This paper will summarise the book A practical guide for policy analysis: The eightfold path to more effective problem solving (2nd ed.) by Eugene Bardach.
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Based on old models to research and systems analysis, Bardach (2005), took-off and proposed the eightfold path to more effective problem solving as:
- Defining the problem
- Assembling evidence
- Constructing alternatives
- Selecting the criteria
- Projecting outcomes
- Confronting the trade-offs
- Recommending a Decision
- Presenting the story
Defining the problem
In defining the problem, it is necessary that the client provides an honest situation where deficits and excess are laid down based on microeconomic theory. Analysis on this stage assumes that it is not a portion of the client’s strategy but to receive an expert advice about the problem as well as gaining possible recommendations for solutions. The analyst is expected to consult for Pareto optimal moves, which is understood as a policy change that could improve one party but would not affect in any negative way another party. The analyst will structure the problem by careful study of market trends and failures related to the problem. Where there is lack of market failure, the problem indicates irresolvable social problems and that warranted mechanisms to address this do not exist. Likewise, the analyst is challenged to identify the cause of the problems. He also needs to finds out if there had been missed opportunities where he can recommend pro-activism. It is necessary to separate problem from the solution and that it is recommended the analyst to be sceptical of proposed causes.
In assembling evidence, there is more thinking needed. The analyst may be pressured to present whatever he could come up with, but he should not be swayed or tempted to acquiesce. In collecting data, it should be borne on mind that information is necessary as evidence as these usually convince the change of belief or understanding of customers or even important decision-makers. In this stage, it is necessary that the analyst think and evaluate before collecting loads of data. He must determine that which is substantial or necessary for his client. This will lessen time and cost of data collection. While many sets of information may seem a lot of work has been done, these may not necessarily contribute to analysis of problem and providing recommendations. All data to be collected must be in line with understanding the problem and providing a solution. The analyst should also establish if information or data gathered is much useful than best guess, and if data is worthy to confirm a hypothesis.
In evidence gathering, literature review is also important. This will guide the analyst to focus on certain issues or topics that could lead to a leaner but more direct understanding of the problem. Likewise, the analyst may be led to best practices which are either recommendations or proven through cases, research or studies. In analysing gathered data or reviewing available literature, the analyst should be vigilant of probable problem similarities, and use analogy for programs that may seem the same. In gathering data, it is necessary to send out requests early. The analyst is also advised to touch base in order to establish credibility and consensus of broker. In case an opposition is received, or that there is a disagreement of data, this should be taken into consideration.
In constructing alternatives, the analyst should start with an already comprehensive view and understanding of the problem. His main goal is to come up with a focused conclusion. In this process, the analyst is best advised to include political issues that have been contributory to the problem and if these were encountered in data and evidence gathered. If alternatives are seen, then, these should be included at this stage. Likewise, Bardach advised that the present be continued.
A causal system should already be modelled on where problem has been seen or originated. In presenting alternatives, it is necessary to reduce or simplify the list using easy-to-understand or catchy phrases. Alternatives may be thrown to interested stakeholders.
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Selecting the Criteria
This process evaluates criteria and focuses on the alternatives. It should be properly established with the following:
- Efficiency – it should be seen to maximize net benefits, improve individual satisfaction or happiness, with the customer willing to pay according to his current resources. It should also be evaluated to be cost effective and undergone a cost/benefit analysis.
- Equity – It should consider investors and stakeholders as they are the direct audience who are most affected. This process should lead them to thinking and evaluation.
- Weighing conflicting criteria – the client and the analyst will have to weigh on the criteria and choices should be properly presented. In this process, both the customer or client and the analyst learn in a mutual manner.
Other considerations in selecting criteria are the practical side of it: legal implications must be clearly established. Likewise, there should be political acceptability or viability. It should be known if it is opposed, by whom and the appropriate population, or is it supported by a substantial portion of the population. It is also important. The alternative should also be determined if practically robust or only theoretical ideal. In this stage, it is necessary to establish clearly if maximized results or satisfying ones are targeted. This would entail certain criteria to be adopted.
Bardach commented that this is the hardest part of the eight-fold path, but a necessary one. In projecting feasibility, the practitioner should be realistic and avoid being optimistic. The projection should be based on model and evidence, presenting specific magnitudes as much as possible. In this stage, break-even estimates should be clearly presented to establish goals early on. Likewise, the challenges for the proposal should be stated and clearly identified. Present the possible scenarios to negatively effect or influence outcomes or failures.
Already, there are possibilities that may cost the client due to a very positive analyst outlook. If this can be avoided, the practitioner is best advised to be practical and honest in his projection. An outcome matrix should be presented with careful consideration to its ease of use and understanding.
It is important that for every situation, certain pitfalls, trade-offs and exchange of resources or investment occur. These should be clearly established during the process. Certain necessities that would cost investors or clients are ordinary circumstances that need to be included in analysis. An example would be for foreign direct investors in countries outside the understanding or beyond the business practices of the free market system or western economies who encounter different working environment approaches as well as market and consumers. In addition to working practices, there is the business system that needs to adapt to the local business practices which could be legal, political or ethical in nature. There are certain acceptable and “logical” practise where previous understanding and relationship had been established, but a fast-changing international or global trade and political scenario has posed inevitable adjustments to established practices. All these changes and trade-offs, or sacrifices need to be established, understood and tackled head-on to seek solution and proper understanding.
