William H. Park
United Kingdom Joint Services Command and Staff College
A decision or, more usually, a set of interrelated decisions concerning the selection of goals and the means of achieving them. The identification of policy as a set or web of decisions is useful in that it underlines the notion that policy is best seen as a course of action—or inaction—rather than a single, discrete decision or action.
It is tempting, and common, to regard policy and the policy process as somehow ordered and rational. According to rational assumptions, the policy process consists of the identification of a problem demanding a solution or a goal worth achieving, assessment of the alternative means of achieving the desired outcome, the making of a choice between these alternatives, the implementation of the preferred option, and the solution of the problem or the attainment of the objective. However, such a process would imply the involvement of a small number of decisionmakers, a high degree of consensus concerning what constitutes a policy problem or a desirable objective, an ability to calculate and compare the likely consequences of each alternative, smooth implementation of the chosen option, and the absence of obstacles to the achievement of policy goals. It also implies that the process is terminated by the making and implementation of a decision. In the real world, however, policy processes are likely to be less well structured. Multiple decisionmakers, little consensus, incalculable probabilities, imperfect implementation, and unknown or unknowable outcomes might be encountered, and policy can appear messier, less coherent, and less able to achieve the desired