The Policy Cycle

The graphic above depicts the general order of stages in which policy development and implementation occurs. In reality, of course the aspects of the cycle overlap or are not exclusive of one another. By clicking stage in the cycle you will find a brief overview and links to additional information and resources.

Other ways of thinking about public policy development:

Issue Identification and Definition

Typically, public policy making starts with perception of a problem. Getting the diagnosis right is the key! Finding a solution often involves conflicting views on the nature of the problem; views which may be framed by ideology, political agendas, dominant societal values and norms, or academic orientation. Most social, economic and environmental problems from poverty to climate change through unemployment have multiple dimensions which need to be thoroughly understood so that multiple policy measures may be coordinated among governments and other stakeholders.


Policy Research and Analysis

Research is the systematic collection and presentation of information and it is the backbone of policy development. Regardless of the other forces which shape public policy, thorough research and data analysis provides the body of evidence necessary to justify decision-making.

There are many factors which influence policy choices including timeliness of the response, public tolerance, the cost of implementation, etc. Decision makers want to support policy alternatives that are logically sound in terms of projected impacts on the desired outcome, and are supported by reliable and timely evidence. Having irrelevant evidence or non-essential information is as bad as having too little evidence.


Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency, the central statistical agency for the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador. Responsibilities include:

  • Collection and dissemination of economic, social, and demographic statistics
  • Statistical analysis and data development
  • Statistics Canada liaison

NL Community Accounts
Community Accounts is an innovative information system providing users at all levels with a reliable source of community, regional, and provincial data. A public-wide, online data retrieval system for locating, sharing and exchanging information related to the province and its people, the Community Accounts provides users with a single comprehensive source of community, regional, and provincial data that would normally not be readily available, too costly to obtain, or too time consuming to retrieve and compile.

Newfoundland and Labrador Market Basket Measure ( Presentation by Dr. Cory Giles, Senior Research Consultant and Robert Reid, Director, Economics and Statistics Branch, Department of Finance, Government of NL)

Research Matters (Publication of the Office of the Vice-President (Research), Memorial University.

Yaffle Search Engine. An innovative user driven community connecting innovators in Newfoundland and Labrador with Memorial University. Highlighting policy research projects and connections to those with research expertise.

Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN) The Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN) gives Canada's research community access to Canadian social and population health statistics and help provide evidence for effective public policy and planning.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research /NLCAHR's mission is to contribute to the effectiveness of the health and community services system of Newfoundland and Labrador and to the physical, social, and psychological health and wellbeing of the province's population by supporting the development and the use of applied health research in this province.

Centre for Community-based Research uses an approach to research is participatory and action-oriented in a way that mobilizes people to participate as full and equal members of society.

Rural Secretariat, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has developed documents to support research by local councils.
Regional Council Related Community-Based Research and Public Engagement Documents (19 KB)

Australia – Cost Benefit Analysis Handbook

The Regional Economic Capacity Index (RECI) is a decision support tool that is an adaptation of multiple criteria evaluation methods (MCE) that are generally used to develop composite scores based on multiple inputs for the purpose of assessing the suitability of a location for some predefined activity such as public services, industrial location etc. More importantly, the RECI is a diagnostic tool that can be used to assess the strengths and weakness of the local labour market as well as the economic structure of a community and its overall socio-economic well being. This information can be used to identify potential for economic development as well as a decision support tool for the development of policy and governance models.

Guidelines for Gender Inclusive Analysis, Women’s Policy Office, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2003

Gapminder World, Free desktop software for easily understandable visualization of statistics and other information.

Crossover Project, Crossover is about establishing the scientific and political basis for long-lasting interest and commitment to next generation policy-making; bringing together and reinforcing the links between the different global communities of researchers and experts; and reaching out and raising the awareness of non-experts and potential users, with special regard to high-level policy-makers and policy advisors.

