Innovative Approaches to Policy Making and Policy Standards

Adapted from Better Policy-Making Helen Bullock, Juliet Mountford, Rebecca Stanley; Centre for Management and Policy Studies, November 2001

Nine Features of Modern Policy Making

  1. Forward Looking

    The policy-making process clearly defines outcomes that the policy is designed to achieve and, where appropriate, takes a long-term view based on statistical trends and informed predictions of social, political, economic and cultural trends, for at least five years into the future of the likely effect and impact of the policy. The following points demonstrate a forward looking approach:

    • A statement of intended outcomes is prepared at an early stage
    • Contingency or scenario planning
    • Taking into account the Government's long term strategy
  2. Outward Looking

    The policy-making process takes account of influencing factors in the national and international situation; draws on experience in other provinces and countries; considers how policy will be communicated to stakeholders and the public. The following points demonstrate an outward looking approach:

    • Makes use of existing policy mechanisms, networking groups, etc
    • Looks at how other jurisdictions dealt with/are dealing with the issue
    • Recognizes regional variation
    • Communications/presentation strategy prepared and implemented
  3. Innovative, Flexible and Creative

    The policy-making process is flexible and innovative, questioning established ways of dealing with things, encouraging new and creative ideas; and where appropriate, making established ways work better. Wherever possible, the process is open to comments and suggestions of others. Risks are identified and actively managed. The following points demonstrate an innovative, flexible and creative approach:

    • Uses alternatives to the usual ways of working (public engagement sessions etc)
    • Defines success in terms of outcomes already identified
    • Consciously assesses and manages risk
    • Takes steps to create management structures which promote new ideas and effective team working
    • Brings in people from outside into policy team
  4. Evidence-based

    The advice and decisions of policy makers are based upon the best available evidence from a wide range of sources; all key stakeholders are involved at an early stage and throughout the policy's development. All relevant evidence, including that from specialists, is available in an accessible and meaningful form to policy makers. Key points of an evidence based approach to policy-making include:

    • Reviews existing research
    • Commissions new research
    • Consults relevant experts and/or used internal and external consultants
    • Considers a range of properly costed and appraised options
  5. Inclusive

    The policy-making process takes account of the impact on and/or meets the needs of all people directly or indirectly affected by the policy; and involves key stakeholders directly. An inclusive approach may include the following aspects:

    • Consults those responsible for service delivery/implementation
    • Consults those at the receiving end or otherwise affected by the policy
    • Carries out an impact assessment
    • Seeks feedback on policy from recipients and front line deliverers
  6. Integrated

    The process takes a holistic view; looking beyond institutional boundaries to the government's strategic objectives and seeks to establish the ethical, moral and legal base for policy. There is consideration of the appropriate management and organizational structures needed to deliver on cross-cutting objectives. The following points demonstrate a joined-up approach to policy-making:

    • Cross cutting/horizontal objectives clearly defined at the outset
    • Joint working arrangements with other departments clearly defined and well understood
    • Barriers to effective integrated approaches joined up clearly identified with a strategy to overcome them
    • Implementation considered part of the policy making process
  7. Monitored and Reviewed

    Existing/established policy is constantly monitored and reviewed to ensure it is really dealing with problems it was designed to solve, taking account of associated effects elsewhere. Aspects of a reviewing approach to policy-making include:

    • Ongoing review program in place with a range of meaningful performance measures
    • Mechanisms to allow service deliverers /customers to provide feedback direct to policy makers set up
    • Redundant or failing policies are scrapped
  8. Evaluated

    Systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of policy is built into the policy making process. Approaches to policy making that demonstrate a commitment to evaluation include:

    • Clearly defined purpose for the evaluation set at outset
    • Success criteria defined
    • Means of evaluation built into the policy making process from the outset
    • Use of pilots to influence final outcomes
  9. Learns Lessons

    Learns from experience of what works and what does not. A learning approach to policy development includes the following aspects:

    • Information on lessons learned and good practice disseminated
    • Account available of what was done by policy-makers as a result of lessons learned
    • Clear distinction drawn between failure of the policy to impact on the problem it was intended to resolve and managerial/operational failures of implementation

Innovative Approaches to Policy Development

As social issues increase in their complexity they demand new and innovative thinking to develop intelligent and creative policy alternatives. This requires that policy makers consider new approaches to bring stakeholders and the public into dialogue on creative solutions which may push traditional boundaries of decision making and policy implementation. The following links explore some of these relatively new ideas.

