Incrementalist vs. Rationalist Policymaking Strategy Essay
Policy refers to a set of interrelated decisions aimed at achieving specific objectives using resources (Johnson 243-425).Policies are made by governments or by businesses to address a wide range of issues. Polices made by governments regarding public issues or public good are known as public policies. There are various approaches to policy making. Two of them include the Rational and incrementalist approaches.
The rational method in public policy making is characterized by rules and procedures. The method involves identifying and defining a problem based on data, identifying a number of possible decisions and options for addressing the problem and selecting the best option or alternative for addressing the problem, then formulating a policy as a means to some end. It is also characterized by clearly defined goals and several possible alternatives, which are compared quantitatively based on available data.
The polices under this approach are therefore as comprehensive, descriptive and detailed as possible. Policies are based on the pros and cons of each and every possible alternative, whereby the policy makers select the ‘best’, not the ‘good’ alternative, depending the pros and cons of each and every policy alternative (Johnson 243-425).
This policy approach has the strength of being procedural and systematic, which leaves no room for rent seeking conduct which is prevalent in many policy makers. It ensures that the polices made are a true reflection of the needs of the people being affected by the policy. For example, a policy on support provision to citizens of a certain local community would involve a base line survey and a needs assessment exercise to understand the most pressing needs from the people’s perspective not from the policy maker’s perspective. This approach has also the strength of being proactive instead of being reactive (Community for International Development).
The weakness of this approach is that it is time consuming and it may be irrelevant in emergent situations because it tends to be bureaucratic in nature. For example, in a situation where by there is natural disaster, the strategy, may not be applicable because it emphasizes on analysis of possible alternatives which may take time thus leading to more casualties. Despite these weaknesses, this policy making strategy can be said to be the one which explains how policies are made and implemented because many policies and programs involve numerous stakeholders, who must come into a consensus regarding any policy.
They can only reach a consensus through doing a cost benefit analysis of each policy option and picking the best option, which has the maximum benefits and the minimum costs (Community for International Development).
On the other hand, incrementalist approach is characterized by lack of comprehensiveness but instead, policies are made based on some current policies or activities and also past polices, in a manner which, as the name suggest, tends to add on what the previous policies had achieved or where they failed. This approach also does not separate the policy objectives, alternatives and values, but rather, it focuses on working on specific courses of actions, which have been successful, with the objectives and alternatives being limited.
The approach does not base its policy formulation on quantitative data but policy is made in a purposive manner, to meet some specific areas of interests for the policy makers or for the public interest. With this model therefore, the policy makers just unilaterally agree on what they think is the most agreeable policy to all of them (Society for International Development).
The strength of this policy making strategy is that it gives policy makers the opportunity to decide which policy they think is good, even if it’s not the best. This means that the policies which are made are more likely to take into consideration the public feelings or opinion on a certain issue, in short, the approach helps policy makers to come up with policies which are more acceptable to the public, irrespective of the availability of other better policy alternatives, which may be better but not appealing to the public.
For example, a policy on whether to ban or allow smoking may only be made under this approach because the approach allows for the consideration of public feelings or attitudes towards such issues, given that there are those countries which prioritize their health and environmental pollution than revenues generated from the sale of cigarettes.
The weakness of the policy making strategy is that it may lead to formation of irrelevant policies which do not capture the real issues affecting the people for which the policy is being made for. This is because the policies are not based on empirical and statistical details nor do they involve the concern of several courses of action so as to select the best.
I think it is possible to have a hybrid approach to these two methods of policy making. This can be achieved through getting some elements of each strategy, and harmonizing them to eliminate any structural disagreements. This is however only feasible through compromising of hardline positions in each method, and approaching policy building in a flexible, realistic and rational manner.
Johnson, David. Thinking Government: Ideas, Policies, Institutions, And Public Sector Management In Canada , 2nd Edition. Toronto, ON M5S 2G5: University of Toronto Press, 2006.243-425. Print.
Community for International Development. International development review, Volume 14. Toronto, ON M5A 2N4: Community for International Development, 1972.