Energy Policy

Policy Analysis


As a graduate of the Energy and Sustainability Program, and as an informed citizen, it will be important for you to understand the role of policy analysis in our lawmaking process. The ability to examine policy critically from a variety of frameworks and evaluate its effectiveness in achieving intended goals is a crucial skill for you to cultivate over time. In this lesson, you'll be exposed to a broad range of frameworks for policy analysis that will begin to prepare you for the Critique portion of the course's Research Project.

The process of analyzing policy can be summarized in the following 6 steps, as outlined by Carl Patton and David Sawicki in the 1993 book Basic Methods of Policy Analysis and Planning, Second Edition. Please also note that many other organizations and individuals have developed similar structured outlines, but this 6-step process works well in the context of our discussion of energy policy analysis. Feel free to explore other frameworks such as these (and many others).

  • Keeney, R. L., & McDaniels, T. L. (2001). A framework to guide thinking and analysis regarding climate change policies. Risk Analysis, 21(6), 989-1000. 10.1111/0272-4332.216168
  • Quade, E. S. (1982). Analysis for public decisions (2nd ed.). New York: North Holland.
  • Weimer, D. L., & Vining, A. R. (1999). Policy analysis: Concepts and practice (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall.
Analyzing Policy
Step 1 Verify, define, and detail the problem.
Step 2 Establish evaluation criteria.
Step 3 Identify alternative policy options.
Step 4 Evaluate alternative policy options.
Step 5 Display and distinguish among alternative policies.
Step 6 Monitor and evaluate the implemented policy.

This process, however, can be approached from myriad perspectives, and we'll be exploring the validity of some of these perspectives in this lesson. As we go through the various frameworks for policy analysis, be thinking about these two broad categories:

Quantitative policy analysis is probably the broad subtype of policy analysis with which you are most familiar. Quantitative analysis is characterized by numerical data, mathematical numbers, and other systematic scientific approaches.

Example: Based on the emissions caps presented in the Waxman-Markey climate bill, we can expect an 83% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (relative to a 2005 baseline).

Qualitative policy analysis involves the consideration of factors that are less easily quantifiable into neatly defined categories and values.

Example: Semi-structured interviews with utility customers reveal a widespread misunderstanding of how energy consumption patterns in the home actually influence their bills.

As energy and climate policy professionals, you will undoubtedly encounter more quantitative than qualitative perspectives for energy policy analysis. Legislators need to know concrete facts as they try to make decisions about whether or not implementing policies is the right decision. Costs of programs, avoided costs saved, energy saved, emissions reduced, jobs created, jobs lost - these are all critical factors in the process of evaluating a policy. But, it's important to also consider the value associated with less quantifiable research, because when it comes to energy consumption, behavioral change matters a lot! With most estimates placing more than 40% of a building's consumption at the discretion of the users, understanding how people interact with and respond to the more quantitative factors in energy policy is an important (and arguably less well-understood) component of developing energy policies that are feasible, efficient, and successful.