Approaches to Policymaking

The previous article, we were introduced to the policymaking process as posited by Howlett and Ramesh. That process is one of the most well-known and simplest illustrations of how public policies are made. Now, let’s delve into the ways in which policymaking is done. Take note that not every policymaking process is alike. 

In this regard, approaches towards policymaking can be categorized in various ways. One of which is based on the involvement and collaboration among institutions and agencies in the process. Another way is based on its creation with respect to time element and urgency.

Vertical and Horizontal Policymaking

One thing we’ll learn on public policies is that it can be created regardless of how many policymakers and agencies are involved. There are times when public policies are crafted by a few individuals and the ones below them will just have to follow anything the topmost authority has legislated.

Then, there are instances wherein various agencies and institutions are brought in to pitch in ideas in creating the public policies. Therefore, giving voice to more groups and a sense of ownership among those who contributed in building these public policies. The following are detailed description of these types of policymaking approaches:

1. Vertical Policymaking – This process resembles a “top-down” approach wherein the decisions are done by the topmost authority of the government and the lower levels are expected to comply. Though lower level institutions and agencies may pitch in ideas and research to influence the policy, it is still the top level who have the power to design and decide on the policy.

2. Horizontal Policymaking – This process involves the collaboration of departments, institutions, and agencies in the same rank within the government structure to achieve a common goal. Basically, all of these institutions have a say on conceptualizing and deciding on the legislation and implementation of the policy.

These two types of policymaking process have its pros and cons. Vertical policymaking can create policies in a relatively faster time due to the lack of lengthy deliberations. However, lesser dialogues may limit the potential of the policy and thus risk it to be ineffective.

In contrast, horizontal policymaking encourages dialogues among various institutions and agencies. This allows for the creation of a tailor-fitted policy that may address the majority of the issues that it encounters. Unfortunately, this is vulnerable to delays which may do more harm than good in addressing the issue at hand.

Reactive and Proactive Policymaking

There are two ways public policies are made based on its response to a problem with respect to the time-element and urgency. This type of policymaking process emphasizes the ‘why’ and ‘when’ the public policy came about.

1. Reactive Policymaking – This type of policymaking involves the creation of public policies as an immediate response towards an urgent problem or issue, producing “reactive policies.” Usually, this type of policy making occurs to address natural disasters, economic downfalls, rebel insurgencies, and wars among others. Most of the time, these policies were not initially in the government’s agenda, but must be addressed as the problem may cause severe damage to their domains.

Example: The legislation of Republic Act Nos. 11469 and 11494 in 2020, also known as Bayanihan One and Two respectively, is an example of reactive policymaking. These two Acts came to be as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that affected and claimed countless lives in the Philippines. Moreover, this was never in the platform and agenda of the government. Nonetheless, it has to be pursued to ensure the safety of the citizens. As such, its creation can be considered as reactive and similar Acts can be called as “reactive policies”

2. Proactive Policymaking – In contrast, it is a deliberate creation of public policies that is aimed to reach a defined agenda, which produces “proactive policies.” This type of policy making is done to translate the government’s vision into reality. For instance, a government that seeks to enhance the education or healthcare system would deliberately create policies that will perform as such. Commonly, policies made proactively are those with an agenda identified by the policymakers in their platforms during the election season and first address to the nation.

Example: The creation of Republic Act No. 10963, or the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, is a good example of such a type. This policy introduced changes on several taxes such as personal income, estate, donor, value added, documentary stamp and excise taxes on tobacco, petroleum, mineral, cosmetics, automobiles, and sweetened beverages. This particular policy is a step towards the realization of one of President Duterte’s Ten-Point Socioeconomic Agenda which includes “Institute progressive tax reform and more effective tax collection, indexing taxes to inflation. A tax reform package will be submitted to Congress by September 2016.” As such, this Act was proactively pursued and can be considered as a “proactive policy.”


A process of policymaking may have similar stages and phases, but the manner in which it was executed may be unique with every case. In this article, we learned that public policies may be created by a few individuals or have various groups pitch in their ideas for the solution. We learned here that concentrating the crafting and decision making to a few select topmost authorities has an advantage in terms of speed – great for problems demanding quick response. Nonetheless, it is important to note that this approach does not encourage deliberations and thus may become prone in producing less effective solutions. 

On the other hand, the policymaking approach that encourages the participation of various agencies, institutions, groups, and individuals is expected to produce much tailor-fitted solutions towards the problem. However, this approach may lead to countless amounts of deliberation which can slow down the progress of policy. 

Aside from these types, we also learned that policymaking can be categorized based on their response to the problem with respect to the time element and urgency. We discovered that policymakers are capable of a reactive approach when dealing with emergencies such as natural disaster and rebel insurgencies, among others. Such an approach produces what we call as ‘reactive policies’ that were intended to address the problem at hand.

Furthermore, we found out that agenda and platforms identified by policymakers are called ‘proactive policies’ and are being pursued proactively. In this scenario, the policymakers are translating their vision into reality. These specific public policies are significant in a sense that these are usually the policies that steer the direction in which the country may go.

With these in mind, let me close this article with a question to ponder upon.

How do you think we can make the policymaking process more inclusive while avoiding the slowing down effect that inclusivity may bring?

Share your thoughts in the comment below and, as always, stay tuned for new articles.

3 thoughts on “Approaches to Policymaking”

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