If you or your organization is involved in one of the following or other innovative approaches to policy development, or have developed resources or guidelines which may be helpful to others, tell us about it. We may wish to profile it on PolicyNL.

  • Creating Adaptive Policies

    According to Creating Adaptive Policies: A Guide for Policy-Making in an Uncertain World by Darren Swanson “Adaptive policies are designed to function more effectively under complex, dynamic and uncertain conditions. Adaptive policies anticipate the array of conditions that lie ahead through robust up-front design using (1) integrated and forward-looking analysis; (2) multi-stakeholder deliberation and (3) by monitoring key performance indicators to trigger automatic policy adjustments. But not all situations can be anticipated. Unknown unknowns will always be part of policy-making. Adaptive policies are able to navigate towards successful outcomes in settings that cannot be anticipated in advance. This can be done by working in concert with certain characteristics of complex adaptive systems, including (1) enabling the self-organization and social networking capacity of communities; (2) decentralizing governance to the lowest and most effective jurisdictional level; (3) promoting variation in policy responses and (4) formal policy review and continuous learning.”

    To learn more...

    This book is available as a free download at IDRC Books

    The Institute for Sustainable Development offered a course based on this book in March 2012.
    TRAINING COURSE: Creating Adaptive Policies

  • Public Engagement

    Public demands for inclusive, participatory and collaborative forms of governance are on the rise around the world.

    Public engagement is a new way of thinking about how governments, stakeholders, communities and ordinary citizens can work together to achieve complex, societal goals.

    Traditionally government approach to public policy has been characterized by top-down decision-making to arrive at solutions for individual departments with a mandate to address various sectoral policy issues. However, in an increasingly interdependent world, issues often cut across various departments and policy fields and real solutions require bottom-up involvement and multi-stakeholder collaboration. Public engagement approaches and activities create a platform for dialogue, and can help to promote the alignment of multiple interests that are required to direct effective policy design.

    In Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government through agencies such as the Rural Secretariat and the Voluntary and Non-Profit Secretariat, and other institutions such as Memorial University’s Harris Centre are actively employing public engagement principles and practices to stimulate policy discussion.

    The Rural Secretariat in particular has been recognized for its approach to public engagement and in a larger sense, adopting and contributing to the advancement of open government concepts of transparency, participation and collaboration. Through its work in nine regions (link to map of rural secretariat regions jpeg)of Newfoundland and Labrador the Rural Secretariat seeks to mobilize the energy and commitment of citizens at the community level in order to strengthen public policy advice brought forward to government on issues of regional sustainability and social well-being. This is accomplished through the adoption of innovative engagement, collaboration, research and technological tools and processes.


    Developing Innovative Approaches to Community Engagement Department of Geography, Memorial University and Government of Newfoundland and Labrador (report and presentation documents)

    Public Policy and Public Participation: Engaging Citizens and Community in the Development of Public Policy, Bruce L. Smith, BLSmith Groupwork Inc.,
    Prepared for Population and Public Health Branch, Atlantic Regional Office
    Health Canada, September 2003

    Rescuing Public Policy Don Linehan (see file in email)

    Canada’s Public Policy Forum

    Harris Centre, Memorial University

    Open Government Partnership

  • Social Innovation

    Social Innovation refers to new ideas that resolve existing social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges for the benefit of people and planet. A true social innovation is systems-changing – it permanently alters the perceptions, behaviours and structures that previously gave rise to these challenges.

    Even more simply, a social innovation is an idea that works for the public good.

    Social innovations come from individuals, groups or organizations, and can take place in the for-profit, non-profit and public sectors. Increasingly, social innovation is happening in the spaces between these three sectors as perspectives collide to spark new ways of thinking.

    The Voluntary and Non-Profit Secretariat, Government of NL is very active in pursuing ideas and exploring models about social innovation as it applies to that sector. Matthew Pinsent, a policy specialist with the Secretariat has created such a model as the basis for his Master’s thesis entitled Understanding Social Innovation and the Need for Resiliency: The Volunteer and Non-Profit Sector.

    Master’s Thesis, Matthew Pinsent, Voluntary and Non-Profit Secretariat

    Related Concepts

    Social Finance is an innovative method of connecting investors and entrepreneurs that are interested in both making money and helping to make the world a better place.

    For Investors, social finance is an approach to managing money that aims to deliver social and/or environmental benefits, and in most cases, a financial return.

    For Entrepreneurs, social finance sits halfway between a charitable donation and a loan, enabling business owners like you with a social mission to create impact at a scale that compliments traditional philanthropic support or government contributions. Essentially, social finance connects both investors and entrepreneurs that are interested in both making money and helping to make the world a better place.

    MaRS Centre for Impact Investing

    Social Impact Bonds (a mechanism for incentivizing private investors to allocate funds for targeted public interest projects that have the ability to significantly improve a desirable social outcome.)


    Social Innovation Generation

    Social Innovation: Concepts, Research Fields and International Trends
    Authors: Jürgen Howaldt and Michael Schwarz

    Geoff Mulgan, the Chief Executive of Nesta in the United Kingdom, discussed different approaches toward austerity and highlighted opportunities for innovation in the social sector while explaining how to make the most of these potential opportunities.
    Geoff Mulgan on Austerity and Innovation - Global Leadership Series.

  • Social Entrepreneurship/Social Enterprise

    Social Entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They endeavour to create social enterprises, social mission driven organizations which apply market-based strategies to achieve a social purpose. The movement includes both non-profits that use business models to pursue their mission and for-profits whose primary purposes are social. Their aim is to accomplish targets that are social and/or environmental as well as financial, often referred to as the triple bottom line. Many commercial businesses would consider themselves to have social objectives, but social enterprises are distinctive because their social or environmental purpose remains central to their operation.
    Adapted from CSEF - What is a Social Entrepreneur?


    Canadian Social Entrepreneurship Foundation

  • Social Return on Investment (SROI)

    As defined by the SROI Network International, SROI is an approach to understanding and managing the value of the social, economic and environmental outcomes created by an activity or an organisation. It is based on a set of principles that are applied within a framework.

    SROI seeks to include the values of people that are often excluded from markets in the same terms as used in markets, that is money, in order to give people a voice in resource allocation decisions. SROI is a framework to structure thinking and understanding. It’s a story not a number. The story should show how you understand the value created, manage it and can prove it.

    SROI is based on seven principles Download the document.

    In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Community Sector Council is involved in an SROI pilot project with a number of community organizations and a government program. See how they’re doing it at


    A Guide to Social Return on Investment (insert file sent by e-mail)

    New Economics Foundation

    7 Principles of SROI

  • Deliberative Dialogue

    Scott London, a California based journalist and photographer has summed up the definition of deliberative dialogue quite nicely in his blog Thinking Together: The Power of Deliberative Dialogue Deliberative dialogue (when applied appropriately) may be used to stimulate discussion which will help to explore and better define the facets of complex policy issues.

    "Deliberative dialogue is a form of discussion aimed at finding the best course of action. Deliberative questions take the form "What should we do?" The purpose is not so much to solve a problem or resolve an issue as to explore the most promising avenues for action. Following a usage that traces back to the ancient Greeks, deliberation can be defined as the process of establishing intent and resolve, where a person or group explores different solutions before settling on a specific course of action. "We deliberate not about ends," said Aristotle, "but about the means to attain ends." Deliberation is necessary for what is uncertain, he noted, when there may be reasons for deciding on one course of action but equally compelling reasons for deciding on another.

    Deliberative dialogue differs from other forms of public discourse — such as debate, negotiation, brainstorming, consensus-building — because the objective is not so much to talk together as to think together, not so much to reach a conclusion as to discover where a conclusion might lie…. The process usually revolves around a pressing question that needs to be addressed, rather than a problem that can be efficiently solved. A problem needs to be solved; a question cannot be solved, but it can be experienced and, out of that experience, a common understanding can emerge that opens an acceptable path to action.

    In this spirit, deliberative dialogue among a group of people is aimed at establishing a framework for mutual understanding and a common purpose that transcends mere ideas and opinions. While it may not produce consensus, it can produce collective insight and judgment reflecting the thinking of the group as a whole — personal disagreements notwithstanding. It is commonly assumed that the only alternatives to consensus are compromise and dissent. But deliberative dialogue offers another possibility by assuming that individuals' views may be to some degree amorphous and indeterminate until they have been, as Madison put it, "refined and enlarged" through the process of reasoning with others."

    A Public Policy Example

    Education policymakers—administrators, school superintendents, school board members, legislators, and other government officials—must weigh many factors when creating and implementing education policies. Educators face a changing context (e.g., shifting demographics) for tending to their students' everyday needs. Other community members have their own unique investments in the education of their youth. Deliberative dialogue can allow local community members to express their concerns to policymakers, and in turn help policymakers to better know the communities they serve. It can begin a process of building support for and community involvement in education. And it can help ensure that educators are not alone in the work of educating children. Like the community in the scenario, policymakers, educators, and community members all benefit when they understand each other and share a common vision for what their children need in order to learn well.