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
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:
- 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
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
- 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
- good consultation enhances the credibility of
the process and its outcome;
- consultation builds support for the final
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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