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The Formulation, Implementation and Evaluation of Public Policy Analytical Essay


The efforts to solve certain problems attracting public concerns create the necessity to formulate and implement public policies. Ridde (2009:939) defines a public policy as an action that a government deems appropriate or inappropriate for its citizens.

Put differently, public policy encompasses a set of aims coupled with a specified group of activities, which resolve a particular public problem when properly executed (Lyhne, 2011:324). From this paradigm, the processes of formulation, implementation, and evaluation of policies are defined as covering the integration of myriads of fragmented process (sub-processes) (Ridde, 2009:943).

In some situations, governments adopt policies that fail to achieve the anticipated outputs. This scenario occurs when a formulated public policy is implemented, but the problem intended to be solved by the policy continues. Such a situation attracts the attention of policy analysts, who try to determine the reasons for the policy failure. One of the most common approaches to this involves finding out the deficiencies within the policy-formulation and implementation phases (Ridde, 2009:945).

Public policy is an important aspect of contemporary government operations. Taking the above arguments as a starting point, this essay aims to discuss evaluation as an important component of policy formulation and implementation. Non-incorporation of evaluation in the two phases creates difficulties in determining eminent deficiencies in policy that has been formulated and implemented.

Deficiencies in policy formulation and implementation are risk factors for the failure of a policy to achieve the anticipated outcomes. This essay is divided into two main sections. It first describes the processes of policy formulation, policy implementation, and policy evaluation as discrete entities.

A discussion of policy evaluation as an integrated process in policy formulation and implementation then follows in the analysis section. The essay also addresses the rationale behind integrating public-policy evaluation into the formulation and implementation stages. In conclusion, the essay will hold that the evaluation, formulation and implementation of public policy cannot be separated into discrete stages.


Formulating Public Policies

Governments, organisations and groups of people set and adopt procedural guidelines towards the achievement of their set goals and objectives. Policies are generally initiated to influence various environments, thereby addressing adverse effects that arise in those environments.

Public-policy formulation involves the processes of studying and assessing issues that emerge as a potential threat and the impact they may have on the public (Vizzard, 1995:342). The public-policy formulation process intends to limit the identified consequences of a problem for the subject environments or invoke better performance of undertakings in the public sector (Fyfe, Miller & McTavish, 2009: 214).

Well-formulated policies are rational, specific in their statements, and applicable to specific extents only (Marsh & McConnell, 2010:565). Such policies are not ambiguous and are effective in achieving the intended objectives. The process of public-policy formulation is intricate.

Creating a policy in order to oversee all stakeholders and pressure groups is a dangerous mistake. The civil society working together with the government is one way of ensuing democracy and collective representation. In the end, this enhances the effectiveness of the policy-formulation process.

For an effective policy-formulation process, it is crucial that staff is highly knowledgeable of, and conversant with, institutional processes. Institutional processes encompass the determination of policy subject matter, implementation plans, and designing and scrutinising the assessment and revision of public policies (Vizzard, 1995:344).

Thorough analysis based on the identified problems in public-policy formulation enhances the realisation of well-formulated policies; thus, mitigating the risks of unintended consequences emerging. Plans made for dealing with organisational setbacks in policy management play a significant part in raising the policy-formulation capability.

The process of creating public policy involves decision-making processes; it centres on making amendments during the implementation of public policies (Milward, 1980:256). This implies that the formulation and implementation of public policies works mutually, but not as two separate entities.

Implementing Public Policies

Policy implementation follows the process of policy formulation. Mazmanian and Sabatier (1983:56) describe policy implementation to include exercising particular policy decisions in a manner directed by the prescriptions of an administrator, law, or court guidance. There are two main approaches to policy implementation: bottom–up, and top-down.

The top-down approach is bureaucratic. Sabatier (1986:32) notes that it starts through a “policy decision and focuses on the extent to which its objectives are attained over time and why”.

The establishment of the capacity of the implementation process to be consistent with causal theory, coupled with policy objectives, aims, and goals, is essential for a successful top-down process of policy implementation. The top-down approach to policy implementation is unidirectional (Sabatier, 1986:28). The process does not provide room for information flow through feedback channels.

