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Governance &
Structure Division

Policy Analysis


The Community Charter, with its broad powers and permissive nature, provides municipalities with many opportunities to use policy analysis. Policy analysis can help elected officials determine the best course of action to address the needs and interests of communities, by:

  • developing a clear understanding of issues;
  • identifying objectives around issues;
  • setting out criteria for decision-making;
  • formulating and assessing options; and
  • selecting the best option.

This material deals with the following:

  • the policy analysis process;
  • the players involved in the process; and
  • situations in which policy analysis may be considered.

The policy analysis process

The points below describe a six-stage process for policy analysis.

Stage 1 - Issue Identification
The first stage involves council defining the issue that needs analysis.

Issue definition can be complicated. Most issues have a variety of angles or facets. Decision makers need to focus on the specific facet, or facets, which are significant to the community. Other issues may be obscured by symptoms. Decision makers need to be certain that they understand the root issue that lies beneath the symptoms.

Defining the issue is an important first step. If the issue is not defined properly and is not understood, a great deal of effort and resources may be misdirected to addressing the wrong problem.

Stage 2 - Council’s Objectives
Only council, as the governing body, has the legitimacy required to establish the municipality’s objectives with respect to the issue. Council may develop its objectives by answering these questions.

  • Why is municipal action required?
  • What does council hope to achieve through its decision?

A clear statement of the objectives is critical. If council does not know what it hopes to achieve, it will not be able to properly develop or assess decisions.

There is rarely only one objective. It is often the case that the objectives listed conflict with, rather than complement, one another. Conflicts among objectives need to be resolved before the process can continue. Complementary objectives need to be placed in order of priority.


Stage 3 - Evaluation Criteria
At this stage, the municipality needs to identify the set of criteria that will be used to evaluate the various options developed. The following principles and constraints may be included in the evaluation criteria:

  • transparency;
  • ease of administration;
  • equity and fairness;
  • cost effectiveness;
  • collective agreement requirements;
  • statutory requirements; and
  • specific cost limitations.

Stage 4 - Options
This stage identifies and develops options to achieve council's objectives. The number of options developed should be manageable (e.g., 3 or 4) and should reflect a range of possibilities (e.g., regulatory, non-regulatory).

All options should be considered. By including and evaluating different approaches, the municipality will be able to base decision-making on a thorough review of the alternatives.

The status quo may be included as an option for consideration. It was selected as the preferred option at one point and those reasons may still be valid.

Stage 5 - Preferred Option
Once the options have been developed, municipal staff can evaluate them against council's objectives and the evaluation criteria. The purpose is to identify the degree to which each option achieves the objectives and satisfies the criteria. Municipalities may not be able to measure the impacts of the options in quantitative, absolute terms. Qualitative assessments, which consider the impact of each option relative to the others, may be necessary.

The evaluation provides an opportunity to identify the implications of the options on the community. Serious implications associated with a particular course of action may force council to disqualify the option, regardless of its strengths.

Stage 6 - Recommendation
The preferred option that emerges in the stage 5 evaluation becomes the recommendation to council. The recommendation may also provide an implementation plan for council to consider.

Council needs to be able to review the evaluation results and understand clearly why the recommended option was chosen.


The Players Involved

Council, municipal staff and members of the community are the three players most often involved in the municipal analysis process. Each of their roles is considered below.

Council is involved in some capacity at almost every stage of the process.

  • Stage 1 - council is involved in discussions aimed at defining the exact issue to be addressed.
  • Stage 2 - council sets the objectives.
  • Stage 3 - council's values and perspectives form the choice of evaluation criteria.
  • Stage 4 - council's views help identify and develop the options.
  • Stage 6 - council makes the decision based on the outcome of the policy analysis.

Municipal staff performs three functions throughout the policy analysis process.

  • Process manager: Staff is responsible for obtaining direction from council input and from the community. Staff undertakes the required research and prepares the final report to council.
  • Advisor: Staff provides advice to council on suitable objectives, criteria, options and the final recommendation.
  • Implementer: Staff is responsible for implementing council's decision.

The identity of the individuals and community groups that may be consulted will depend on the issue being considered. In general, policy analysis will include any group or individual that may be impacted by the ultimate policy decision. Their input is important for the following reasons:

  • it helps staff and council's understanding of the issue, appropriate evaluation criteria and identification of the options;
  • good consultation enhances the credibility of the process and its outcome;
  • consultation builds support for the final policy; and
  • consultation provides practical insights into effective implementation of the policy.


When to Consider

Policy analysis is a decision-making tool designed to provide information to council to make policy decisions. In theory, policy analysis may be applied to any decision council needs to make. In practice, policy analysis is a tool that is best kept for major decisions that have the potential to significantly impact the municipality.

For example:

  • council wants to determine how to deal with a perceived increase in incidents of uncivil behaviour in the municipality's entertainment district;
  • council wants to identify the best approach for handling parking issues in the downtown core;
  • the community faces the prospect of an empty school;
  • successive years of hot, dry weather are threatening the municipality's water supply; or
  • the use of city roads by gravel trucks is causing costly maintenance problems.

In each of these examples, the municipality could apply the policy analysis process to define the specific issue to be addressed, identify council's objectives, establish evaluation criteria, develop optional courses of action, assess the options and make a recommendation.

Additional Comments

Elected officials and municipal staff are often under considerable pressure to take immediate action on an issue. In some instances a thoughtful policy analysis process may result in a better, credible and sustainable solution to an issue.

Please direct questions or comments to Advisory Services Branch

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