Centre for Management and Policy Studies
Better policy making [2001]



The Modernising Government White Paper identifies where the policy-making process needs to change if policy-makers are to be confident of delivering policies fit for the challenge of the twenty-first century. Those changes involve:

• designing policies around outcomes

• making sure policies are inclusive, fair and evidence-based

• avoiding unnecessary burdens on businesses

• involving others in policy-making

• becoming more forward and outward-looking

• learning from experience.

This framework formed the basis for the thinking behind Professional Policy Making for the Twenty-First Century (Cabinet Office, 1999). This report developed a model of the modernised policy process and used it to carry out an ‘audit’ of good practice, identifying where the strengths of present practice lay and where further change seemed necessary. This work concluded that one way forward was to produce a descriptive model of policy-making, consisting of:

• a series of high level ‘features’ which, if adhered to, should produce fully effective policies

• three ‘themes’ – vision, effectiveness and continuous improvement – that fully effective policy-making will need to encompass

• nine core competencies that relate to each theme and together encapsulate all the key elements of the policy-making process

• definitions of the core competencies, together with descriptions of the evidence needed to demonstrate each competency.

Perhaps the most valuable piece of learning to come from Professional Policy Making for the Twenty-First Century is the taxonomy of the features of modern policy-making (Fig.1). The competencies highlighted here formed the basis of our approach to policy makers across Government.



The policy-making process clearly defines outcomes that the policy is designed to achieve and, where appropriate, takes a long-term view based on statistical trends and informed predictions of social, political, economic and cultural trends, for at least five years into the future of the likely effect and impact of the policy. The following points demonstrate a forward looking approach:

• A statement of intended outcomes is prepared at an early stage

• Contingency or scenario planning

• Taking into account the Government's long term strategy

• Use of DTI's Foresight programme and/or other forecasting work


The policy-making process takes account of influencing factors in the national, European and international situation; draws on experience in other countries; considers how policy will be communicated with the public. The following points demonstrate an outward looking approach:

• Makes use of OECD, EU mechanisms etc

• Looks at how other countries dealt with the issue

• Recognises regional variation within England

• Communications/presentation strategy prepared and implemented


The policy-making process is flexible and innovative, questioning established ways of dealing with things, encouraging new and creative ideas; and where appropriate, making established ways work better. Wherever possible, the process is open to comments and suggestions of others. Risks are identified and actively managed. The following points demonstrate an innovative, flexible and creative approach:

• Uses alternatives to the usual ways of working (brainstorming sessions etc)

• Defines success in terms of outcomes already identified

• Consciously assesses and manages risk

• Takes steps to create management structures which promote new ideas and effective team working

• Brings in people from outside into policy team


The advice and decisions of policy makers are based upon the best available evidence from a wide range of sources; all key stakeholders are involved at an early stage and throughout the policy's development. All relevant evidence, including that from specialists, is available in an accessible and meaningful form to policy makers.Key points of an evidence based approach to policy-making include:

• Reviews existing research

• Commissions new research

• Consults relevant experts and/or used internal and external consultants

• Considers a range of properly costed and appraised options


The policy-making process takes account of the impact on and/or meets the needs of all people directly or indirectly affected by the policy; and involves key stakeholders directly. An inclusive approach may include the following aspects:

• Consults those responsible for service delivery/implementation

• Consults those at the receiving end or otherwise affected by the policy

• Carries out an impact assessment

• Seeks feedback on policy from recipients and front line deliverers


The process takes a holistic view; looking beyond institutional boundaries to the government's strategic objectives and seeks to establish the ethical, moral and legal base for policy. There is consideration of the appropriate management and organisational structures needed to deliver cross-cutting objectives. The following points demonstrate a joined-up approach to policy-making:

• Cross cutting objectives clearly defined at the outset

• Joint working arrangements with other departments clearly defined and well understood

• Barriers to effective joined up clearly identified with a strategy to overcome them

• Implementation considered part of the policy making process


Existing/established policy is constantly reviewed to ensure it is really dealing with problems it was designed to solve, taking account of associated effects elsewhere. Aspects of a reviewing approach to policy-making include:

• Ongoing review programme in place with a range of meaningful performance measures

• Mechanisms to allow service deliverers/customers to provide feedback direct to policy makers set up

• Redundant or failing policies scrapped

The need for change is multifaceted. The world for which policy-makers have to develop policies is becoming increasingly complex, uncertain and unpredictable. The electorate is better informed, has rising expectations and is making increasing demands for services tailored to their individual needs. Key policy issues, such as social exclusion and reducing crime, overlap and have proved resistant to previous attempts to tackle them, yet the world is increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent. Issues switch quickly from the domestic to the international arena and an increasingly wide diversity of interests needs to be co-ordinated and harnessed. Governments across the world need to be able to respond quickly to events to provide the support that people need to adapt to change and that businesses need to prosper. Technological advancement offers new tools and has the potential to fundamentally alter the way in which policy is made.


Systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of policy is built into the policy making process. Approaches to policy making that demonstrate a commitment to evaluation include:

• Clearly defined purpose for the evaluation set at outset

• Success criteria defined

• Means of evaluation built into the policy making process from the outset

• Use of pilots to influence final outcomes

In parallel with these external pressures, the Government is asking policymakers to focus on solutions that work across existing organisational boundaries and on bringing about change in the real world. Policy-makers are urged to adapt to this new, fast-moving, challenging environment if public policy is to remain credible and effective.


Learns from experience of what works and what does not. A learning approach to policy development includes the following aspects:

• Information on lessons learned and good practice disseminated

• Account available of what was done by policy-makers as a result of lessons learned

• Clear distinction drawn between failure of the policy to impact on the problem it was intended to resolve and managerial/operational failures of implementation.



Put simply, the aim of better policy-making is better policy. Modern public policy needs to be soundly based, enduring and coherent. Whilst the rationale behind the modernisation agenda is still publicly debated both here and abroad – is it cost efficiency, Europeanisation, agentification, response to globalisation etc? - the need for better public services, and thus better public policy-making remains unchallenged.

In addition to the rather obvious claim for better policy-making resulting in better public services, the Modernising Government White Paper also suggests that modern approaches can foster broader involvement of the public in the decision-making process, encourage greater citizenship and better exploit creativity and diversity in organisations and communities.

Better policy-making has the potential to secure public confidence through greater transparency. The introduction of the Freedom of Information Act, and recent public concern about the handling of BSE, for example, have underlined the need to maintain public confidence in the policy-making process.

Other benefits attributed to better policy-making include the importance of maintaining the unity of the civil service in a devolved environment. Ensuring that the civil service is able to continue effectively to discharge its role as prime policy advisers has also been identified as a concern for the modernisation agenda.