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Venues

The second element of our analytical framework relates to the suggestion that policymakers apply tools in policy formulation venues, defined on the basis of their location (internal and external to government) and the sources of knowledge that they draw upon (official versus unofficial). In Chapter 1, we sought to open up two lines of potentially productive inquiry. First, by whom, for what purposes and in what form are tools used in particular policy formulation venues? By 'use' we mean that a particular tool has been specifically deployed to inform the formulation of policy, or its contribution has somehow been referenced or otherwise credited in a particular set of policy formulation activities. Second, what factors shape the selection and deployment of particular policy formulation tools?

Venues of use: by whom, for what purposes and in what form are tools used?

By whom have different policy formulation tools been used? In the past, the standard assumption in policy analysis was that it was the state and its constituent organizations that mainly selected and deployed the tools, with a particularly strong preference (according to Meltsner (1976) at least) for the more substantive-technical variants such as models and CBA (see also Chapter 1). In other words, tool use was mainly clustered in the internal-official quadrant of Figure 1.1. Much later Radin (2013) and others (Nilsson et al. 2008) argued that even in this quadrant, the use of such tools was greatly exaggerated; process-related tools such as checklists and participatory tools were at least as common (see Chapter 8), and in the other three quadrants of Figure 1.1 were likely to be relatively more common.

Chapters 2-12 show that these standard assumptions should indeed now be questioned. Evidently, there are many different actors involved in the policy formulation process, drawing upon and deploying a broad range of tools (in other words, tools are much more widely spread across the four quadrants in Figure 1.1). Nonetheless, the pattern of use across the venues is even more uneven (or 'lumpy') than Meltsner (1976) and Radin (2013) suggested. Chapters 8 and 9 offer a much more detailed insight into the differentiated patterns of uptake. Chapter 8 suggests that in Canada, more substantive-technical tools are more likely to be used in the governmental (as opposed to the NGO) sector, and in the more economically (as opposed to socially and environmentally) focused sectors. That said, even amongst government officials, Radin's suspicion does seem to hold true: government officials are more likely to use tools such as brainstorming, consultation exercises and checklists than more formalized tools such as CBA (see Table 8.2). Chapter 9 examines tool use in the relatively new and formalized venue of impact assessment (in other words, squarely in the top right quadrant of Figure 1.1) and finds a strong variation between countries where tools are hardly used at all, and others where their use is much more the norm. In other words, specific tools do not completely dominate specific venues.

A more general point emerges from many chapters: in practice it can be difficult to determine when a tool has been 'used' because it may not necessarily appear in its 'textbook' form, or be formally documented in a way that researchers can study empirically. The distinction between textbook and 'actual' forms stands out for tools such as CBA, which prescribe clear steps and procedures which are often not followed in practice (Chapter 7). For the less standardized tools, variable use is not simply difficult to measure but is often seen as a virtue - think of the 'contextualization' of modelling tools for example (Chapter 5) or the more exploratory types of participatory tool.

The chapters suggest too that the purposes to which the tools are put in the various policy formulation venues also exhibit a great deal of variation. Purposes can be thought of in at least two distinct senses: vis-a-vis the well-known stages or steps of policy formulation (as in Chapter 1); and in relation to the pre-existing 'design space' (Howlett 2011, p. 141), that is, does it seek a radical or a more incremental departure from the status quo? As regards the former, certain tools appear to be far better suited (and be more heavily used in relation) to certain policy formulation tasks than others. In Chapter 1, the first step was presented as being one of problem characterization (in other words, what is the nature of 'the problem'?). For this, scenarios and public participatory techniques seem to be uniquely well suited. Nevertheless, the more projective forms of modelling and even indicators can be used to - and, according to the chapter authors do - shape problem perceptions. The second step {problem evaluation) is something that scenarios and indicators appear to be better suited to. By contrast the final step (policy design - recommending a mix of policy interventions) is something that CBA and MCA were specifically designed to address, although participatory tools may also play a part in ensuring that the design process remains transparent and/or legitimate. Indicators may be less likely to recommend one single option, but they can be (and indeed are - Chapter 10) used to justify the option that is selected and help to monitor performance over time.

The other way to consider the purposes to which a tool is put is relate it to the pre-existing 'design space'. In other words, does it seek to implement the existing policy regime (comprising an internally consistent set of policy objectives, goals and instruments) (Howlett 2011, p. 142), in a more efficient or cost-effective fashion, or does it seek to stretch the existing design space by incorporating new problem formulations or radically different policy approaches? In many tool-related literatures this is directly comparable to the distinction between policy analysis that 'opens up' debate and that which 'closes it down' (Stirling 2008). Here we come across the normative divide between tool developers whose goal is to 'open up' (see for example the debate in the participatory tools literature - Chapter 2) and those for whom 'selecting the best option' is the overriding priority (economists in particular seem to be the obvious exemplar). In Chapters 2-7, this fundamental difference was repeatedly stated; indeed in the chapter on participation (Chapter 2), the difference between so-called 'differentiation' and 'unification' divides the literature in two. Similarly, politicians may initially be attracted to tools such as indicators to 'open up' debate, but by adopting them may unwittingly end up 'closing down' political debate in a way that 'locks in' extant policy designs (Chapter 11).

 
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