Process Step

Policy Design


Policy Design is the first phase to be undertaken when creating a new policy (basically a change approach or new solution by Government).  This could be identifying a brand new problem to be solved or fixing an existing policy or service.  Traditionally needs were raised through public letters, petitions or political recommendations.  However, today many public administrations practice Open Policy Making which brings together different  stakeholders to share knowledge and experiences to build a coherent picture of problems and needs that can be resolved by policy.  Using a co-design approach a wide variety of viewpoints can be captured and discussed, ensuring everyone involved understands and respects each others views, determining together the focus of the policy intervention.  By placing the end-users firmly in the center of policy development the end result will more likely, efficiently and effectively, meet their needs.

There are a plethora of existing tools and techniques available to support the Open Policy Making process, this Toolbox however focuses on a new approach – leveraging open data for accelerating the collection of policy evidence and accelerating the time to policy implementation.  This is achieved through the use of advanced policy visualisations.  We kick off the process with four key steps in the policy design cycle which are 1) problem setting,  2) policy formulation, 3) scenario analysis, and 4) decision. 

Step 1: Problem setting: 

The first step of policy design consists in formulating the issue to be faced, to legitimise it as a common problem recognised by a community.  Usually an issue is raised by the public in response to a need or a gap in service delivery. A good starting point is then the exploration of existing policies to see how they have been dealing with the problem/issue to date.  In addition the identification of the stakeholders and actors affected by the issue  help’s understand the scope of the issue and who to engage for collaborative problem solving.  Key actions include:

  1. Analysing existing policies and their impacts to investigate their effectiveness in dealing with the problem;
  2. Mapping key stakeholders and if possible their opinion;
  3. Finding correlation with possible cause of the problem;
  4. Building the quantitative dimensions of the problem – 1) problem description, 2) overarching policy goals, 3) specific policy objectives

The use of data visuals can help find and conceptualise a problem, and provide evidence of its existence.  With regards to mobility policy for example, traffic model maps layered with other data sources such as weather, accidents, air quality, accidents etc. can help show a correlation between traffic flow and other factors, which provides evidence of a policy intervention need.  To achieve an even deeper understanding of cause and effect, small experiments can be performed using visuals by changing specific factors through data manipulation to see how impact increases or decreases.  Using visuals, decision makers can more easily communicate and discuss the issue with stakeholders through a common view of the situation and collect their feedback to verify the validity of the hypotheses made.  This process can be easily embedded in traditional consultative problems, sharing the visuals for public debate via remote consultation or within a meeting format.

Step 2: Problem Formulation:  

Once the problem is understood, the hypotheses confirmed, and the goals and objectives identified and shared with the larger community, it is time for policy formulation. Policy formulation aims to define and mobilise a set of solution options in relation to the issue and determine which option is best able to address the problem considering available resources and existing constraints.  The construction of scenarios (written and visual) can help support the understanding and formulation of alternative strategies and actions.  The main activities include:

  1. Defining relevant strategies – strictly related to the political decision
  2. Defining possible actions – operational translation of the strategies
  3. Calculating impacts – potential systemic results of implementing the options strategy

Visualisations help here by showcasing and explaining the impacts of different scenarios. These can be calculated in many different forms using simulation models to forecast new behaviours on the basis of past trends; the resulting impacts represent the changes promised by a policy and together with strategies and actions give shape to the optional Policy Scenario. Scenarios help decision makers and stakeholders make a choice between different alternative options by enabling them to explore and formulate different ways forward.  Visually presenting complex information about a range of futures digitally, makes them easier to understand and accelerates the ability for people to work together via a common interface to assess the approaches and work towards a chosen one.

Step 3: Scenario Analysis: 

Once scenarios are produced to represent different policy options for dealing with the identified problem, it is possible to choose the best one among the options they represent in terms of strategies and actions. Analysing scenarios includes also the (re)tuning of existing policy actions which is also carried out through small experiments (pilot tests) and public debate.  Usually on-the-ground experiments seek to trial the different options on a small scale to understand potential impacts, which can be a timely and expensive process.  In many cases it may be possible to simulate visualisations for the different policy options to explore the impacts digitally.  For example, predicting how traffic flow and density will change based upon changing road access, or how public transport could cope with demand surges.  The main activities related to scenario analysis are:

  1. Defining best strategies;
  2. Defining best actions;
  3. Estimating impacts.

In the policy design cycle, the key output of the scenario analysis step is the policy draft, ready for a comprehensive public debate. It also includes the scenario and often it considers the main costs of the actions implementation. The policy draft also contains evidence acquired by experiments carried out for the tuning of the actions and proving both: 1) that the experiments produced impacts coherent with objectives and actions expectations; and 2) that the policy is effective in dealing with the identified problem.  A public debate can prepare the field for the final formal decision by the public authority. 

Step 4: Decision:  

In order for a decision to be made, a clear description of the problem, of the policy and its scenario, and of the policy acceptance by the public has to be prepared for the presentation and discussion inside the public unit responsible for the decision. Relevant to the decision is  the narrative of the process: how the problem has been explored,  how data has been collected and used, how goals and objectives have been identified and translated into strategies and actions, how impacts have been simulated and computed, why some options have been preferred to others, what has been the contribution of the public to the entire process. When the decision is made and the policy ready to be translated into an implementation plan, the policy implementation cycle can start.

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