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The Basic Challenges of Futures-Oriented Policy Analysis and Planning

Jari Kaivo-oja: 

Nowadays, the daily life of politics seems to be turbulent, fragmented and busy. This leaves the scientist in doubt as to whether policy approaches are coherent and rational. The big challenge of policymaking is that it must be planned and programmed in some way. In the field of futures studies, as a critical pre-condition of futures-oriented policy analysis is the identification of alternatives. However, before alternatives can be identified, there is an obvious need to verify, define and detail the problem. Problem-centricity is an important part of future-oriented policy analysis.

When the problem is defined a social planner typically establishes evaluation criteria like (1) technical feasibility, (2) economic and financial possibilities, (3) political viability and (4) administrative operability. There is no sense to present future-oriented alternatives if we do not define a relevant problem or problems. For futures or foresight researcher this is good to remember. Too often wild alternative futures visions and scenarios are presented without asking very basic boring questions: Why? What is the problem?

For real policymakers, just identification of alternatives is not enough. There are often many experts who can list problems and alternatives, but nothing happens after they have listed problems and alternatives. Futurists know well this strategic problem, where there is no link between visions and missions. There is also needs to evaluate alternative policies and display alternatives and distinguish among them. Finally, policymakers must have to monitor implementation policies and plans. Impacts can be expected if there are implementation plans and programs.

In Figure 1 we can see the key elements of the policy planning process. As we can see there are six critical phases as already noted above.

Figure 1. Policy Analysis Process.

It is good to understand policy analysis process can be managed with these six critical steps. Too often only some phases of policy analysis process are managed professionally. This kind of partial management approach can create more problems for society and organizations than was originally expected to be the outcome. Especially we need to pay more attention to the problem definition phase and to interactive links of policy analysis process (red, green violet and black arrows in Fig. 1). The too linear planning process is not working. Also, the planning process is a learning process.

The problem definition phase can be based on various methods. Typical basic methods are identification and gathering data, library search methods, interviews, quick surveys, basic data analysis and communicating the analysis. More advanced methods are political analysis, creation of valid operational definitions, system analysis, quick decision analysis, back-of-the-envelope calculations or issue paper or white policy papers with first cut analyses.

In phase 2, in establishing evaluation criteria, the basic approaches and methods of futures studies methods are relevant. Feasibility, desirability, probability analyses, strategic importance analysis, risk analysis are such typical future-oriented methods and tools.

In the policy analysis process third phase, identifying alternatives typically are linked to scenario analysis. Scenario analyses can be based on various methods. Typical methods are no-action analysis, quick surveys, literature review, real-world experiences, Delphi expert panel studies, development of key typologies, analogy thinking, metaphor development, synectics, brainstorming, comparison with ideal, feasible manipulations, modifying existing solutions and workshop methods.  In this phase futures and foresight methods are useful.

The fourth phase of policy analysis process focuses on evaluating alternative policies. Also in this fourth phase futures studies methods are very useful. Such methods like extrapolation, theoretical econometric forecasting, simulation models, intuitive forecasting, discounting, sensitivity analysis, allocation formulas, quick decision analysis, political feasibility analysis, implementation analysis, storyline scenario writing is widely applied and tested methods.

The fifth phase of policy analysis process includes displaying alternatives and distinguishing among them. Formal methods like paired comparisons, satisficing, lexicographic ordering, nondominated alternatives method, standard alternative method, matrix display systems, and scenario writing provides relevant methodological arsenal.

Direct and indirect actions of policymaking are listed in Table 1. Some actions involve monetary policies, others involve non-monetary policies.  Both positive and negative incentives are needed for policy actions.

Table 1. Types of policy actions (O´Hare 1989, p. 670).

In the final phase, in the sixth phase, decisionmakers want to see monitoring reports of implemented policies. In this phase of policy analysis process key methods are before-and-after comparisons, with-and-without comparisons, actual-versus-planned performance, experimental models, quasi-experimental models, and cost-benefit oriented approaches.

We can note that there are various methods that can be helpful in the policy analysis process. Impactful policy planning requires a lot of professionalism in knowledge management and in the use of various policy analysis methods.

It is important to understand that policy decisions require high-quality decision making and integrated knowledge management tools. The legitimacy and confidence of the public in decision-making is based on the fact that changes in laws and policies are justified from a foresight perspective. Too many political and economic reforms are already outdated when they are communicated.

Personally, I see that there is a lot of synergy between futures/foresight studies and policy analysis process. I assess that the synergy level could be more positive and stronger, but this change requires much closer collaboration between policymakers and futures/foresight researchers. My normative conclusion is that this is a desirable mission for policymakers, futures specialists and researchers. The management of Policy Analysis Process is a key issue for the Strategic Research Council (SRC) at the Academy of Finland.

Jari Kaivo-oja

Research Director, Dr, Adjunct Professor, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku
Research Professor, Kazimiero Simonavičiaus University, KSU, Vilnius, Lithuania

Research Director Jari Kaivo-oja is working for the Strategic Research Council (SRC) at the Academy of Finland, which provides funding to long-term and program-based research aimed at finding solutions to the major challenges facing Finnish society. Dr Kaivo-oja is works in two SRC projects, the Manufacturing 4.0 ( and the EL-TRAN, Transition to a Resource-efficient and Climate Neutral Electricity System, (

Key references

O´Hare, Michael (1989) A Typology of Governmental Actions. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 8, Issue 4, s. 670.

Patton, Carl L. – Sawicki, David S. & Clark, Jennifer F.  (2013) Basic Methods of Policy Analysis and Planning. Routledge. London.




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