Gauging Effectiveness

First and Second-Best Policy Design

Authored by: Ishani Mukherjee , Michael Howlett

Routledge Handbook of Policy Design

Print publication date:  July  2018
Online publication date:  July  2018

Print ISBN: 9780815369189
eBook ISBN: 9781351252928
Adobe ISBN:


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Policy studies has always been interested in analyzing and improving the sets of policy tools adopted by governments to correct policy problems, and in better understanding and improving processes of policy analysis and policy formulation in order to do so. A central goal, in fact, the central goal, of policy design in this effort has been, and is, achieving and enhancing ‘effectiveness.’ Effectiveness serves as the basic goal of any design, upon which are built other goals such as efficiency or equity. But effectiveness in the context of policy design has two dimensions. It can be understood as espousing either ‘first-best’ outcomes—those that most ideally align design contexts and tool mixes with singular instrument calibrations to address policy goals with the best means possible—versus ‘second-best’ scenarios that must work within the constraints and limitations imposed by past policy choices and legacies, as well as the reality of present-day circumstances. Understanding these dimensions involves three levels of analysis: (1) that of formulation environments or spaces that are conducive to design of effective tools and tool mixes; (2) that of optimal and sub-optimal arrangements of policy tool portfolios or mixes in theory and practice; and (3) a more specific focus upon what exactly constitutes the effectiveness of particular types of policy tools. This chapter addresses each of these aspects in turn.

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