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Art and Science of Option Analysis – Alternative Policy Choice

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					          Art and Science of Option Analysis – Alternative Policy Choice
                                                            Basir Chand
                                                         Sr. Policy Analyst
                                                The Statesman Institute, Islamabad.
Abstract: It is rare to find a public problem without controversy, conflicting information and
multidimensional pull and push by different interest groups and stakeholders. Some time battle lines are
not drawn along the issue definition rather against the multiple solutions leading to same goal. Even eying
on a same goal the struggle in the process is not without the heartburn among the groups. Limitations are
obvious in the application of rationality and objectivity, when most of the issues are dominated by political
consideration. No matter what considerations or limitations an analyst face, at the end of the day, it is the
policy scientist who is primarily responsible for rigor analysis, degree of precision, technicalities and
maintaining of objectivity in option analysis.

The real art of a policy scientist is to walk on a tight rope of option analysis to determine the alternatives
policy solutions, with rationality on one end and politics on the other. Limitations are obvious in the
application of rationality and objectivity, when most of the issues are dominated by political consideration.

For all practical purpose option analysis; an exercise to find alternative public policy solutions, is heavily
influenced by politics. In this regard, by applying all the technical and analytical techniques, is a skill full
combination of art and science.

The good start is a conventional wisdom, relatively a passive approach to define options. The preference
will goes to the options and solutions that are already in existence and had been successfully applied in
the past for to resolve the similar problems.

Option analysis will fill the gaps between an issue search and objectives of that specific organization
which is dealing with particular Issue. In this reference an issue reflects a bigger picture, an ultimate
purpose of the government or public body in which they want to lead the nation in a specific direction or
prioritize resources allocation.

Dealing with the range of alternative solutions against a single public issue, available to policymaker, is
relative daunting task and for conventional bureaucracy it might be a new concept. Under this concept, a
decision maker adopted an approach of “option generating”. These social and political boundaries may
define the parameter of policy option but it should not affect the creativity and rationality in thinking
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process. On the other hand, creativity and novelty should never be compromised or suppressed .
Rationality might have constraints but still play an important role. Regardless of its limited role of
rationality and objectivity, it is crucial in analysis.

It is rare to find a public problem without controversy, conflicting information and multidimensional pull
and push by different interest groups and stakeholders. Some time battle lines are not drawn along the
issue definition rather against the multiple solutions leading to same goal. Even eying on a same goal the
                                                                           2
struggle in the process is not without the heartburn among the groups . Even the most reasonable people
cannot find the resolution – an agreement on which path to take or what action to take - to achieve the
same objectives. Analyze the following hypothetical public issue: people want to improve the quality of
education. To achieve this objective, some might propose the following solutions.

            Improve teaching standard,
            Change the existing curriculum,


1 Dror, Yehezkiel, Muddling Through: Science or Inertia, Public Administration Review, No. 24, 1968, p.153-157.
2 Deborah Stone, Policy Paradox; The Art of Political Sedition Making, Rev. Ed 2002, W. W. Norton, New York, p. 21, 22, 37-39.
            Reduce the class size (teacher to student ration).

Let’s inquire into the arguments of another public problem; poverty. Base on political ideology and
economic school of thought, one might say:

            Poor are lazy
            Poor do not want to work

The counter arguments might say:

            There are not enough jobs for everyone

The third possibility might reflect:

      There are jobs but people do not have proper training or skill set to fulfill those responsibilities
Apparently, a straightforward problem definition became a complicated one. Based upon the definition of
the issue the solution or arguments might take different measures to achieve the same goal; poverty
reduction. The causes of a problem change the definition and nature of the problem along with the
magnitude of the issue.

The above discussion can be emphasized for every policy student to enhance the creativity and analytic
skill. A rigorous analysis might consist of the following inquires:

            What is the nature of the issue?
            What is already known about the issue?
            Available solutions and best practices?
            Possible solutions and remedies?
            Magnitude and impact of solution, an over flow on other projects?

Eventually a logical analysis with alternative definitions and best solutions, based on evaluation criterion -
equity, security and liberty - will matched up with objectives.

Information to frame a public issue in well-define matter is not easy, especially when the information is
bombarded with tilted objectives, vested interest, with conflicting and competing messages. A great deal
of analytic skill is required to evaluate, contextual data and back ground reference which make sense or
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better able to understand the policy information in comparison with cause and effects .

Other limitations on rational or objectivity are the personalities heading the institutions which are
ultimately responsible for policymaking, defining objectives, and promoting organizational, political or
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social ideology of the government; the ruling party. Many academic scholars might agree with the notion .
With conclusive evidences, which supported this observation that competing interest groups do their
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utmost to set policy agenda into their favor, simply by having a specific definition of the issue .

