Policymaking Process

Breaking Down The Policymaking Process

Policymaking is an extremely complex process with an avalanche of ideas and influences from a wide range of actors. The policymaking process helps to channel the demands of groups into effective action and enable government to make decisions in the face of those competing demands.

Two important stages that follow in sequence and crucial to the success of the entire process of policymaking which eventually leads to the actual delivery of services to citizens are agenda setting and policy formulation. They are important because they establish the parameters within which any additional consideration of policies will occur.

Agenda Setting

Policymaking begins with identification and definition of a problem. Before government can make a policy choice, a particular problem in the society must have been deemed amenable to public action and worthy of the attention of policymakers.

Whom a problem affects and to what extent, is a major aspect that can influence the probability of the problem being placed on an agenda. The more extreme the effects of a problem, the more likely it is to be placed on an agenda. For example, an outbreak of a disease causing mild discomfort, might not produce public action, but the possibility of an epidemic, life-threatening disease, such as EBOLA or AIDS, is likely to produce some kind of urgent public action. And again, the range of persons affected by a problem may also influence the placement of an issue on an agenda.

Generally, the more people affected or potentially affected by a problem, the greater is the probability that it will be placed on the agenda. However, there are other aspects which—for time constraint—we’ll not be able to cover in this discussion. Ultimately, the agenda setting is quite important because it is only when an issue is brought to the agenda that it is considered. If an issue is not placed on the agenda, it cannot be considered, and nothing can possibly happen in government.

Policy formulation

In the event of policy formulation, the policymakers starts to narrow and structure consideration of the problems on the agenda and then develop a plan of action which is approved and adopted to rectify the problems.


Implementation is a distinct stage in the policymaking process, unique for representing the transformation of a policy idea or expectation to action aimed at rectifying the problems. Generally, policy implementation can be considered the process of carrying out a government decision. Ottoson and Green (1987), opines that “implementation is an iterative process in which ideas, expressed as policy, are transformed into behaviour, expressed as social action” (p. 362). The social action transformed from the policy is typically aimed at channeling the demands of groups into effective action and enable government to make decisions in the face of those competing demands.


After a policy is implemented, comes the final stage of the policy process, which is to assess what has occurred as a result of the selection and implementation of a public policy and, if necessary, to change the current policy. In its simplest form, evaluating a public programme involves cataloguing its goals, measuring the degree to which the goals have achieved, and perhaps suggesting changes that might bring the organization’s performance more in line with the stated purposes of the programme.