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 8: Using analysis to further democracy, not technocracy

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


My hope in studying the use of various types of comprehensive-rational analysis was both to understand how analysis has affected decisions and to recommend reforms to make analysis more effective. In Chapter 7, I covered the first of these two aims. The record of comprehensive-rational analysis, in its various forms, affecting regulatory decisions is mixed but there are consistent patterns of both successes and failures. The political climate, organizational structure, and legal requirements for analysis all play important roles in supporting or restraining the advance of policy analysis. In this chapter, I turn to the second of my two goals, what do the case studies presented in Chapters 3–6 tell us about possible reforms to the use of analysis? Before discussing possible reforms, however, I must make the goal of possible reforms clear. My goal is not to ensure that analysis drives all public policy decisions. While I do not think there is any danger of that, the fear of a technocratic state which ignores public preferences is a prevalent one (Jenkins-Smith 1990), and should not be ignored. Any reforms to the analytic process must fit within a broader structure of democratic decision-making. In the interest of transparency, however, I began this project with the sentiment that good analysis leads to better public policy decisions. Twelve years of teaching public policy, including five years of running a public policy master’s degree program, have nurtured that sentiment.

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