SSI focuses on understanding client’s existing policy, analyzing its strengths and weaknesses and recommending changes. Consequently, this involves an in-depth description and analysis of an existing policy with a mind to improving that policy (policies themselves may have flaws in their design from day one or current realities may make it necessary to reassess and revise what was otherwise a highly successful policy when it was introduced).
Policy Options Analysis, on the other hand, begins with the assumption that an existing policy is unworkable, flawed, irrelevant or all of the above and hence sets out to start anew trying to solve the basic policy problem that the inadequate existing policy attempted to address. Policy Options Analysis therefore focuses, not on improving and revising the existing policy but rather on positing and analyzing two or more alternatives to the existing policy and determining which alternative is most viable (via the creation of a metric based on variables such as cost-effectiveness, political/organizational acceptability, legal barriers, etc.).
- Synthesizing Information – policy analysts must be able to gather, organize and communicate information. Analysts need to be able to quickly understand the nature of problems and the range of possible solutions.
- Determining Cost and Benefit Calculus – policy analysts must be able to attach a cost/benefit value (whether quantitative, qualitative or both) to courses of action or approach designed to improve existing policies or to considering policy alternatives and weighting the comparative advantages and disadvantages of each option.
- Data Gathering and Analysis – policy analysts need to be able to obtain and manipulate data in a manner that makes it useful in helping to determine the costs and benefits of ways and means of improving existing policies or selecting alternative policy options.
- Implementation Issues – policy analysts need to have an understanding of the political, organizational, budgetary and legal environments that form the superstructure within which a given policy may need to be implemented. Policies or policy changes that cannot be implemented due to these constraints are clearly not useful and consequently the analyst must be able to evaluate the feasibility of implementing a given policy and factor this in to the evaluation of alternative policies. Moreover, a good analyst will also develop strategies for implementing his/her preferred policy (or modification of a policy) that take into account these environments and leverage these factors. One of the most effective ways of accounting for implementation challenges is through Forward Mapping – the specification of a chain of behaviors that link a policy with the desired outcomes. This can be done through the mapping out of scenarios that will help test the analysts assumptions and help make it clear as to who needs to do what when.