The success of the top-down process of public-policy implementation is a function of the capacity of the legal frameworks and the enforcing agencies to force or compel groups of people targeted by the policy to abide by the policy guidelines. In the implementation of any policy, one determinant of success is how skilled the people charged with the implementation are (Matland, 1995:162).

Success in implementing a policy using the top-down approach is also dependent on socio-economic factors. The socio-economic factors have a role to play in policy implementation, as they constitute one of the measures used to assess the success of implementation.

The top-down approach requires political willingness as well as political support. May and Wintner (2009:467) maintain that the approach demands that the eventual success of the policy implemented should be measured by how well it is able to solve the problems that it was initially meant to offer solutions to.

The process divides the public-policy implementation process into two main segments. The first segment, the ‘top’, takes the role of the development of the policy. The ‘bottom’ constitutes the public-policy implementation agents. This segmentation ensures the flow of voice of command from the uppermost level to the lowest level in a single direction so that bureaucracy is enhanced during the implementation process.

A major challenge of using the top-down approach in the implementation of public policies is encountered when all issues affecting groups targeted by a given policy must be fully addressed in the implementation of that policy. As a result, researchers supporting the top-down approach, such as de Leon and de Leon (2002:468), and researchers opposed to it, such as Howlett, Ramesh and Perl (2009:14), fail to agree on an appropriate process for public-policy implementation.

Leon and de Leon (2002:472) state that bureaucrats constitute important agents for public policy implementation, although they are ignored by those who are charged with the role of implementing the top-down approach in public policy. The main argument here is that abiding by policy guidelines should not be a choice. Rather, it is mandatory.

As opposed to the top-down approach to policy-implementation process, the bottom-up approach integrates the groups of people targeted by a public policy into the implementation process. Sabatier (1986:32) notes that this step is initiated by “identifying the network of actors involved in service delivery in one or more local areas and asking] them about their goals, strategies, activities, and contacts”.

The acquired contacts are then utilised in the development of myriads of networks with an objective of increasing the number of local, national, and regional actors who would play the roles of financing, planning and executing the policy. In the bottom-up approach, ‘top’ as well as ‘bottom’ actors in the process of creating public policies collaborate and exchange information about policy formulation and implementation via a dynamic process.

The bottom-up approach maintains that the phases of policy implementation and formulation are inseparable (Matland, 1995:167). According to Pastine and Pastine (2010:85), the approach views politicians and administrators as playing critical roles in the successful process of policy formulation followed by its implementation. Policy-making experts and politicians form the top level of the policy-making process.

The people whose problems a public policy seeks to solve form the bottom level. The need for a public policy emerges from the bottom. The response to these needs, however, is a responsibility of those at the ‘top’. Sabatier (1986:41) criticises this direction of information flow in policy-making in the context of the bottom-up approach, claiming that it is unidirectional because policy-making initiates from the ‘bottom’ and moves towards the ‘top’.

The successful implementation of public policies requires the integration of the person affected by the policy in the planning, formulation, and implementation phases of the policy (Cope & Goodship, 1999:9).

Considering that the top-down public-policy implementation process is unidirectional and Sabatier (1986:46) argues that bottom-up approach is also unidirectional, hypothetically, perhaps the best approach to public-policy implementation is the one that encourages constant interaction between the ‘top’ and the ‘bottom’ actors in formulating and implementing public policy via forward and backward information-flow loops.

Such an approach can aid in capturing various intricacies that impede successful policy implementation (Whitford, 2007:21). Efforts to ensure the identification of pitfalls to successful policy implementation highlight the need to evaluate public policy at the formulation and the implementation phases (Barzelay & Jacobsen, 2009:319).

Evaluating Public Policies

The evaluation process encompasses an integral aspect of the process of making public policies. It aids in the identification and reflection on the unanticipated and anticipated outcomes of a policy. Evaluation is the process of measuring the efficacy, utility, advantages, disadvantages, and the necessity of a particular process or physical installation (Cope & Goodship, 1999:8).

The main objective of policy evaluation is to inform policy developers of the progress of policy implementation and to what extent the formulated policies under implementation are providing the anticipated outcomes (Cope & Goodship, 1999:11).

When public-policy evaluators discover that policies being formulated or implemented have deficiencies that would cause those policies to fail to achieve the desired outcomes, evaluation becomes the tool for alerting policy-makers about the need to consider alternative policies.

