is notional, There are other classifications policies different than the one mentioned in the book.  Anderson(2003)  classifies them according to the following logic:
  • Substantive policies: which involves what the government is going to do.
  • Procedural policies: which involves how the government is going to do it.
  • Distributive policies:  which involves an allocation of benefits or services to particular segment of the population.
  • Regulatory policies: which introduces restrictions or limitations
  • Self-regulatory policies: are similar to the regulatory policies except that they are controlled by the regulated group.
  • Redistributive policies:  which involves a deliberate effort by the government to shift the benefits among broad classes.
From a conceptual side, the philosophy of public policies can be approached in the light of the following political theories:
  1. Political system theory: a political system arising in response of demand.
  2. Group theory: where public policy is considered to be the product of the group in the struggle.
  3. Elite theory:  where public policy reflects the values and preferences of the governing elite.
  4. Institutionalism: where public policy is carried out, implemented and designed by institutions.
  5. Rational Choice Theory:  where the principles of microeconomics are applied in the analysis of public policy.

If we go back to description of the problem and In addition of the four foundational elements stated in the book, we can approach the components of the f problem as follows:
  • Level of urgency and whether this needs an immediate intervention or not.
  • Level of severity: by looking at the potential damage the issue under question can harm and the rate of people who could be affected.
  • Duration of the problem: whether it happens once or it is recurring.
  • Authors of the problem and how to eliminate these resources or cut them down.
This diagram summarizes these core elements:
Figure 05: Foundational Elements of the Problem
Paggiolo summarizes a problem as “ a perception by the actors of a gap of what is (assessment), of  what should be (duty to act), and what can be ( possibility of action)”
As mentioned before, it is always a good practice to strive on combining the different alternatives to build a more comprehensive scope that would cover as much as possible issues. Moreover, one of the caveats that policy maker should avoid is to provide generic recommendations that veer away from the efficiency of policy that is meant to be applied rather theoretical. This goes also for the use of  unnecessary wording in policy papers because they are meant to be applied and understood by the average person especially when it comes to client-oriented policy analysis since how much the policymaker knows about the issue is not as important as what the related stakeholders should do.
Finally, the public policy and evaluations have to be published without any censorship even if the results reached may not please or serve the interests of some stakeholders because more is always needed; not more contemplating but more action thinking.

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