Policy Lifecycle

The policy lifecycle is a description of a standard approach to understanding the way in which policies are made in a given political context. In democratic societies, a basic representation of the policy cycle (cf. e.g. Howlett and Ramesh 1995; OECD 2003, p. 34) is:

  • Agenda setting, which refers to the process by which issues are raised and selected for attention by governments
  • Policy formulation (or consultation), whcihrefers to the process by which policy options are formulated within government
  • Policy decision making (legislation), which refers to the process by which governments adopt a particular course of action or non-action
  • Policy implementation (the task of the executive): refers to the process by which governments put policies into effect
  • Policy evaluation (or monitoring), which refers to processes by which the results of policies are monitored by both state and societal actors, the result of which may be a re-conceptualisation of policy problems and solution

This cycle enables to identify five broad areas that divide up the process of policymaking. Each one requires a slightly different constituency, and logically imply a different approach to how and why they should be involved in the process. For example, at the agenda-setting and consultative stages of the policy cycle, representativity (of the general populace) is not in question, as policy makers need to talk to those who are directly engaged in the given policy area. Policy decision making (and legislation) is in  representative democracies a field that has traditionally been left to elected representatives, although the Swiss tradition of direct democracy provides some insight into how this might evolve in a more interactive societal framework (cf. e.g. Rossel and Finger 2007). Additionally, some attempts at online rule-making in local contexts have been carried out to great success in the United States (Carlitz and Gunn, 2002). The monitoring phase is an interesting sphere where potentials lie for greater participation from involved stakeholders as well.


R. Carlitz and R. Gunn (2002). 'Online rulemaking: a step toward E-governance' Government Information Quarterly 19(4): 389-405.

M. Howlett and M. Ramesh (1995). Studying Public Policy: Policy Cycles and Policy Subsystems, Oxford University press.

OECD. Open Government: Fostering Dialogue with Civil Society. OECD Study, 2003

P. Rossel and M. Finger (2007). Conceptualising e-governance. In: Proceedings of the 1st international conference on Theory and practice of electronic governance (ICEGOV 2007), ACM, New York, pp. 399-407

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