The Policy Formulation Process
Department of Political and Administrative Studies, University of Zambia
Paper presented to the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)/Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES)
Seminar on “Policy Development in Political Parties”, Lusaka, 12 June 2008
In the course of our daily lives, we are affected directly and indirectly by many policies.
These policies can be public or private/business in nature. A public policy is what the
government chooses as guidance for its actions. On the other hand, a business policy is
what a company chooses as guidance for its actions. A policy can be defined as „a
purposive course of action taken by those in power in pursuit of certain goals or
objectives‟ (Sapru, 1994:3). Examples of policy goals or objectives would be to resolve
particular problems in society such as HIV/AIDS, poor education services, energy crisis,
poverty and corruption, among others.
The process of making a policy, in any sector, involves going through a number of
interdependent stages. These are: problem identification/policy agenda setting, policy
formulation, policy adoption, policy implementation and policy evaluation. For the
purposes of this paper, we are going to discuss the policy formulation process. To achieve
this, the paper will begin by discussing the idea of policy formulation and its importance
to an organisation. Secondly, we will look at forces in the policy formulation process.
Thirdly, we will outline the key steps in the policy formulation process. Fourthly, we will
look at the importance of consultations and involvement of stakeholders in the policy
formulation process. Fifthly, we will discuss policy marketing. Sixthly, we will discuss
policy implementation. Seventhly, we will look at policy evaluation. Finally, a
conclusion will be given.
The idea of policy formulation and its importance to an organisation
To begin with, the concept of policy formulation refers to the process of identifying
courses of action, often called alternatives or options, to resolve problems faced by a
particular organisation (Anderson, 2003:27). In this case, an organisation could be a
business firm/company, government department, ministry or political party. The idea of
formulating a policy comes as a result of policy demands or claims for action on a
particular issue that are made by other actors. The actors could be citizens, customers or
the civil society, among others. For example, a demand could be made to prohibit certain
activities within the community or organisation. In response to these policy demands,
officials like government ministers, Members of Parliament (MPs), party officials and
company directors make decisions that give direction on what should be done. The
decisions may be to enact a statute, issue executive orders, make administrative rules or
make judicial interpretations of laws (ibid: 4).
The importance of formulating a policy is that it acts as the formal expression of the
organisation‟s intentions and goals and what should be done to achieve the same goals.
This creates order in the organisation, which in turn, helps the organisation to move from
the past to the future. In this case, the future state would be to develop the economy or to
sustain improvements in the social system or to increase the capacity of the organisation
Forces in the policy formulation process
The process of formulating a policy involves the exercise of power by different
individuals and groups. These individuals and groups put some kind of pressure or force
in the policy formulation process. The force comes from the following actors:
1. Individual citizens: - in a representative democracy, it is assumed that power
flows from people (individual citizens). This entails that power to formulate
policies is delegated from the people to representatives who form the legislature
and in turn formulate policies on behalf of the people. In this case people initiate
the process of policy formulation by voting for candidates whose opinions and
values they know. In fact, the aspect of subjecting certain office-holders to
periodic elections ensures that „attention is paid to the interest of those who are
represented.‟ Through the legislature, the representatives of the people formulate
policies by a majority vote (ibid: 48).
2. Political parties: - in the case of public policies, political parties serve as links
between citizens and government policy makers. Firstly, political parties tend to
have programmes or manifestoes that they present to the citizens. Ordinarily,
people would vote for a particular party based on its programme rather than
individuals. „The electorates expect that the party they vote for, if elected to
office, will formulate policies on pledges made in the election manifesto.‟
Secondly, the party that wins the elections is expected to implement its
programme while opposition parties must present alternative programmes. At this
stage, the choice of public policies can be influenced by exercising control over
party officials who are in government such as the President and Vice-President,
among others (ibid: 49-56).
3. Pressure groups: - these are formal structures whose members share a common
interest. Examples of such groups include civil society organisations. These
groups „strive to influence the decisions of the government without attempting to
occupy political office‟ (ibid: 52).
Official policy formulators
Despite pressure groups putting force in the policy formulation process, they are not
official policy formulators. Official policy formulators are those officials who have the
legal authority to formulate policies. These officials include:
1. Legislatures: - these are the supreme policy making bodies of organisations
especially in government. For example, the legislature in a government system
would be the National Assembly/Parliament. Similarly, other organisations such
as political parties and business companies also have bodies of similar standing,
that is, the supreme policy making organs. These include national conventions
and board of directors, respectively.
2. The Executive: - this is the organ of an organisation that is responsible for
implementing policies. For example, in a government system, this organ is usually
headed by the president and comprises several government ministries and
departments. This organ participates in policy formulation because the legislature
tends to delegate a substantial amount of policy formulation authority to the
president. Similarly, other organisations like political parties tend to have organs
that are in charge of implementing policies and would have delegated authority to
make policies in certain areas. For example, the executive would be given power
to make decisions and administrative appointments that would facilitate effective
implementation of policies.
3. The Judiciary: - apart from enforcing the law, the judiciary in a democratic state
plays a key role in policy formulation. The courts, especially the Supreme Court
plays this role through judicial review of laws. Judicial review refers to „the
power of the judicial courts to determine the constitutionality of actions of the
legislature and executive and declare them null and void if such actions do not
conform to the constitutional provisions.‟ In this regard, when a judge interprets
the meaning of legislative provisions then his/her interpretation becomes the
policy for the issue being contested (Sapru, 1998: 78).
