FACULTY OF HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCIES.
DEPARTMENT OF GOVERNANCE, PEACE AND SECURITY STUDIES.
TO : MR GEORGE MHANGO
FROM : BSS/26/17
COURSE TITLE : PUBLIC POLICY
COURSE CODE : SSPP 4704
ASSIGNMENT NUMBER : ONE
TASK : WHAT IS PUBLIC POLICY?
DUE DATE : FRIDAY, 16TH NOVEMBER, 2018.
THE MEANING OF PUBLIC POLICY
Public policy is not a new name in the contemporary world. Whatever is the form, whenever and wherever governments, organisations and people have existed, there are policies which have been formulated and implemented in order to solve the problems which are on the ground. Governments generate policies to solve various problems and demands of its citizens. For instance, some policies assist the improvement of education, health, agriculture housing as well as security of the country. Other policies are being commanding restrictions on the behaviour of individuals and groups. There is no commonly accepted definitions of what institutes public policy in the contemporary world. Despite the various perception of public policy, many scholars have attempted to describe public policy from difference context and angles. However, this paper is an attempt to provide various meanings of public policy which are being provided by difference scholars.
In the first place, policy is defined as a deliberate plan of action to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes (Cochran and Malone, 2014). The word is relevant to governments, private sector organisations, groups and individuals. Presidential executive orders, corporate privacy policies and parliamentary rules of order are some of the examples of policy.
According to Chinsinga (2002) public policy refers to a relatively stable, purposeful course of action taken by Government or public actors in addressing social problems. For instance, issues like unemployment, inflation, welfare, education and housing are some of the social problems which are referred as the public policy problems. However, public policy does not at all time involve action. Inaction can also institute to public policy even thou it is difficult to identify and analyse than policy as an action (Chinsinga, 2002). A good example of policy inaction, members of parliament may decide to forward a bill before the National Assembly to make same sex marriage legal, as under the current legislation, same sex marriage is illegal. After the debate, the final decision in the House is that same sex marriage should be illegal, then the decision is confirming the position and a kind of policy of inaction to be fulfilled.
Again, Brooks (1989), defines public policy as the broad framework of ideas and values within which decisions are taken and action is pursued by governments in relation to some issue or problem. Similarly, Cochran and Malone (2014), contend that Public policy can be described as the overall framework within which government actions are undertaken to achieve public goals or the study of government decisions and actions designed to deal with a matter of public concern. This illustrates that policies are purposive courses of action planned in response to a perceived problem and they are filtered through a specific policy process which include adoption, implementation, regulatory measures, and courses of government action, funding priorities, and enforcement by a public agency (Cochran and Malone, 2014). These policies offers guidance to governments over a range of actions and delivers mutual accountability links between the government and its citizens. These are mostly shaped by individuals and groups through mobilization of interest groups, advocacy education, and political lobbying. In agreement to these authors, Anderson in the book of Howlett and Ramesh (1995) defined “public policy as a course of action oriented in order to reach a certain goal, followed by an actor in the approach of a problem of interest.”
Besides that Dunn (2009) articulates that public policies are governmental decisions, and are actually the result of activities which the government undertakes in pursuance of certain goals and objectives. It is also said that public policy formulation and implementation involves a well-planned pattern or course of activity as it requires a thoroughly close knit relation and interaction flanked by the significant governmental agencies such as the political executive, legislature, bureaucracy, and judiciary. For instance, policy making process may involve several key aspects such as definition of the problem to be addressed, the goals the policy is designed to achieve, and the instruments of policy that are employed to address the problem and achieve the policy goals (Dunn, 2009).
Furthermore, Gerston (2010) describes public policy as the principled guide to action taken by the administrative executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues, in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. This entails that public policy is what the government actually decides or chooses to do. It is the relationship of the government units to the specific field of political environment in a given administrative system such that it can take a diversity of shapes such as law, ordinances, court decisions and executive orders (Gerston, 2010).
