Policy-making is a process whereby individuals, groups, or institutions interact in order to establish policies pertaining to population health issues. Sound policy process includes the following: Population consultation; Situation analysis; Priority setting; Strategic planning; Operational planning; Estimating cost; Budgeting and Monitoring & evaluation. A key output from this process is a health policy. [1]

A health policy is a set of decisions or commitments to pursue courses of action aimed at achieving defined goals for improving health. Policies usually state or infer the values that underpin the policy position. They may also specify the source of funding that can be applied to the action, the planning and management arrangements to be adopted for the implementation of the policy, and the relevant institutions to be involved [2]

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WHO Definitions Related to Policy

WHO health policy website [3]

Health policy: Health policy refers to decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific health care goals within a society. An explicit health policy can achieve several things: it defines a vision for the future which in turn helps to establish targets and points of reference for the short and medium term. It outlines priorities and the expected roles of different groups; and it builds consensus and informs people.

WHO Strategizing national health in the 21st century: a handbook [1]

The development of national health policies, strategies, and plans is a complex and dynamic process. Its precise nature varies from country to country according to the political, historical, and socio-economic context.

There is no single blueprint for conducting the policy process. However, the WHO framework for national health policies, strategies, and plans identifies the following key elements of sound process: Population consultaion; Situation analysis; Priority setting; Strategic planning; Operational planning; Estimating cost; Budgeting and Monitoring & evaluation

WHO Health Systems Strengthening Glossary [4]

Policy dialogue: (i) the process of policy making or policy formation, i.e. of recognition of social demand, transformation into political demand and, eventually, into formulation of a policy statement that provides guidance to subsequent decisions about technical implementation (WHO 1982); and/or, (ii) the social debate and interaction between stakeholders that leads to translation of policy into strategies and plans. 

WHO Ageing Glossary [5]

Policy formulation: The development of a policy.

George et al. (2017)[6]

Policy: Broad statement of goals, objectives and means that create the framework for activity. Often take the form of explicit written documents, but may also be implicit or unwritten [7].    

Other Definitions Related to Policy

OECD [8]

Policy reform: A process in which changes are made to the formal rules of the game– including laws, regulations and institutions – to address a problem or achieve a goal such as economic growth, environmental protection or poverty alleviation.

*Note: The ‘context’ attached to this definition reads: Usually involves a complex political process, particularly when it is perceived that the reform redistributes economic, political, or social power.

PubMed Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

Policy Making: The decision process by which individuals, groups or institutions establish policies pertaining to plans, programs or procedures.

Year introduced: 1980

Policy: A course or method of action selected to guide and determine present and future decisions.

Year introduced: 2011

Overseas Development Institute [9]

Policy: “We define this fairly broadly as a set of decisions that give rise to specific proposals for action. Many people equate policy with legislation, but it also includes non-legislative decisions such as setting standards, allocating resources between organisations, changing the levels of subsidies or taxes or consulting specific groups in the policy-making process.” –p.1

Dye (1972)[10]

Public policy: Public policy is whatever governments choose to do or not to do. –p.1

Smith et al. (2013)[11]

Policymaking: “Simply put, ‘policymaking’ involves the construction and/or implementation of specific policies.” –p.3

*Note: For more, see the remainder of “Policymaking and implementation” section in the same paper.

Milio (2001) [12]

Policy making processes: Political, social, and economic processes ultimately shape the content of public policies. Understanding the nature of these activities in any jurisdiction, which can be studied in their formal and informal aspects, can support efforts to strengthen healthy public policies. Policy making is driven by organisations and groups that have an interest in the outcomes


Additional Notes on Policy

Regonini (2017)[13]

*Note: Policy-making as social problem-solving: “"Since the founder of policy sciences, Harold Lasswell (1951), [14]numerous authors have associated policy making with a conscious activity of social problem solving: ‘[Policy is] a purposive course of action followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern’ (Anderson 1975: 3). [15] In fact, all the most widely used models of analysis are based on definitions of the policy cycle whose stages have close relationships with those of problem solving in complex adaptive social systems, from problem definition, through formulation of alternative solutions, to implementation and evaluation (Peters 1996; Lodge and Wegrich 2014). –p.164. [16, 17]

Urban Institute [18]

Four Principles of Evidence-Based Policymaking:

  1. Build and compile rigorous evidence about what works, including costs and benefits.
  2. Monitor program delivery and use impact evaluation to measure program
  3. Use rigorous evidence to improve programs, scale what works, and redirect funds
    away from consistently ineffective programs.
  4. Encourage innovation and test new approaches


Cases of Policy

  • Policy learning in Morocco: Akhnif E, Macq J, Meessen B. The place of learning in a universal health coverage health policy process: the case of the RAMED policy in Morocco. Health Research Policy and Systems. 2019 Dec;17(1):21.
  • Policy learning and data analytics in the UK: Scobie, S., & Castle-Clarke, S. Implementing learning health systems in the UK NHS: Policy actions to improve collaboration and transparency and support innovation and better use of analytics. Learning Health Systems, 2020;4(1):1.
  • Food regulation based on tobacco control policy: Studlar D, Cairney P. Multilevel governance, public health and the regulation of food: is tobacco control policy a model?. Journal of Public Health Policy. 2019 Jun 1;40(2):147-65.

*Note: More results are available through PAIS that have to do with evidence-use.

[1] Schmets G, Rajan D, Kadandale S, editors. Strategizing national health in the 21st century: a handbook. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2016. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/250221

[2] A glossary of technical terms on the economics and finance of health services. Copenhagen. World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe; 1998 https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/102173/E69927.pdf


[4] Health Systems Strengthening Glossary https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/documents/health-systems-strengthening-glossary.pdf

[5] WHO Centre for Health Development (‎‎‎Kobe, Japan)‎‎‎. (‎2004)‎. A glossary of terms for community health care and services for older persons. Kobe, Japan : WHO Centre for Health Development. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/68896

[6]George A, Scott K, Govender V, editors. Health Policy and Systems Research Reader on Human Resources for Health. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017.

[7] Buse K, Mays N, Walt G (2005). Making Health Policy. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

[8] OECD. 2006. DAC Guidelines and Reference Series Applying Strategic Environmental Assessment: Good Practice Guidance for Development Co-operation. Paris, France: OECD.

[9] https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/9011.pdf

[10] Dye TR. Understanding Public Policy. 1972. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

[11] Smith KE, Katikireddi SV. A glossary of theories for understanding policymaking. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2013 Feb 1;67(2):198-202.

[12] Milio N. Glossary: healthy public policy. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 2001 Sep 1;55(9):622-3.

[13] Regonini G. Governmentalities without policy capacity. Policy Sciences. 2017 Jun 1;50(2):163-78.


[14] Lasswell HD. The policy orientation. In HD Lasswell & D Lerner (Eds.), The Policy Sciences (pp. 3–15). 1951. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

[15] Anderson JE. Public Policy-Making. 1975. New York: Praeger.

[16]Peters BG. The Policy Capacity of Government. 1996. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Management Development

[17] Lodge M, Wegrich K. (Eds.). The Problem-Solving Capacity of the Modern State: Governance Challenges and Administrative Capacities. 2014. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[18] https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/99739/principles_of_evidence-based_policymaking.pdf