It also helps in the correction of erroneous aspects of a policy during the process of implementation (Rist, 1995:43). Where the policy-implementation process yields the anticipated outcomes, evaluation is also crucial because it forms the justification for the legitimacy of public policy.

The evaluation process constitutes an important part of the learning process around policy-making. Evaluation is applied in the policy-making process as a scientific activity and a positivist exercise (Rist, 1995:56). It serves the functions of determining the quality, effectiveness, policy effects, capacity to achieve desired goals, and the rationale for costs incurred in the formulation and implementation of public policies (Marsh & McConnell, 2010:580). In this context, evaluation does not form a discrete activity in the making of public policies. Rather, it is integrated into all processes of making public policy, including policy formulation and implementation.


In the description section, policy evaluation was treated as a discrete activity, separate from the formulation and implementation of public policies. In this section, it is presented as an integral part of the implementation and formulation phases of public policies.

Simultaneous Evaluation of Public Policies in the Implementation and Formulation phases

The formalisation of laws, rules and regulations precedes the process of implementing public policy. In a bid to ensure that policies work, bureaucratic forces then come into play (May & Wintner, 2009:473). Policies are developed to ensure that the delivery of public services is in line with public demands and expectations.

For the achievement of this outcome, whether bottom-up or top-down approaches to public-policy formulation and implementation are adopted, the evaluation of each of these phases is crucial. It is necessary for every step taken in the formulation and implementation of a policy to be evaluated in a bid to determine its relationship with the final desired outcome (Whitford, 2007:26).

The evaluation of the overall effects of all the stages in the formulation of a policy aids in the determination of the overall effects of the formulated policy before it is implemented. In this way, it becomes possible to avoid challenges related to the implementation of policies that have errors at the formulation stage. Policy evaluation should be carried out during the formulation and the implementation phases and after the completion of each of these phases.

Evaluation at the Policy-Formulation Phase

Executing the policy-evaluation process alongside the formulation phase curtails policy-formulation errors. Such errors replicate themselves in the policy-implementation phase. The political climate and the interests of stakeholders influence the formulation of public policies (Palumbo, 1987:68).

Evaluation at the formulation stage ensures that these concerns are addressed in the policy’s formulation process to ensure that the policy achieves the intended outcomes as determined by the stakeholders and the political-philosophical system of leadership in force. Evaluation at the formulation stage captures the attention of policy activists and groups supporting the government.

These actors determine the kinds of public policies necessary for implementation (May & Wintner, 2009:473). In the absence of evaluation at the formulation phase of any policy, regimes and administrations in power have a chance to advance their interest, which may not be in favour with the public. In later regimes, such policies become irrelevant, which amounts to a waste of scare public resources.

Agents of policy formulation mainly include researchers interested in change and who are keen on the elements of a policy at its formulation phase (Palumbo, 1987:78). The researchers are also interested in the policy implementation, which means that they cannot be prevented from conducting in-depth scrutiny (evaluation) of the policy’s capacity to achieve its intended change. According to Pollitt (1999:82), policy makers should consider the political influences in the process of policy formulation.

An independent body should be contracted to determine the nature and amount of this influence. Successful evaluation of public policy should be measured by the success of its implementation. It ensures that the implementation phase cannot trace its problems back to the formulation phase.

Whitford (2007:29) states that the only challenge that can arise is in the event of policy-implementation agents failing to implement the formulated and evaluated policy in a manner that meets the expectations of its recipients. In the formulation phase, evaluation brings together measuring the capacity of the formulated policies to meet the desired policy objectives, aims, and goals.

Evaluation at the Policy-Implementation Phase

Implementing public policy through bureaucracy places more focus on the conformance of the groups of people targeted by the policy, and less focus on their reactions to that policy. This aspect creates a need for evaluation of policies at the start of the implementation phase through a bureaucratic system of administration throughout its development.

Evaluating the implementing agency ensures the determination of its capacity to enforce the policy through established rules, regulations and laws to avoid deviance. The evaluation of policies before the onset of the implementation process is important as it ensures that the enforcing agents are compliant with the legal provisions of these policies, with legal consequences being advanced to those failing to adopt the policies.

Bureaucracy is important in the implementation of public policies. It has the capability to understand and alter mythologies, aims, and areas of importance in the policy-implementation process to ensure compliance (Page, 1992:40). It has the ability to redefine appropriate policy goals to some extent.