Generating Policy Solutions and Alternatives

A number of policy options are available to governments in responding to social issues and it is important that the instrument/option selected ( legislative/regulatory, economic, managerial or educational) is appropriate to the nature and scale of the problem, and is tailored to the societal and cultural context in which it occurs.

The worthiness of a list of policy alternatives, and the recommended policy option, must reflect of the thoroughness and rigor which is applied to the definition and analysis of the issue, the degree and types of consultation undertaken and pre-considerations of the measurability of the policy once its been implemented. Furthermore, the potential viability of policy alternatives is not only about integrity of process, it is also dependent on the degree to which political realities, the public's/stakeholder's tolerance of risk, and policy response times are considered.

Policy professionals must apply forward thinking in an attempt to anticipate changing conditions to avoid policy alternatives which may quickly become irrelevant or ineffective. This is challenging considering the demands on decision makers to implement effective policy responses with a degree of expediency. Developing adaptive policy capacity means that policy analysts will need to focus on developing new analytical competencies.


The RAND Policy Currents Newsletter and Blog

Creating Policy Alternatives Using Stakeholder Values

Policy Analysis and Decision-Making with Emphasis on Chronic Non-communicable Diseases

Rational-Comprehensive Model of Policy making (Presentation)


Consultation permeates all stages of the policy development process: in determining and researching the dimensions of the policy issue, and in the identification of policy alternatives. For the purposes of describing the policy cycle, consultation is purposefully set out as a distinct area of focus for policy professionals.

Consultation is dialogue that allows the public, private, voluntary and community sectors a realistic and timely opportunity to influence decisions being taken by government. Governments are granted a mandate to implement policy that is in the interest of the public and is consistent with government's election platform which outlines its general position and intent on various public policy issues. Therefore, it is at a government's discretion as to whether and to what depth public/stakeholder consultations will occur. It serves accountability and government's strategic intent to consult with those who will be impacted by a policy decision. Consultation helps to build trust and transparency and good working relationships which are necessary for successful policy implementation.

Within the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador the onus is on the lead department to fully engage a range of stakeholders in discussions on various policy alternatives. Consultations are carried out:

  • Within the lead department with technical experts as well as human resources personnel, financial administrators, communications specialists and other policy analysts.
  • Within Government as a whole according to mandatory consultations stipulated by policy submission guidelines; as well as with other departments which may be directly or indirectly impacted
  • With Other Governments including other provinces and territories, the federal government, other sovereign countries as applicable
  • Among Impacted stakeholders including community organizations, cultural and other interest groups, the business community, industry associations, etc.


Developing Policy Proposals

Policy proposals may take a variety of forms depending on the nature of the entity developing the proposal and the audience for which it is being developed. The proposal often consists of a written paper outlining the basis for the policy and the facts supporting various policy options. It articulates the consultation process followed and the potential impacts of the policy alternatives on the public and various stakeholder groups. While public policy proposals generally list more than one alternative to address the issue; the paper should clearly articulate the preferred or recommended option considering the balance of the evidence gathered. While much emphasis is placed upon the policy paper, particularly in government, the objective of policy making is not the paper itself but the objective process leading to it. Nevertheless, the way in which the proposal is written, the logic of arguments, the organization of the paper and the clarity of expression is undeniably important to decision makers and those required to write them should be thoroughly familiar with good practice and any standards which exist.

Within the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the policy proposal is most often written as a Cabinet Submission if the policy requires a decision of Cabinet.

Briefing Notes may be used for the approval of the Premier, Minister or an executive member e.g. for direction on existing policies and programs; and for other decisions not requiring Cabinet deliberation.

