-Vanshika Saraf

  • Introduction to Public PolicyCycle

Public policy is a course or method of action chosen by a Government institutionto achieve a certain goal. Public Policy Cycle refers to the steps involved in the determination of a definite course or method of action adopted by the policymakers to achieve that goal. It is the entire path that leads to building policy. While formulating a policy, there are a few steps or stages that are followed chronologically. This chronology is what is referred to as a policy-making cycle.

Harold Lasswell (1951) characterized ‘Policy-making’ as a sequence of intelligence, recommendation, prescription, invocation, application, appraisal and termination.[1] Others suggested different labels but essentially stayed with the scheme of policy-making being a sequence of actions.[2]

Public policycycle basically, disaggregates complex phenomenon into manageable steps. A policycycle is normative, suggesting particular sequence practitioners can use to comprehend and implement the policy task.[3]The Policycycle is the most optimal model through which policies are made, put into action and evaluated. It is a dynamic and continuous process.

  • 6 Stages of Public Policy Cycle
  • Agenda setting
  • Policy formulation
  • Adoption
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation
  • Policy maintenance or termination
  • Agenda Setting

An agenda is set based on aproblem prevalent in society. This step involves the identification of issues. For formulating a policy, there should be an existence of a problem or issue faced by a group of people or by the public at large,on which the government will provide solutions. The problem should be such that it is harming the public interest and therefore is severe enough to attract the attention of the government. A public problem inculcates a sense of dissatisfaction among the people, for which, relief or redress  has to be provided by the government. Few important criteria that the policymakers keep in mind while setting an agenda are:

  • If the problem affects a larger segment of society?
  • Do the affected people consider the condition as a problem?
  • Does the problem indirectly or remotely have an impact on others?
  • Will Government intervention be effective?

For example, the agenda of the New Education Policy 2020 is that it seeks to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.[4]

  • Policy Formation

Policy Formation is the stage that gives shape to the policy. Goals are determined, costs are fixed, policy instruments are selected, possible effects are assessed, and stakeholders are established.

All the probable questions of what, where, when and how are addressed. Multiple solutions are put on the table to meet objectives within established limitations.  

It is important to make sure that the course of action that is being put forward is valid, implementable and effective plus it should be acceptable and authorized by legitimate decision-makers. Moreover, the budgetary costs that are being used in the formulation should be reasonable.

  • Adoption

Adoption is the stage of decision making where the most suitable solution is chosen from amongst the alternatives. The policy, before being adopted needs an approval from various levels of the government, sources like legislative and executive together with interest groups or from referendums. It requires close scanning and in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of each alternative to select the most suitable option to deal with the identified problem or challenge.

  • Policy implementation

Policy implementation refers to the real enactment of the proposed solutions. This step is very critical to the success of any policy. Developing a clear plan of action and chain of command with proper coordination and control becomes very important. Implementing a policy successfully requires for clear communication between the agents, ministries and all those who are putting the policy into effect and compliance.

Seldom has it been encountered, that the execution of policy is often accomplished by institutions other than those who formulated it.For example, if a policy is made on improving water quality standards, even though it is mandated by the government, it is the Environmental Protection Agency, that will provide the procedures, guidelines and regulations.

  • Policy evaluation

Policy evaluation stage checks the real-time effects of the implementation of a policy. In this stage, the policy is out in the working and we get to know about the shortcomings of a policy.

It is this stage that determines if the cycle will repeat or not. In the sense, if problems are arising out of a policy then, the entire process of identifying those newly emerged issues will start and this will lead to completing the entire policy-makingcycle again. There may be multiple ways to measure the impact which can lead to different evaluations on the effectiveness, depending on the standards of measurement used. Therefore, whether a policy is successful or not, is a material fact which we can understand only after running an evaluation. When we evaluate, we get to know the society’s reaction to the policy. There is a clear picture of where did the government lack while its formulation. These things should be known so that while formulating the policies in future, these mistakes are not repeated. Currently, NITI Aayog monitors and evaluates the implementation of government programs and initiative.

  • Policy maintenance or termination

History is proof, that policies once implemented, are difficult to terminate. It gets terminated when the policy becomes obsolete, lost support from interest groups or elected officials who formed the agenda in the first place. However, if the policy goes against the public interest at large or the constitution it has to get terminated.