The key steps in the policy formulation process
In the case of public policies, the following are the key steps in the policy formulation
The National Assembly
debates the bill and
After approval by the National Assembly,
the bill goes to the Republican President for
Assent so that it becomes an Act, Law or
Within the National Assembly, the bill is
referred to the relevant committee for
consideration. The committee calls for
submissions from stakeholders to help refine
the bill. The committee then submits a report
for debate in the National Assembly.
Draft bill is taken to the
National Assembly for
Draft bill is taken to government legal
advisers for certification (usually under the
Ministry of Legal Affairs/Department of
Draft bill is submitted to
Cabinet for consideration
Draft bill is redrafted by the ministry taking
into consideration comments from various
Draft bill is published in the
Government Gazette for
comments by various
stakeholders e.g. members of
the public, political parties,
NGOs, etc. This is done
within a given period of time.
Minister identifies a problem in his/her sector
i.e. demands being made by people for action
to be taken by the ministry e.g. demands on
bad roads, crime, waste, inefficiency, etc.
Minister drafts a bill for the proposed policy.
Draft bill shows policy objectives and courses
of action or alternatives to achieve the
objectives. This is done after consultations
with key stakeholders like ministry officials,
policy analysts, political parties, NGOs, etc.
The Act is published in
Government Gazette and it
becomes the policy for that
sector, ministry or
Even other organisations such as political parties and companies have organs similar to
those of government and follow the same steps in the process of formulating their
The importance of consultations and involvement of stakeholders in the policy
The importance of consultations and involvement of stakeholders in the policy
formulation process is to create the sense of policy ownership among stakeholders. In
other words, it enables the stakeholders to see the policy as reflecting their beliefs or
needs. If there is limited or lack of involvement of stakeholders then the affected
stakeholders might regard the policy as unnecessary. This is because it may be seen as
offending their ideological inclinations. The result would be strong opposition to the
policy. Eventually, there would be need to go through the formulation process again so as
to make the policy more effective or to remove portions that appear to be
ineffective/offensive (Anderson, 2003: 274).
Formulation of a policy, on its own, is not enough. The benefits of a policy can only be
realised when that policy is implemented. However, policy implementation may not be
easy. Sometimes, serious political struggles may emerge at this stage, especially when
dealing with very controversial issues like environmental protection, affirmative action
and abortion. Stakeholders that suffer losses in the policy formulation process may want
their needs to be met by influencing or disrupting implementation of the policy (ibid:
194). As such, there is need to market the policy so that it becomes acceptable to
stakeholders and enhance its implementation. This requires dissemination of information
about the adopted policy to various stakeholders and lobbying for their support. A
number of methods can be used to do this. They include holding conferences, briefings
This is the stage at which the policy is put into action. It involves organising and
directing resources so as to achieve the objectives of the policy. At this stage institutions
are established, facilities constructed and services provided. However, policy
implementation is not a very predictable process. This is because stakeholders may
continue to have differing interests. As such, there is need for coordination and
cooperation among stakeholders.
Actors in the implementation process
In the case of public policies, the organ that implements policies is the executive wing of
government, which is made up of ministries and government departments or
administrative agencies. These are the ones that organise inputs or resources like human
resources, money, materials and equipment that are necessary to implement the policy.
The other actor is the legislature, which holds administrative agencies accountable for
what they do. This is done through committee hearings and investigations that are used to
review the implementation process (ibid: 198). The judiciary also plays a role through
judicial interpretation and application of the law. The civil society can also be engaged in
implementing policies. For example, some NGOs and community organisations can be
used to implement policies in particular sectors of the economy like agriculture,
education and health sectors.
In the case of policies for other organisations such as political parties and companies,
they can also have organs similar to those of government so that the same procedures of
policy implementation are followed.
After implementation of a policy, it is important to establish the extent to which policy
objectives have been achieved. This is done through the process of policy evaluation.
Evaluation allows the policy to be measured in terms of its effectiveness to resolve the
initial problem. In most cases, evaluation tends to show that the policy was able to solve
one problem and at the same time create another problem. For example, there could be a
policy aimed at protecting the environment by way of heavy fines on industrial
emissions. On the one hand, this policy would enhance preservation of the environment.
On the other hand, the same policy would make the cost of production to be very high
thereby making goods and services very expensive for poor people. Eventually, poverty
levels would increase. This becomes a new problem, which requires a new agenda to be
set and to go through the policy formulation process again so as to deal with the new
policy problem. At this point, we can see that the process of policy making is a cycle,
without a starting or end point.
In conclusion, it can be mentioned that a policy is guidance for action. It can be for a
public or private organisation. Policy formulation is one of the interdependent processes
of policy making, which involves the exercise of power by different individuals and
groups who may do so through their representatives. Despite pressure groups putting
force in the policy formulation process, they are not the official policy formulators.
Official policy formulators are those organs and officials who have the legal authority to
formulate policies such as legislatures, the executive and judiciary in the case of public
The key steps in the process of formulating public policies include problem identification
and drafting of the bill, publishing the draft bill in the Government Gazette, redrafting the
bill, submitting the bill to Cabinet, certification of the bill by government legal advisers,
debating and approval of the bill by the National Assembly, assenting of the bill by the
president and publishing the policy in the Government Gazette. The whole process
requires sufficient consultations and involvement of stakeholders so as to create the sense
of policy ownership among them. After formulation, the policy is supposed to be
implemented. Thereafter, the policy should be evaluated so as to establish the extent to
which policy objectives have been achieved.
Anderson, J. E. (2003). Public Policy-Making. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Sapru, R. K. (1998). Public Policy Formulation, Implementation and Evaluation. New
Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Limited.