Policy Making Process

The world today is governed by policy and everyone’s life is regulated accordingly. Kingdoms evolved into states and countries under modern governments. These governments operate under numerous sets of values such that they vary from, socialist governments to democratic ones, among a myriad of other forms following stages of the policy making process. 5 stages of the policy making process includes five key steps namely Agenda setting, Policy formulation, Decision making, Policy implementation and Policy evaluation. These are critical steps which policy makers follow when drafting any form of policy.


This position makes it complex to try and look at the aspect of policy making from a generalized perspective showing what are the 5 stages of the policy making process. I choose, for the purposes of this article alone, to interact with the policy making process in democratic governments where elected legislators formulate policies which are then executed by government employees.

Policy generally determines the lines along which human beings in a particular country can operate. Legality of activities, voting and even which side of the road you can drive your vehicle is impacted by policy.


Institutions, companies and other entities operating under these governments have adopted the idea of stages of the policy making process for the benefit of their organizations. We will not delve deep in to their processes as they will vary from institution to institution.


It would be very interesting, before looking at steps of the policy making process, to try and understand how public policy itself works. While there are countless definitions of public policy, one thing remains the same, it is public officials and trying to tackle issues affecting day to day lives in their jurisdiction.

These differ according to factors around; political affiliation of officials, nature of the problem at hand. A good non-politically determined situation is the current Covid-19 pandemic which has birthed various government health policies modelled against the virus.


Because of the wide breadth of daily life issues, public policy also takes different forms, among them; new laws, statutory instruments and/or regulatory guidelines. The ideal goal of policy is betterment of life for the citizenry and as such some ideas pop up from outside government but public officials are the gatekeepers of the policy formulation system.

What are the 5 stages of the policy making process?


The five steps of the policy making process are the 1950s work of Harold Lasswell during his tenures at the University of Chicago and Yale University. Stages of policy making process include Agenda setting, Policy formulation, Decision making, Policy implementation and Policy evaluation which are still used today despite new challenges calling for substitution of some fundamentals.


1. Agenda Setting


This is the troubleshooting stage where the challenge impacting the public is undressed and laid bare for the legislators to address and come up with solutions. In functional governments, solutions not only come from concerned parties in and outside government, but they are also objectively implemented for public benefit. Agenda setting itself also has sub-stages to be followed i.e:
Systemic Agenda.

Public officials brainstorm (based of interactions with the constituencies they represent) all the issues they deem fit to address. Institutional Agenda. Issues shortlisted from the systemic agenda are awarded time for policymakers to articulate and initiate action on.


Discretionary Agenda. Lawmakers are responsible for this list of issues without influence from the afore mentioned agendas.
Decision Agenda. When this one comes out, it has the agreed upon list of issues policy makers ought to act upon.

2. Policy Formation


At this point, conversations get heated up. Options of policies are developed within government and from a wide range of options, the least effective are taken down. Because public officials have differences by virtue of them being human to start with, and them coming from different walks of life including political parties, interested parties try to have policies more desirable to them kept on the remaining options.


3. Decision Making


Relevant authorities in government single out a particular course of action towards the remaining policy choices. This action should ideally be of the greatest public benefit resonating with the rout that led to the process of trying to come up with the policy among stages of the policy making process.


4. Policy Implementation


At this stage, government rolls out the what are the 5 stages of the policy making process through public administration tools public officials for the distribution of government resources in whatever form they take. Changes implemented should reflect the plight of affected parties which becomes the first step towards embracing a new policy.


5. Policy Evaluation


Here both government and all stakeholder follow up on the account of the policy from its impact on the issue that led to its formulation. They also determine whether or not, the policy is bringing desired results.

Policies have a tendency to rub on to each other such that this may result in changes in existing policies or even an alteration of the new one to minimize negative impact on existing policy.
Present day governments, the world over, have been accused of abusing the responsibility vested in them in the policy making process.

Matters of public interest in some instances have become nonentities such that policies are even formulated to legalize personal growth activities to the detriment of the public who are the rightful beneficiaries of this process.


As mentioned earlier, while these are the stages of the policy making process, there are variations to the policy making process. These are just but a framework of the policy making system which has its weaknesses and strengths. Call to mind how Covid-19 has impacted policy making in your respective country.

We have seen activities of the old day being banned and in some instances referred to as illegal and attracting fines and even jail penalties if not properly following stages of the policy making process. Not only public policy was affected, private entities have also found themselves changing their policies to suit the new business atmosphere. Heavy decrease of movement and physical contact activity has been the order of the day.


A good example of a phenomenon affecting policy making is that of Covid-19 vaccination. These vaccines have received a lot of negative criticism and even resistance such that governments have had to implement policies where non-vaccinated citizens are excluded from certain activities through what are the 5 stages of the policy making process.

Recently in Zimbabwe, churches where not allowing citizens who have not received their full vaccination evidenced by vaccination cards, access to their services. This is how effective policy is, despite one wanting to choose what they can or cannot do.

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