Therefore, maintaining the essence of the policy is required otherwise the entire framework may fall.

  • Analysis of Public PolicyCycle – Defects in the cycle

There are various pros and cons of this policy-makingcycle. Taking a brief overview of some eminent problems:

  1. Extreme Fragmentation
  2. Overloaded Objectives
  3. Lack of effective expertise and discussion
  4. Extreme Fragmentation

One of the main problems with policy-making in India is extreme fragmentation in the structure. For example, the transport sector is dealt with by five departments/Ministries in the government of India whereas in the US and UK it is a part of one department (Department of Transport and Public Works in the US and Department of Environment, Transport and Regions in the UK).

Such fragmentation fails to recognize that actions taken in one sector have serious implications on another and may work at cross purposes with the policies of the other sector.[5] Besides, it becomes tough for the other closely associated institutions to align their policies as per the common overall agenda.

  • Overloaded Objectives

Modern policies are too complex and it has a lot of objectives to meet, therefore following a stepwise process is not always viable.

This process is too simple for making something so complex. At times, this process may not be considered efficient. Moreover, most of the times, policies are not formed solely by bureaucrats but is influenced by public pressure. In these times following a staged process may not deem feasible.

  • Lack of effective expertise and discussion

This problem deals with the tendency to focus on operational convenience rather than public needs. There is also a lack of non-governmental issues and informed debates. Often public policy is made without adequate input from outside government and adequate debate on the issues involved. The best expertise in many sectors lies outside the Government. Yet the policy processes and structures of Government have no systematic means for obtaining their inputs, for involving interaction with those affected by policies or for debating alternatives and their impacts on different groups.

Most developed countries have a system of widespread public debate before a policy is approved. For example, in the US, the legislature subjects a new policy initiative to extensive debate not only in Committees but also in the Senate and House. Such debates not only enable an assessment of different viewpoints but also help build up a constituency in support of the policy through sound arguments.[6]

  • Public PolicyCycle and India

In India’s case, while many policies of social inclusion have been put into place, the implementation has been a suspect. Execution of the policy is often hindered by confusion in the government as bureaucratic ineffectiveness, ineptitude and corruption may confound the policy implementation process.

For example, if we consider the New Education Policy of 2020[7], we see that there was an education policy adopted in 1986, it was reaffirmed in 1992 and after all these years, the government again came up with some new changes in it. This happened because after the government evaluated the education policy it adopted back in 1986, it found out certain loopholes and changes that were required to keep in pace with today’s development of the society.

Therefore, to develop a better society the government has to keep a track of its policies and run an evaluation so that it comes to know about the shortcomings of its policies. Changes and corrections are essential to avoid stagnation and this can be achieved only by regular and sincere evaluation taken up by the government institutions.

  • Conclusion

Policycycle is not only a model of policy-making but is also a method of analysis of the policy process. This model does help us in looking at policy in an orderly or organized manner but as expressed before, this can be overly simplistic for a complex and dynamic world.

The process of policy-making is called a “cycle” because, if post-evaluation, it is discovered that there are newly emerged problems in the society as a repercussion of the implemented policy, they will again get identified and treated by the government. These problems will then become the agenda and consequently, all the steps will have to be repeated. Modern society is dynamic. A society can be developed only when it keeps changing and keeps adapting to the new requirements and needs of its citizens. The government will become aware of the changes in a society only when the public comes to the forefront and demands for it.


[1]Eve Seguin, Nick Turnbull and Gary Lachapelle, “Foundational Works in Public Policy Studies: Harold D. Lasswell” T08P05International Public Policy Association (2019).

[2]Bridgman, Peter, and Glyn Davis, “What use is a policy cycle? Plenty, if the aim is clear.” 62.3 Australian Journal of Public Administration 99 (2003).

[3]Ibid 2.

[4]Government of India , “New Education Policy 2020” 3, Ministry of Human Resource Development, (2020).

[5]O.PAgarwal and T.VSomanathan, “Public Policy Making In India: Issues and Remedies” 12 (February 2005).

[6]Ibid 5.

[7]Ibid 4.


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