Likewise, where there is already an established dominance of one party on a certain area of the organizational target, then, this should be eliminated in the alternatives list. After alternatives and projection have been carefully placed, compare alternatives to the current situation or base status quo.
The analyst takes the stand of the decision-maker in this process and he needs to pretend he is the actual decision-maker. He should convince himself of the possibilities that are based on the evaluation process. He should be able to point out that were the possibility may progress, then, why was it not in place. Establish the ways to overcome the problematic situation.
Presenting the story
In presenting the story, the practitioner should know his audience well, how to best handle them and establish a logical narration.
Part II – Gathering Data for Policy Research
In the search of information to support the analysis, it is clearly acknowledged that obtaining information could be difficult and costly. Information, however, is attainable and exists. The information is important to evaluate alternatives. As compared to old model analysis, social construct of information was not highly regarded and as useful to address concerns of private organizations.
In addition to this level, Bardach listed on his Appendix A eleven government activities that may be implemented to address various natures of market failure.
Bardach advised that the practitioner starts with what is at hand, his own knowledge. He should list down what he personally accepts as what he knows, what he needs to research on, and what research strategy needs to be implemented.
Locate Relevant Sources
The practitioner should locate relevant sources. He must consider people as important as documents as people lead to people and that people to documents, some documents to more documents and other documents to more relevant people.
As for second-hand information, he has recommended that the practitioner must rely more on the information or truth from witnesses, more than from the defendants. In gathering second-hand information, he must establish the reliability or credibility of the source of information and identify self-interest if any.
In the search for knowledge, practitioner should have a clear idea of what he needs to know and where to get it. He should have an access to possible sources and know how to canvass for possible sources.
After canvassing for sources, the practitioner should get an appointment and be able to appeal or approach politicians or leaders. He should appeal to political self-interest and develop a competent reputation. He should establish positive impression. He should be able to cultivate contacts and networks as well as develop rapport with people. He should acknowledge the favor done to him as well as be grateful for the help or assistance provided.
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Acquire and Use Leverage
The practitioner should understand the implications of his efforts. He should be aware that people in all aspects of society could be affected and highly sensitive to political implications, policies and decisions. He should be able to handle negating or opposing forces and leverage sides. Establish respect as well as rapport to be able to get an equal treatment. Bardach advised that effort or energy is combined with direction to be able to acquire necessary information. The practitioner should be able to arrange as well as facilitate interviews. He must be able to deliver his side of the story in an objective manner and anticipate provocative questions. He should be able to redirect energy to activate the source of information at the same time avoiding useless conversations or gossips.
In addressing a defensive informant, the practitioner should avoid to provide a negative comment, or even comment. He should be able to leverage so as not to make the informant recoil. Establish cooperation as much as possible.
The practitioner should bear in mind that subjects usually become critics of product. The researcher should be able to shield the work from political as well as intellectual attack careful to renegotiate his primary goal:
- That his product is not intellectual
- It aims to improve understanding of policy problem
- Approximate truth
- Keep in touch with probable oppositionists
- Heed the voice of experts in order to link views, data, opinions and estimates.
The practitioner risks of possible premature exposure. He should be careful to consider laying out a timetable and stick to it. He should be ready to answer the crudest of questions or attacks.
In order to address strategic issues, the practitioner should be well-connected to source of information, people in position or authorities, experts or knowledgeable people. Likewise, in order not to undermine the research process, the hostile, busy informants, powerful opponents who may remove access to information and administrators who are indifferent should be approached later.
Part III: Smart (Best) Practices
Establish realistic or practical and workable expectations which may not always be the “best” but preferable or considerably good. There is a need to be certain in producing good outcomes or goals.
Look for “Smart “ Practices
Bardach recommended that practitioner should be able to identify clever practices such as free lunches, which do not exist in the real sense of the word, but nevertheless, reduces costs. The practitioner should be able to generate something which is useful for the public but relatively cheap.
Characterize and Observe the Practice
Bardach advised that the practitioner should be able to point out essential, beneficial, and optional elements in the practice. He should identify tasks, functions, and expectations from his connections. He should also understand the methods used in the process. In identifying character, general is useful and practical enough and it is not important to go into details. He should be able to point out vulnerabilities and establish whether his proposal would work in a certain situation. If not, he should know how to safeguard and provide a support network. He should also be aware of pilot project results that could impinge his own.
Back to Eight-Fold Path
Lastly, Bardach has recommended that the practitioner should avoid unnecessary enthusiasm to new ideas. However, it is also important that sufficient evidence be established so as not to require more than what may be needed to implement a proposal.
He is also advised to be able to balance and weigh risks, uncertainties and failures keeping in mind that institutions may be stuck in their ways but there could be benefits to change and not just costs.
Bardach provided a working and very commendable process to policy analysis that is based on practical as well as theoretical approaches that has been earlier established. His insights and recommendations to practitioners are most welcome in a time when certain systems need to be re-evaluated and new policies need to take place to address situations and challenges that can no longer be contained by traditional practices.
People and practices evolve over time and circumstances influenced by the fast-changing information and trade exchange among individuals and nations. With these changes come problems that governmental and institutional systems could no longer properly address. It is therefore timely for Bardach to recommend his observations and experiential insights on policy analysis to effect change and for improvement of systems.
Bardach, E. (2005). A practical guide for policy analysis: The eightfold path to more effective problem solving (2nd ed.): CQ Press