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In February 1953, a NW gale swept the North Sea and, combined with the astronomical high tide, a disaster occurred in the southwest part of the Netherlands. Much of the Rhine-Meuse-Schelde region of the Netherlands was flooded inundating 130,000 hectares and killing 1835 people and urging the evacuation of 300,000.

The disaster led to the formulation of the Dutch "Deltaplan" (DELTA62), which consisted of strengthening of coast and river dikes and the construction of dams closing-off estuaries. In the mid-1970s, the protective construction were nearly complete, except for the dam in the Oosterschelde. Originally, it was decided to simply close-off the estuary, but opposition grew as peaple realised that the dam would destroy the rare ecology and oyster and mussel fishing industry. Thus, alternatives had to be sought. As the choice between several alternatives was complex due to the many stakeholders and interests involved, the Dutch government initiated a Policy Analysis of the Oosterschelde to analyze the alternative solutions to the problem (GOEL77).

This case illustrates when Policy Analysis is used.
It can be defined as: a systematic investigation of complex policy alternatives as to assist decision-makers in choosing a preferred course of action in the public sector under uncertain conditions.

Policy Analysis is advantageous when social issues are involved, there are many contradictory interests and many non-comparable values must be compared.

Policy analysis consists of the following steps:

  • problem analysis
  • establishing criteria
  • identifying alternatives
  • evaluating alternatives
  • ranking alternatives

These activities can be implemented following a linear or a concentric approach. In the linear approach, the steps are done subsequently. In the concentric approach, the activities of the study are carried out parallel. This approach aims to get insight in the problem, its alternatives and their effects, after which a further specification is formulated.

In reality, a policy study is somewhere in between these two extremes. The starting point is the linear approach, but the remaining part of the process is usually not followed from the beginning to the end "according to the book". Mostly there are one or more iteration loops. For example, it can become apparent that during the generating of alternatives, more problems become important than was initially anticipated, or more alternatives are possible than foreseen in the beginning. Another aspect is that several phases may be split-up in various sub-phases.

The five steps are subsequently discussed in this module.


February 1953






Think about: Do the solutions to the following problems need a thorough planning using policy analysis or not?


  • The optimal length of a groin must be determined.
  • A nature conservation group has blocked the outflow of a sewarage from which polluted water flows into the sea, though the company has made clear and legal agreements with the state concerning their waste water. During a planning procedure which was fair and thorough, studies showed that the waste water will not harm the environment.
  • A commercial harbour wants a deeper access channel crossing an estuary. However, rare bird species live on the adjacent intertidal flats and many people depend on the fish living in the estuary as a primary source of food.