The Policy Formulation Process
Governments don't have time to think about the broader longer-range issues. It seemed to make sense to persuade a group of private, qualified citizens to get together to identify the key issues affecting the world and possible solutions.
-- DAVID ROCKEFELLER
POLICY FORMULATION OCCURS from the top down--when institutional leaders, primarily in business, finance, and the media, begin to complain about societal developments they perceive as threatening to their own values or interests. For example, inasmuch as economic growth is the most pervasive elite value, potential limits on growth are rather quickly identified, discussed, and placed on the nation's policymaking agenda. A particular condition in society that does not directly affect elite interests, however, is unlikely to be identified as a "problem" or to be given much discussion in the boardrooms of corporations, banks, or media conglomerates. This is not to say, however, that enlightened elites do not occasionally anticipate mass discontent that might arise from problems which more directly affect masses than elites.
Agenda setting and policy formulation begin well before any actions by government or government officials. According to sociologist G. William Domhoff,
The policy-formation process begins informally in corporate boardrooms, social clubs, and discussion groups, where problems are identified as "issues" to be solved by new policies. It ends in government, where policies are enacted and implemented. In between, however, there is a complex network of people and institutions that play an important role in sharpening the issues and weighing the alternatives. 1
The agenda-setting and policy formulation process flows downward from elites to government through a network of foundations, "think tanks," policy planning organizations, and the media. Figure 3.1 (p. 40) portrays this top-down policy formulation process.