How Public Policies are Made?

In this series, we have learned about the definitions and attributes of public policies; as well as its different types. Now, let’s grasp the makings of a public policy. In this article, I’ll discuss the policymaking process that shapes the laws we encounter everyday.

The Policymaking Process

Howlett and Ramesh presents one of the most common policymaking processes consisting of several phases, namely: (1) Agenda Setting, (2) Policy Formulation, (3) Policy Adoption, (4) Policy Implementation, and (5) Policy Evaluation.

Agenda Setting

The first phase of policymaking is agenda setting. In this phase, policymakers identify the issues or problems and choose which ones will be resolved accordingly. These social issues go into various agenda levels before being considered for formulation. The levels of agenda are as follows:

  1. Systemic Agenda – These are all the issues and problems perceived by the political community as worthy of attention in accordance to the realm of authority that they can address.
  2. Institutional Agenda – These are issues from systemic agenda that are in serious consideration by policymakers to act upon. Not a lot of issues from the systemic agenda will get to this list.
  3. Decision Agenda – This is the list of agenda wherein the government body will act upon. Finally, this is the (very short) shortlist of issues and problems that the policymakers perceived to be important and requires solutions. These are the issues that will be discussed in the next phase.

Policy Formulation

The next phase, policy formulation, involves the development of solutions that would address the decision agenda. In this stage, policymakers, concerned groups, field experts, among others, engage in discussions to come up with the resolution to solve the issue at hand. These shape the policy that will soon be adopted by policymakers.

It is common to see various policy proposals – often contradicting among each other – being presented before the policymakers. After all, we have different ways to solve a problem. As such, there are two factors that determines which proposals will get to the next phase and be adopted by the policymakers:

  1. Effectiveness – This means that the formulated policy is valid, efficient, and implementable in line with the issue at hand. Effectiveness is attainable by ensuring that the proposed policy is supported by appropriate data and facts. This factor is pertained as the analytical part of policy formulation, and the role of field and technical experts are crucial in satisfying this factor.
  2. Politically Feasible – This means that the formulated policy is likely to be pursued by the policymakers, usually through a majority building in a bargaining process. Policymakers ultimately decide the course of action to be taken among the alternatives presented. The one they deemed best is highly likely to be adopted and implemented. This factor renders the policy formulation, and policymaking process in general, as political.

Policy Adoption

Policy adoption phase occurs after the policymakers determined the policy proposal to be pursued. This phase saw the policy proposal passing legislation and being prepared for future implementations. Basically, this phase is when the policymakers ultimately decided which policy proposal will be used to resolve the issue at hand.

To note, policy adoption has various forms depending on the scenario. The most common form we encounter is the legislation of a bill to become a Republic Act (or a law). Policy adoption also occurs upon the finalization of a regulation by a government regulatory agency. Moreover, decisions handed down by the judiciary branch of the government are also another form of policy adoption.

In addition, adopted policies may have varying areas of coverage during the implementation phase. Leaders at the national level can adopt policies that may be implemented nationwide or in a specific area. On the other hand, policies adopted by heads of the local government are only implementable and applicable within their respective domains.

Policy Implementation

After a proposal passed legislation and has become a law, the next step of the process involves its implementation. Policy implementation is the phase wherein the adopted policy is put into effect or action. It is the part wherein the concepts and guidelines provisioned in the law becomes reality. As such, there are several aspects that needs to be satisfied to for a successful policy implementation:

  1. Adopted policies need to be communicated to the governing agencies that have the capacity to implement its provisions. In the absence of such, new agencies should be established to fulfill the policy’s intended goals.
  2. The policies should be clear, understandable, and easily interpreted. A vaguely written policy might require interventions from the Judiciary branch for interpretation. This will cost precious time and might even run the risk of the implementation getting overruled.
  3. Resources allocated to implement the new policy should be integrated within the existing structures and processes without causing major disruption or conflict. This is critical to ensure that the newly installed policy will not interrupt the operations of other policies among the institutions and agencies.

Policy Evaluation

Policy evaluation is the last phase of the policy making process and it is put in place to ensure that the implemented policy is performing properly to meet the intended objectives and goals. There are various ways in which a policy may be evaluated:

  1. Informal – This evaluation includes listening to casual anecdotes and stories from the ground. It can provide qualitative and specific information from the concerned individual or groups that expresses their experiences on the implemented policy
  2. Formal – This is a more systematic way of collecting information, usually through an honest feedback mechanism – that aims to gauge the overall effectiveness of a policy across a more general population
  3. Scientific – Through a scientific approach, the evaluation can produce comparative and statistical data that may provide causal results. In this method, it is possible to see whether the implemented policy caused the resolution of the problem that it was meant to resolve.

Policies are often evaluated during and after the implementation. Evaluations during the implementation are focused on ensuring the proper delivery, while post-implementation evaluates the policy’s effectiveness. After evaluations, the fates of the policies are decided in several ways:

  1. Amend or Reform – Policies that failed to achieve may be amended or reformed to reach its intended goal.
  2. Continued – Policies that are on track in achieving its goal may continue until it reaches its intended goal.
  3. Terminated – Policies that have reached their intended goal may be terminated.

Other Notes on the Policymaking Process

Political Process

Policymaking is a political process. From agenda setting to policy evaluation, interactions among government and non-government actors and institutions are at play. These engagements shape the form of the public policy. In addition, these interactions steer the direction a public policy may take.

It is important to take note that this process will always be political. The fact that resource allocation plays a factor throughout the policymaking process means that affected stakeholders will do their best to make sure that they will maximize the benefit or mitigate the losses. This is inevitable because resources are always scarce.

Indefinite Timeline

The time it takes to create and implement public policies is indefinite. There is no fixed timeline in which it is expected to complete one phase. There are abundant reasons and factors that contribute to this, such as the lack of feasibility, ineffective designs, and unaligned to the main agenda of the current administration.

With this in mind, supporters of the policies play an important role in ensuring that their causes are always near the top (if not the top) of the policymaker’s agenda. Their interactions and engagements with the policymakers can determine whether the policy will be enacted in two days or two administrations time.


Howlett and Ramesh presented a policymaking process that consists of five steps. First, the policymakers identify which problems they intend to solve in the agenda setting phase. Upon identification of problems, policy proposals will be formulated in which the most effective and politically feasible proposal will be chosen for adoption. Once the chosen policy is legislated, it will then be prepared for implementation and will be rolled-out accordingly. Finally, the implemented policy will be evaluated in which its fate will be decided based on its performance.

The policymaking process is political, and its creation doesn’t have a definite timeline. From agenda setting to policy evaluation, government and non-government actors and institutions are interacting to steer the direction of the policy. The progress towards its enactment may also be affected by these interactions. Arguments and ideas are posited one after the other, until a resolution arises. In the end, these interactions will shape the final form of the proposed public policy to be enacted – or if it will even be enacted at all.

Now that we have an idea on how public policies are made, what do you think is the most important step in the policymaking process?

What do you think are the key factors in making progress on enacting public policies? In addition, what are your ideas on the reasons why some public policies are successfully enacted and implemented, while others don’t even come to fruition?

Comment your thoughts below and let’s have a healthy discussion.

Lasty, please stay tuned as we discuss the various policymaking approaches that are commonly executed by policymakers.

3 thoughts on “How Public Policies are Made?”

  1. Pingback: Types of Public Policy – Politics & Policies

  2. Pingback: What is Public Policy? – Politics & Policies

  3. Pingback: How Public Policies are Funded? – Politics & Policies

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.