Policy cycle

Understanding policy discrimination: The policy cycle

Government policy is generally produced by governments to address an area of acknowledged ‘social concern’ and is produced in a mechanism described as a process called a 'policy cycle'. While there are many different versions of a policy cycle, the general phases described in a policy cycle include:1

  • Issue identification – where a social issue is identified as in need of a policy to redress. This can emerge from discussion between the government and lobby groups, such as NGOs, or can be generated in the media. An issue could be the lack of mental health care services for children, or the rise of violent crime committed against children.
  • Policy analysis – after a new issue has been identified, it will require research and reflection within governments to ensure they have sufficient information to make an informed decision. This often involves using existing research on an issue, or speaking to ‘experts’. Policy analysis usually results in a briefing paper for a minister or senior government official.
  • Policy instrument development – after reviewing the information about the issue, the various policy options are explored. This could include government sponsored awareness raising campaigns, redirecting government spending or taxation, delivering new services or making or changing laws. In this phase, a specific policy or mix of policies, is proposed, usually in a written document.
  • Consultation – to test the validity and feasibility of the proposed policy, various 'stakeholders' are consulted about the policy instrument. This often draws on a range of key stake holders, for business and the community.
  • Coordination – once a draft policy has been produced and consulted on, the government needs to decide who is going to be responsible for coordinating the policy. Often, for large policies, many government agencies are involved so co-ordination needs to be assigned to someone. Sometimes coordinating new policies with existing polices can also be an issue. For example, is the Department of Health going to be responsible for delivering new health education for school children, or the Department of Education? These are all issues that need to be considered.
  • Decision – once a policy has been devised, consulted about, and ideas about who is responsible for it discussed, it is time to make a decision about the policy and decide if the government wants to make it happen. Final decisions are made by the ‘cabinet’ in some democracies, or ministers and presidents in others.
  • Implementation – in this phase, the policy is made real and ‘rolled out’ through a change in law, the delivery of a programme, a shift in funding or whatever might be required.
  • Evaluation – after the policy has been implemented, a thorough review is necessary to make sure that the policy has been effective and has no unwanted indirect consequences. Often, the focus is on if the outcomes of the policy match the intended consequences, and if this match is efficient enough.

Each stage of the policy cycle can however reinforce discrimination against children and young people in unique ways.

1. Bridgman, P., Davis, G. and Althaus. C. 2007 Australian Policy Handbook, Allen and Unwin, Sydney