Ultimately, the rationality will prevail to lead the public problem towards a resolution. The economics,
factual and prevailing information, ground realities and scientific techniques will dominate the issue
definition and alternative solutions. Besides cost analysis and implementation considerations, the logical
analysis – cause and effect - is a crucial factor to determine the alternative options leading to policy
design. Cause and effect relationship lead up to “analytic policy thinking” ability to forecast future in terms
of social and economic impact of a particular policy on the society.




3 Michael E. Kraft and Scott R. Furlong, Public Policy, Politics: Analysis and Alternatives (2nd Ed), CQ Press, Washington DC, 2007, p. 122-123.
4 Davide A. Rochefort and Roger W. Cobb, The Politics of Problem Definition, Shopping the Policy Agenda, 1994, Lawrence: University Kress Kansas
                                                                                                                                                   .
5- John W. Kingdom, Agenda, Alternative and Public Policies (2nd Ed.), 1994, Harper Collins College. New York.
This argument takes us to the myth of a “Delphi”, to look for subject specialist, capable of original
thinking, “out of the Box” thinker. The existing organizational culture, working environment and climate
may not be a good cultivation grounds for creativity. If a fresh solution is required, the good start is from
leading industry experts and subject specialist engaging in “brainstorming” exercise. Public organization
should reach out to private industry experts, technocrats and academia for leading solutions and cutting
edge for public problem.

In economic terms, the cost-effective analysis in public sector has to learn a lot from private business
practices. For instance, compare the case of internet utilization for business with virtual presence of
service and products though websites and E-Commerce. To make an efficient delivery of service in terms
of cost effectiveness public sector should adopt the practices of private business to create “web portal” in
term of E-Governance, an easy access to government services. Thanks of openness or compulsion many
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governments did adopted the concept of E-Commerce into E-Governance . Can we teach a big elephant,
the government, how to dance? Answer might be affirmative.

Few decades ago, the event of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the use of nuclear technology had changed
the perception of national defense and energy polices of many nations. The technological advanced i.e.
with the invention of internet technology has changed the perception public service and solution providing
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mechanism through electronic commerce .

To explore for more feasible and creative solution, international experience is another place to look for.
There might be other societies and nations facing the same issues and might have success stories in
finding their solutions. To borrow those best practices is not a bad idea. We might not get one “size fits
all” or a “cookie cutter” solution, but at least it will be a good start as a springboard. These best practices
can be altered according to the national needs and requirements.

It is next to impossible for an analyst to ignore economic factor, an opportunity cost and social limitation of
“hard and soft” stance on the same issue within members of society. No matter what consideration or
limitation an analyst face, at the end of the day, it is the policy scientist who is primarily responsible for
rigor analysis, degree of precision, technicalities and maintaining of objectivity in option analysis.

To analyze the options or alternatives an analyst should be mind full of the following:

           A bigger picture - ultimate objective
           Options or alternatives closer to the objectives
           Consequences of a particular option on other sectors of society
           Social and political constraints
           Economic factors, assumption and analysis, availability of funds
           Foundations and hypothesis for any assumption
           Availability of technical and human resources
           Risk assessment
           Time line

 In the next phase all the viable alternatives should be compared for pro and cons. Many applied and
textbook techniques and tools are available i.e. quantitative analysis, total quality management, decision
support system and game theory, cost benefit analysis, operational research, liner programming, risk
analysis, queuing theory and matrix approach. These tools and techniques may not work like the Magic
Lamp of Alla Din but at least these tools are an assistance and facilitator for policy analyst to reaching an
intelligent decision.



6 Dauglas M. Brown, Reinventing Government in the Information Age, p 114-121, (2002).
7 E-governance: Public Policy Perspective, SSRN: GLOBAL BUSINESS ISSUES (eJOURNAL) Vol. 1, No. 7: Mar 29, 2011
In finalizing a policy option, the important factors, guiding principles can be used as selection criteria or to
find a balance among the equity, liberty and security. Keeping in mind the criterion, policy analyst try to
find the alternative definitions and solutions, and effects will lead to define goals and objectives. Policy
design is a process in which policy scientists design or formulate a policy by considering social, political,
economical and technicalities to achieve particular objectives or goals. Also, be mindful that government
have only few tools and have to stay within the constitutional limits in using these tools, keeping the
above-mentioned balance among factors while finding an effective formulation and solution to a public
problem.

Conclusion:
The real art of a policy scientist is to walk on a tight rope of option analysis to determine the alternatives
policy solutions, with rationality on one end and politics on the other. Limitations are obvious in the
application of rationality and objectivity, when most of the issues are dominated by political consideration.
Information to frame a public issue in well-define matter is not easy, especially when the information is
bombarded with tilted objectives, vested interest, with conflicting and competing messages. No matter
what considerations or limitations an analyst face, at the end of the day, it is the policy scientist as
decision maker who is primarily responsible for rigor analysis, degree of precision, technicalities and
maintaining of objectivity, rationality and creativity in option analysis.

				
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