Criteria for a Public Policy Business Case

In my previous post about a research project, in which two think tanks with decidedly different heritage and focus were invited to assess the same 20 policy initiatives using a common set of criteria (effectively a draft evidence-based policy standard), I mentioned that those criteria had been developed by Prof Kenneth Wiltshire AO, and previously published in the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) 2012 discussion paper Public Policy Drift.

That paper argued that governments must replace “policy on the run” with a “business case approach” to address the “sense of crisis in the policymaking system”.

newDemocracy says of their research project:

The result of this exercise means that the convening of a range of think-tanks who are active politically could feasibly be convened (sic) to agree to ‘Wiltshire 2.0’ if the desire for a standard is seen as a positive development.

Evidence-based policy making is a phrase everyone likes to use with no agreed standard of what it actually is. If we can have parties agree some basic standards in the policy process, then we are one step closer to being able to make more widely trusted decisions at all levels of government.

I thought readers might like to see the criteria here, rather than having to go and look them up – especially since I had invited constructive input to their further refinement.  Prof Wiltshire argued that the essential elements involved in developing a business case in a public policy context can be stated as follows:

Ten Criteria for a Public Policy Business Case

1. Establish Need: Identify a demonstrable need for the policy, based on hard evidence and consultation with all the stakeholders involved, particularly interest groups who will be affected. (‘Hard evidence’ in this context means both quantifying tangible and intangible knowledge, for instance the actual condition of a road as well as people’s view of that condition so as to identify any perception gaps).
2. Set Objectives: Outline the public interest parameters of the proposed policy and clearly establish its objectives. For example interpreting public interest as ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ or ‘helping those who can’t help themselves’.
3. Identify Options: Identify alternative approaches to the design of the policy,  preferably with international comparisons where feasible. Engage in realistic costings of key alternative approaches.
4. Consider Mechanisms: Consider implementation choices along a full spectrum from incentives to coercion.
5. Brainstorm Alternatives: Consider the pros and cons of each option and mechanism. Subject all key alternatives to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. For major policy initiatives over $100 million), require a Productivity Commission analysis.
6. Design Pathway: Develop a complete policy design framework including principles, goals, delivery mechanisms, program or project management structure, the implementation process and phases, performance measures, ongoing evaluation mechanisms and reporting requirements, oversight and audit arrangements, and a review process ideally with a sunset clause.
7. Consult Further: Undertake further consultation with key affected stakeholders of the policy initiative.
8. Publish Proposals: Produce a Green and then a White paper for public feedback and final consultation purposes and to explain complex issues and processes.
9. Introduce Legislation: Develop legislation and allow for comprehensive parliamentary debate especially in committee, and also intergovernmental discussion where necessary.
10. Communicate Decision: Design and implement a clear, simple, and inexpensive communication strategy based on information not propaganda, regarding the new policy initiative.

If you have constructive suggestions you would like considered in the development of ‘Wiltshire 2.0’, you might want to email them to newDemocracy’s Executive Director (iain.walker@newdemocracy.com.au), and in so doing, encourage their further work on the establishment of a standard for evidence-based public policy.

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