Cabinet Submissions

Central to the decision making process is the preparation of Cabinet Submissions (also referred to as Cabinet papers). These documents, which represent a culmination of the policy development process, ensure decision makers that all options are examined, that implications for implementation and impacts on the public are fully explored and that all information vital to making an informed decision on the submission is presented. Cabinet submissions are required when:

  • entering into an intergovernmental agreement
  • making a proposal with major program or policy implications
  • legislation requires the authority of the Lieutenant Governor in Council
  • seeking authority to introduce a new bill
  • directed by Premier, Cabinet or Cabinet Committees through Minutes of Council

The Role of the Cabinet Submission in Cabinet or Cabinet Committee

The Cabinet submission document as the key instrument of written policy advice, must also function effectively in the oral context of Cabinet and Cabinet committee discussion. The way that the issue and the arguments justifying the recommended course of action are presented affects the effectiveness of the submission in Cabinet. Therefore, government puts considerable emphasis on the ability of its policy professionals to draft well-written Cabinet submissions (see Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Competency Framework for Policy Professionals).

When Ministers discuss a proposal in Cabinet or Cabinet committee meetings, they speak to it on the basis of a Cabinet submission. The sponsoring Minister will make an oral presentation about the submission, occasionally supplemented by slides, charts, or electronic presentations). For certain initiatives, departmental officials may be involved in providing these presentations to Cabinet though, ordinarily, they will not be present when Cabinet discusses the Minister's proposal.

As the key instrument of written policy advice to Cabinet, a Cabinet submission informs a collective decision-making body, Cabinet, of proposals being brought to it by one or more of its individual Ministers.

Good preparation of Cabinet Submissions and Briefing Notes requires good policy writing.

Policy Implementation

Policy Implementation is the stage in the policy process where policy action occurs to address a recognized policy problem. At this stage, the design of a policy proposal is put into effect and the policy is executed by respective administrative agencies.

According to Theodoulou and Kofinis (2004), how well policy is implemented is affected by the three criteria:

  1. Clarity of Policy Goals:

    Policies should be formulated with consideration of what the actual specific goals of the policy are. A goal stated with clarity and specificity not only provides direction but also improves the basis by which policies can be evaluated, for accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness.

  2. Information Intelligence:

    Information intelligence refers to the strategic necessity for constant feedback as to how implementation is progressing, as well as preliminary assessments of impacts Given the increasing reliance on multiple bureaucracies, information and feedback is essential to gauge the degree of interagency and intergovernmental cooperation and conflict, which may be affecting implementation Information intelligence requires a high level of communication and feedback not only from the agencies involved but also from the population affected by the policy action. Implementation can be improved only if the implementers have insight as to how a policy or program is affecting a target population (2004, p. 184).

  3. Strategic Planning:

    The purpose of strategic planning, within the context of policy implementation, is to highlight the importance of assessing the capacity of an agency to meet specific implementation tasks and goals mandated by the policy decision. Essentially, strategic planning is a tool with which the agency can evaluate its ability to achieve the goals of the policy, as well as plan for how the policy will be executed (2004, pp. 184-185).

Building Implementation into Policy Analysis

Extracted from The Policy Advice Initiative: Opportunities for Management, State Services Commission, Government of New Zealand, 1995

Policy Analysts sometimes avoid addressing the practical issues of how to implement their policy advice. For policy advice to be cost-effective, it should include analysis of implementation issues.

Bardach, in Pitfalls of Analysis sets out some preventative strategies which could be taken at the policy design stage to ensure that policies have a chance of surviving the rigours of the implementation process. These are:

  • Check that the basic social, economic, and political theory behind the policy is reasonable and sophisticated.
  • Select a basic administrative strategy for implementation that is simple, relying on actual or simulated markets as much as possible rather than bureaucratic processes.
  • Make a list of requisite programme elements, and note beside each one who might be in a position to contribute those elements, whether they be organizations, groups, or individuals.
  • Consider how to create the facilitative and fixing mechanisms which may be needed during implementation, for example third-party mediators, project management, encouragement through agents of 'organisational development',.
  • Consider how to 'phase in' a new policy so that it makes more friends than enemies, especially in its early and vulnerable months. The new policy must make more influential friends than influential enemies; and the former should be led to mobilize still more support on behalf of the emerging policy or programme (Bardach, pp 153-4).

