Models for Policy Analysis

Models, Approaches and Paradigms help us to identify the vital aspects of policy issues. They offer explanations for public policy and predict its consequences. Without these models and paradigms, it is so difficult to think over policy issues.

“ A model is a simplified representation of some aspect of the whole”.

Thomas R Dye

Systems Model of Policy-Making

Systems model or theory has relied on the idea that the system is composed of several interconnected subsystems each perform particular functions. It is proposed by David Easton. Subsystems include inputs, processes, outputs and feedback mechanisms. Here, the policymaking process has been seen as a ‘Black box’ which converts demands of the society into policies. Inputs are physical, social, economic and political products of the environment. The environment is any condition or event defined as external to the boundaries of the political system. Both demands and supports are part of inputs.

Demands are the desires of the individuals or groups on the political system. They want to change some aspects of the environment. Supports include the rules, laws and customs which provide a basis for the existence of political authorities. Support can be enjoyed by the political community only when people accept the decisions made by them. Supports are the symbolic inputs of a system. For example, paying taxes, obeying laws etc..,

The institutions and bureaucrats such as courts, chief executive, judges, and legislators tend to translate inputs into outputs. Outputs are the authoritative value allocation of the political system. Public policies are best described as the output of the political system. Feedback is an important aspect of policy-making. It gives policy-makers a chance to rectify their wrongdoings and can also lead to better outputs. Policy outputs may generate new demands, supports or withdrawal of the old systems.  

Eastonian Black Box Model

Criticisms of the Systems model or Eastonian model

The systems theory appears to be too simplistic to help in understanding the Policymaking Process. Power, Personnel and Institutions are missing factors in this approach. The Eastonian model also ignores an important element of the policy-process i.e policymakers have also considerable potential in influencing the environment within which they operate. The policies changes take place more based on the elite’s view than as a product of the demands, supports from the environment. The concept of ‘withinputs’ as opposed to ‘inputs’ has been created to illustrate this point. Both external and internal environments influence the policy-making process. Policy-making involves not only the policy content but also the policy-makers perceptions and values.

Institutionalist model of policy analysis

Institutionalist model is based on the idea that the public policy is the outcome of the government institutions. It focuses on the organization chart of the government. In a democratic society, the state is of government structures and institutions. The state protects the interests of all sections of society. However, no organization has ever been able to satisfy all sections of people through its performance. 

A policy does not take shape of public policy unless it is adopted by governmental institutions. Public policy has three main characteristics

  1. Legal authority – it is an obligation which commands the obedience of people

2. Universal – it can be extended to all citizens in the state

3. Involve coercion – legally imposing sanctions on violators of its policies.

The institutional study has become the main focus of public policy. This model can be called an institutional model as it depends on the interactions of those institutions created by the constitution, government or legislature. In the policy-making process, power is exercised by members of the state institutions. The institutional approach is concerned with explaining how social groups and government institutions bring influence on the decisions made by policy-makers. It attempts to study the relationship between public policy and governmental institutions. It focuses on the legal and structural aspects of institutions. The institutional approach suggests that government institutions may be structured in such ways as to facilitate certain policy outcomes. Rules and institutional arrangements are usually not neutral in their impact. They usually favor some interests in society over others. The value of the institutional approach to policy analysis lies in asking what relationships exist between institutional arrangements and the content of the public policy.

“Both structure and policy are largely determined by environmental forces, and that tinkering without institutional arrangements will have a little independent impact on public policy if underlying environmental forces – social, economic and political – remain constant”.

Thomas R Dye

Neo- Institutionalist model

The Neo-Institutionalist model categorizes public policies according to policy-making subsystems. Lowi classifies policies as four categories

  • Distributive Policies
  • Redistributive Policies
  • Regulatory Policies
  • Constituent Policies

Elitist model of Policy Process

In the Elitist model, power is held by a few groups and individuals. Elites influence mass opinion on policy issues more than masses influence elite opinion. Power approach can be used to study policymaking. The power approach regards decision-making as something which is determined by the structure of power: Class, Interest groups, Bureaucratic etc.

Elitist model of policy process


“Policy-making under the influence of elites are dominated by the best-educated, wealthiest and most popular elites”. In the elitist perspective, public policy is the preferences and values of a governing elite.

Thomas A Birkland

Criticism of the Elite model

The ideal of elite influencing policies is not true in all cases. Elites may share their view that does not necessarily determine policies. Anyway, the change in public policy is brought through reforms. If a policy decision made by the elite group, then the responsibility of proving it as best also rests on their shoulders of elites rather than masses. Under the elite-mass theory, the masses are ill-formed and elites influence mass opinion on policy decisions. But the policies are often decided by the masses through elections or the presentation of policy options by political parties. The masses have an indirect influence over the policy-making process. And elites agree to most of the masses demands.

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