Analysis and Public Policy

Analysis and Public Policy

Successes, Failures and Directions for Reform

New Horizons in Public Policy series

Stuart Shapiro

How do we incorporate analytical thinking into public policy decisions? Stuart Shapiro confronts this issue in Analysis and Public Policy by looking at various types of analysis, and discussing how they are used in regulatory policy-making in the US. By looking at the successes and failures of incorporating cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, and environmental impact assessment, he draws broader lessons on its use, focusing on the interactions between analysis and political factors, legal structures and bureaucratic organizations as possible areas for reform.

Chapter 7: The use of analysis

Stuart Shapiro

Subjects: environment, valuation, politics and public policy, public policy, research methods in politics and public policy, research methods, research methods in politics and public policy


The scientist and the social scientist always strive to find clear answers to the questions they are addressing. That is no less true of me than it is of the scientists, economists and environmental analysts I spoke with in researching this book. But those analysts realize that the questions with which they are grappling are riddled with uncertainty and complexity. Similarly, in addressing in this chapter the question of how and when analysis affects policy, I will attempt to pull together the disparate threads of the four previous chapters and paint a picture of the use of analysis within government and the myriad things that affect its use. Throughout the more than 50 years in which academics and advocates have debated the role of analysis, much of the discussion has focused on normative questions. Comprehensive-rational analysis has been praised as a way both to lead to better public policy and to increase the transparency of decisions made within the bureaucracy, an unelected fourth branch of government. It has also been decried as a tool to delay or prevent decisions that would benefit the public, and as a replacement of a democratic form of governance with a technocratic one. For those in either camp, the results of the previous several chapters present some good news and some bad news. On one side of the ledger, the various forms of comprehensive-rational analysis have influenced public policy decisions.

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