Implementation issues tend to arise at the end of an analytical process, often disturbing agreements reached on more basic issues. To minimize the risks of a proposal working in theory but not in practice, policy analysis should incorporate implementation considerations from the earliest stages of a project.

Policy Implementation Frameworks and Plans

The purpose of a policy implementation framework is to illustrate how (by what measures and increments) the approved policy will meet the needs of the target population. In this way implementation planning is closely linked to the accountability framework approach described in the last stage of the policy cycle: Evaluation. It is critical that causal relationships be clearly articulated and that a work plan is developed which ties program results to those responsible for implementation.

PolicyNL members: Consider sharing your policy implementation frameworks with us! If it has broad applicability, with your permission, we would like to share it with others on this site.


The Process of Policy Implementation, A Literature Review, Whitney Glenn, 2009

What ever happened to policy implementation? An alternative approach. (Articles).(public administration) Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory October 1, 2002 | deLeon, Peter; deLeon, Linda

Canadian Public Administration (Journal) Volume 54, Issue 1, pages 121–142, March 2011, Policy implementation in multilevel environments: Economic development in Northern Ontario, Charles Conteh, Article first published online: 21 MAR 2011

Transparency and Accountability Office, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador (Strategic Planning and Annual Performance Reporting – various publications)

Policy Brief No. 34: Two Key Questions For Horizontal Policy Making & Implementation, Institute on Governance, Gail Motsi, 2009

The Policy Advice Initiative: Opportunities for Management, State Services Commission, Government of New Zealand, 1995

Policy Monitoring and Evaluation

Governments and citizens need to know if public policies and programs work as they were intended, and deliver value for money.

As with other elements of the policy cycle, evaluation considerations must begin early in the policy development process as objectives are formulated and indicators are established in order to determine policy effectiveness.

Evaluation is not simply about assessing whether an initiative was a success or failure. Instead, evaluation is about creating the information and data about the initiative's success and why. Evaluation findings can lead to more effective and efficient program delivery.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is ensuring that the merits of evaluation are embedded in its policy development and management practices.

The Policy on Evaluation requires that all new and existing government initiatives be assessed for evaluation priority and that those priorities are documented in a Departmental Evaluation Plan designed to:

  • Engage the Minister and senior executives in identifying the priority evaluation products required to provide them with information necessary to make informed decisions;
  • Communicate the importance of reliable performance data to support monitoring and evaluation of departmental and government initiatives; and
  • Identify and secure the resources for completion of the evaluation activities.

The provision of transitional guidelines, tools and training supports will ensure that policy planners are able to fulfill the requirements of the policy.

Policy evaluation can be a complex endeavour requiring a specific set of policy competencies (See Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Competency Framework for Policy Professionals in the Professional Development section of this website). Most approaches now adopt a mixed method approach combining both quantitative and qualitative techniques. These techniques are described in links and resources listed below.


Provincial Government Programs, Cabinet Secretariat, Executive Council Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - Evaluation Resources

University of Nottingham, Centre for Policy Evaluation

Kellog Foundation Evaluation Handbook and Logic Model Guide

Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada - Centre of Excellence in Evaluation - Policy and various tools and resources

The Art of Appropriate Evaluation

Taking Stock, A Practical Guide to Evaluating Your Own Programs, Horizon Research Inc.

Prove and Improve, A Self-Evaluation Resource for Voluntary and Community Organisations, Community Evaluation Northern Ireland

Evaluation A Beginners Guide, Amnesty International

Modern Program Evaluation: A Catalyst for Successful Government Programs, Project Performance Corporation

Performance Indicators for the Public Sector, J. Andre Paradis & Associates

Program Evaluation, J. Andre Paradis & Associates

Logic Models, Program Development and Evaluation, University of Wisconsin- Extension

DESIGNING EVALUATIONS 2012 Revision, Accountability Office. Applied Research and Methods United States Government