In addition to that, Jenkins in the book of Howlett and Ramesh (1995) defines public policy as a set of decisions connected together, made by a political actor or by a set of actors, referring to selecting objectives, and means for reaching them in a specific situation in which these actors should, in principle, have the power to make these decisions. This entails that public policies are formulated and implemented in order to attain the objectives which the government or institution has in view for the benefit of the common people in general. All in all, public policy seeks to achieve a desired goal that is considered to be in the best interest of all members of society (Jenkins, 1978). For instance, government may formulate and implement policies of access to clean water, good health, high employment, an innovative economy, high educational attainment, decent and affordable housing to its citizens as well as crime free zone
Still on the meaning of public policy, Friedrich (1976) describes it as a proposed course of action of a person, group, or government within a given environment providing opportunities and obstacles on which the policy was proposed to utilize and overcome in an effort to reach a goal or realize an objective or purpose. On the contrary, public policy has been defined as government’s program of action to give effect to selected normative and empirical goals in order to address perceived problems and needs in society in a specific way and therefore achieve desired changes in that society (Rose,1976). Despite the presence of these various perceptions, public policy is a political problem solving activity in the face of complexity rather than a logical process involving well-informed calculations by rational actors who seek to maximize economic utility, political power, or organizational effectiveness (Stone, 1997).
Moreover, public policy is the broad direction or perspective that the government lays down in order to take decisions (Dye, 2012). Each organization or the individual is ordered to take a decision within a policy framework which can be a one-time action or not. Policy consists of many decisions that are taken to fulfil its aims. Dye, (2012) further stipulates that public policy consists of a series of decisions tied jointly into a coherent whole.
Finally, Dye (2004), definition states ‘public policy as whatever government’s choose to do or not to do’. Similarly, Lineberry (1977) says “it is what governments do and fail to do for their citizens.” As these are not enough other policy scientists also argue that public policy is best conceived in terms of a process (Jenkins and Tsoka, 2003). In this case, Lasswell (1956) introduced a model of the policy process which has been very successful as a basic framework in the field of policy studies and became the introductory point for variety of typologies of the policy process.
In a nutshell, from the discussion, it shows that there is no single meaning of public policy since different scholars have given their diverse understanding on the meaning. Indeed public policies are governmental decisions, and are actually the result of activities which the government undertakes in pursuance of certain goals and objectives. It is also said that public policy formulation and implementation involves a well-planned pattern or course of activity in order to achieve intended goals. In short, public policies are there to solve problems and reach the demand of people.
Brooks, S. (1989), Public Policy in Canada: An Introduction, McClelland and Stewart Inc., Toronto, Ontario.
Chinsinga, B. (2002), The Politics of Poverty Alleviation in Malawi: A Critical Review in H Englund, (ed) A Democracy of Chameleons, Politics and Culture in the New Malawi, Stockhulm: Nordiska Africa Institute.
Cochran, C. L & Malone E. F (2014), Public Policy, perspectives and choice, 5th ed. Lynne Rienner: USA.
Dunn, W.N. (2009), Public Policy Analysis: An Introduction, Harlow: Pearson Longman.
Dye, T.R. (2012), Understanding Public Policy, Harlow: Pearson Longman.
Dye, T.R. (2004), Understanding Public Policy, Delhi: Pearson Education
Friedrich, C.J. (1976), Policy Making, Structures and Processes, Niilm University.
Gerston, L.N. (2010), Public Policy Making: Process and Principles, New York: M.E Sharpe.
Howlett, M. & Ramesh, M. (1995), Studying Public Policy. Policy Cycles and Policy Decisions, Oxford University Press.
Jenkins, R. & Tsoka, M. (2003), Chapter 4: Malawi in Booth, D. (ed) Fighting Poverty in Africa: Are PRSPs Making a Difference?, London: Overseas Development Institute.
Lineberry, R. (1977), American Public Policy, Newyork, Haper & Row.
Rose, R. (1976), The Dynamics of Public Policy, Sage Publications Ltd: London.
Stone, D. (1997), Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision. Newyork: W.W. Norton.