Policy analysis is a process of examining and evaluating the social, ethical, financial and other consequences inherent in current and proposed policies at the local, state and federal levels and developing the most effective and efficient plans to achieve the desired results.
“Policy analysis plays an important role in helping to define and outline the goals of a proposed policy and in identifying similarities and differences in expected outcomes and estimated costs with competing alternative policies,” Encyclopedia Britannica explains. “Many public policies are designed to solve both current and future problems, and thus policy analysis attempts to forecast future needs based on past and present conditions.”
An online Master of Public Administration program, such as Ohio University’s online MPA, can provide the skills and background necessary for career success. Ohio’s program includes public administration classes such as Policy Analysis for Public Affairs and Leadership that offer an in-depth understanding of the critical relationship between policy analysis and public administration.
Responsibilities of a Policy Analyst
Policy analysts often work with governments, think tanks, special interest groups, consulting firms or research organizations. They use public policy analysis models to collect information, including statistical data, to evaluate proposed policy solutions. They also may be involved in analyzing and determining the allocation of funds or other resources.
Their results may be used by elected officials or other decision-makers to determine a course of action.
Because the results of policy analysis can change communities, several different groups need to be involved in the process. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines its Polaris policy process and details the primary stakeholders, who include:
- People who can provide information about the idea: These include subject matter experts, economists and community partners.
- People who are affected by the potential policy: These people should come from different social, educational and cultural perspectives and can tell analysts how potential policies could impact their lives. Analysts should consider looking to community members, community partners and decision-makers for their perspective.
- People who control the resources necessary to implement the policy: Often, this group includes public officials or their staffers who understand how the policy might affect economics or budget. Attorneys who can point out potential legal problems should also be involved.
With the appropriate participants in place, the next step is to do the policy analysis. The three fundamental steps used in most policy analyses are:
- Research and identification: Policy analysts determine the current situation by reviewing existing policies, reading reports, scanning the environment and looking at best practices.
- Describe possible options: Using the information from the research and identification stage, policy analysts look at potential policies and determine who might be impacted (both positively and negatively), the costs of the policy options, as well as the benefits. It is also necessary to look at any barriers to implementation that might exist.
- Rank options: Once several options are on the table, decision-makers rank the policy possibilities and pick the best one to either present to higher authorities or begin to implement.
What Happens to the Information Policy Analysts Gather?
After policy analysts gather the information they need, they often write reports or present their ideas and recommendations to elected officials, government committees or others in positions to make change happen.
After policies are implemented, analysts frequently evaluate the results to determine whether the policy accomplished its intended objectives, according to Careers in Government. They may use statistics to gauge its effectiveness as well as focus groups to determine whether the policy had any unintentional effects or if those affected expressed negative feedback.
Analysts may also evaluate whether a program cost more than originally anticipated and if its benefits outweigh the expenses.
Making sure the methods of an analysis are transparent is important.
“When we talk about policy analysis, we mean the work of government agencies, think tanks and academics to assess how specific policies or reforms affect people and the economy. These assessments are meant to be objective and credible, but they don’t always turn out this way,” noted the paper “Open Science Comes to Policy Analysis.”
The paper suggests:
- Making sure computations are reproducible by providing raw data, documents and other relevant materials to others in an organization.
- Allowing outside organizations to access the same data and resources to do their own analysis.
- Publishing initial reports without results and then providing results to policy makers so they can discuss options.
About Ohio University’s Online Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program
Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration program is dedicated to preparing professionals for a career in public administration. Through the university’s prestigious Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, students learn how to master ethical challenges through targeted public administration classes while also building skills in policy, finance, leadership, business, management, and communications. The school occupies the No. 12 spot in the SR Education Group’s 2019 Best Online Colleges Offering MPA Programs ranking.
The program, which is 100% online, offers four concentrations: Crisis and Emergency Management; Public Leadership and Management, Non-Profit Management, or State and Local Government Management. Students can finish their degree programs in as few as two years. For more information, contact Ohio University now.
Policy analysis definition: Britannica.com
Polaris Policy Analysis: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Public Policy Analyst: A Public Service Career Feature: Careers in Government
Open Science Comes To Policy Analysis: Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences