Diagnosing and assessing public policies: tips from the institutional analysis and development framework

Heikkila_AnderssonTanya Heikkila and
Krister Andersson

This blog is based on our recent article on policy design and the added value of the institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework in the 2018 special issue on Practical Lessons from Policy Theories.

Policy design is hard work. Policymakers often struggle to reach agreement on whether or how to create or adapt policies in response to issues that involve complex or multi-faceted problems (or solutions), or where deep-seated value disagreements over problems or solutions exist.  This raises the question: How can policymakers or analysts navigate and design effective policies around complex collective problems? 

Tips from the IAD framework

In general, these tips encourage a policymaker or analyst to start with research lessons for sound policy design. Below we offer a summary of three basic lessons.

  1. Self-governance is possible, under certain conditions, across a diversity of policy venues.

In many formal policy settings or government venues, decision-makers face serious collective action problems and disincentives to work together to find common policy solutions to shared problems.  This is evident by the deep political divide that seems to be growing within many democracies, making it even more challenging for decision-makers to find common ground on issues that need urgent public attention. However, IAD research recognizes that people can solve collective action problems, especially under certain conditions. These include: taking the time to build social capital and experience working together on a shared issue, nurturing leaders who have experience working with people from different backgrounds and convictions; gathering adequate information on the nature of the problem and solutions; and having localized, trusted information.

  1. Use a framework as a diagnostic approach for public policy

We can’t devise, amend, or adapt policy effectively without understanding it. Yet, people have a natural tendency to engage in reactionary and emotional reasoning when they are passionate about an issue. Frameworks can help us guard against the tendency toward biased analyses or a focus on features of a policy that are most obvious. A good framework provides a toolkit for identifying the general factors that policymakers and other stakeholders should consider when developing new policies or trying to understanding existing policies.

The IAD framework, for instance, helps identify:

  • the relevant actors for devising and implementing policy
  • their information, knowledge motivations, and interactions
  • the various types of rules these actors already use
  • the biophysical and community context surrounding the actors
  • the evaluative criteria appropriate for assessing the policy in question.
  • which external or broader rules can constrain or enable particular actions.

In other words, it makes us aware of our ‘blind spots’ and enables a deeper understanding of the factors that are important for effective policy design.

  1. Stop looking for panaceas: identify, and experiment with contextually appropriate policies

There are no silver bullets to policy designs. General blueprint solutions rarely work and it is important to design contextually appropriate policy interventions.

This requires scrutinizing the design elements of policies (e.g. the types of rules embedded in policies), and how they interact with the incentives and information that different actors use in devising or implementing a policy.

It also involves deep knowledge of the factors that can structure their choices in light of the local context where policies are used. Ultimately, policy designs are more likely to be successful when they acknowledge the autonomy and problem-solving capabilities of people whose behaviour the interventions are trying to change.

You may read the original research in Policy & Politics:

Heikkila, Tanya; Andersson, Krister, Policy design and the added-value of the institutional analysis development frameworkPolicy & Politics, DOI: 10.1332/030557318X15230060131727

View the special issue full table of contents here. The whole issue is free to access until 31 May.

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