Such a policy-remoulding process in order to reduce the reluctance of target groups to comply with the policy constitutes the public-policy evaluation process in the implementation stage. The ability of bureaucratic systems of policy implementation to redefine some aspects of public policy explains the importance of public-policy evaluation at the implementation stage.

Evaluation helps in monitoring the actions of the implementation agents. This is important in an effort to mitigate risks associated with the implementation agents’ capacity to redefine policies in ways that impair the implementation approach and methodologies prescribed during the formulation stage (Page, 1992:54). For this purpose, policy-implementation administrative agents such as courts and Parliament (de Leon & de Leon, 2002:473) become important evaluators of the policy-implementation process.

They also assist in the determination of necessary actions during the implementation process (May & Wintner, 2009:474). Administrative agents responsible for policy implementation establish interim and final rules necessary for guiding the implementation process. Evaluation is essential to ensure strict compliance with the rules. It needs to be conducted at all stages of implementation to guarantee congruency of the policy and its anticipated goals, aims, and objectives enumerated during the evaluated formulation stages.

Purpose of Integrating Policy Formulation, Implementation, and Evaluation

Development of public policies takes place through interrelated stages. The appropriateness of each stage within a phase determines the appropriateness of the next phase in the process to foster the creation of a policy that responds effectively to a public problem.

Evaluation is the tool for measuring the extent of the appropriateness of each stage with respect to the anticipated outcomes of the fully formulated public policy. This aspect means that the formulation or implementation of successful public policies is less likely when evaluation is treated discretely.

Problems encountered at the policy-formulation phase result in policies failing to achieve their intended outcomes at the implementation stage. These challenges encompass certain implementation constraints, which prove problematic to the agents for policy implementation.

These include inadequate time, financial resources, insufficient understanding of policy goals, and a resistance to comply with directions and commands issued by implementation agents (Hogwood & Gunn, 1984:82). Integration of evaluation in all steps and sub-steps in the formulation and implementation phase helps to capture all of these challenges.


Policy formulation and implementation are two important phases of making public policies. The outcome of the implementation phase depends on the proper formulation of policies, which suggests that the two phases are related and their needs are interlinked. This essay proposed evaluation as the important interlinking phase requiring incorporation in the formulation and implementation phases of making public policies.

Evaluating the steps within the formulation and implementation phases helps to avoid the replication of errors and problems impeding realisation of the intended outcomes upon full implementation of a public policy. This essay holds that evaluation during the formulation phase coupled with its successive sub-phases helps pave the way to a successful policy-implementation process.

In this context, the essay considers evaluation as an important phase in the process of making public policies, which merges the formulation and implementation phases to avoid the replication or even occurrence of challenges impeding realisation of the intended outcome of a public policy. The top–down and bottom-up approaches were discussed as the main theoretical frameworks of making and implementing public policies.

The two theoretical approaches have the inherent problem of treating evaluation as a discrete entity. In proposing an alternative approach to making public policies, this essay discussed and assessed the relevance of incorporating evaluation as an integral part of the policy-implementation and formulation phases. The essay finds that the separation of formulation, implementation, and evaluation of public policies into discrete phases is inappropriate.

Reference List

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Cope, S & Goodship, J 1999, ‘Regulating Collaborative Government: Towards Joined-Up Government’, Public Policy and Administration, vol.14 no.2, pp. 3-16.

DelLeon, P & DelLeon, L 2002, ‘What Ever Happened to Policy Implementation? An Alternative Approach’, Journal of Public Administration and Research Theory, vol.12 no.4, pp. 467-492.

Fyfe, G, Miller, J & McTavish, 2009 ‘Muddling Through in a Devolved Policy: Implementation of Equal Opportunities Policy in Scotland’, Policy Studies, vol.30 no.2, pp. 203-219.

Hogwood, W & Gunn, L 1984, Policy Analysis of the Real World, Longman, New York.

Howlett, M, Ramesg, M & Perl, A 2009, Studying Public Policy, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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Sabatier, P 1986, ‘Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches to Implementation Research: a Critical Analysis and Suggested Synthesis’, Journal of Public Policy, vol.6 no.1, pp. 21-48.

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