Public policy has been variably defined. In majority of cases, differences in definitions are semantic than substantive. Dye (2011) defines public policy as whatever governments choose to do or not to do. Dimock, et. al. (1983:40) sees public policy as “deciding at any time or place what objectives and substantive measures should be chosen in order to deal with a particular problem”. Chandler and Plano (1988:40) define public policy as “the strategic use of resources to alleviate national problems or governmental concerns”. Freeman and Sherwoods (1968) posit that it is the public response to the interest in improving the human conditions. In these definitions there is divergence between what governments decide to do and what they actually do. Public policy is a guide which government has designed for direction and practice in certain problem areas.
Public policies in modern political systems are purposive or goal-oriented statements. Public policy may be positive or negative in form. In its positive form, it may involve some form of overt government action to deal with a particular problem. On the other hand, in its negative form, it involves a decision by public servants not to take action on some matter on which a governmental order is sought. Public policy has a legally coercive quality that citizens accept as legitimate. For example, taxes must be paid unless one wants to run the risk of fines or jail sentences. This legally coercive quality of public policies makes public organizations distinct from the private organization (Sapru, 2010). Thus, the nature of “policy” as a purposive course of action can be better or more fully understood if we relate it to the concept of “public”.
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According to James and Jorgensen (2009:150), public policy should be meant to clarify who gets what, how and why. This inevitably determines the extent of public policy legitimacy and borders around who is involved and what benefits the formulated public policy brings. Montpetit (2008:264) claims that legitimacy is informed by the type of actors involved in the public policy formulation process. This implies that ensuring that citizens are increasingly involved in public policy formulation will improve its legitimacy. Efficacy, which refers to the desired effect of the public policy, should not be neglected because of its interconnectedness to legitimacy (Montpetit, 2008:264). Therefore, participating in the public policy formulation confers all relevant actors with a sense of belonging and offers them an opportunity to contribute to the effective formulation of public policy.
Public policies are those developed by governmental bodies and officials. (Nongovernmental actors and factors may of course influence public-policy development.) The special characteristics of public policies stem from their being formulated by what political scientist David Easton as cited in Anderson (2003) has called the “authorities” in a political system, namely, “elders, paramount chiefs, executives, legislators, judges, administrators, councilors, monarchs, and the like.” These are, he says, the persons who “engage in the daily affairs of a political system,” are “recognized by most members of the system as having responsibility for these matters,” and take actions that are “accepted as binding most of the time by most of the members so long as they act within the limits of their roles.” In short, public policies are those produced by government officials and agencies. They also usually affect substantial numbers of people.
As an academic discipline, public policy brings in elements of many social science fields and concepts, including economics, sociology, political economy, program evaluation, policy analysis, and public management, all as applied to problems of governmental administration, management, and operations (Geurts, 2010). At the same time, the study of public policy is distinct from political science or economics, in its focus on the application of theory to practice. While the majority of public policy degrees are master’s degree and doctoral degrees, there are several universities also offer undergraduate education in public policy. Traditionally, the academic field of public policy focused on domestic policy. However, the wave of economic globalization which occurred in the late 20th and early 21st centuries created a need for a subset of public policy that focuses on global governance, especially as it relates to issues that transcend national borders such as climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and economic development.(Hill,2005). Consequently, many traditional public policy schools had to tweak their curricula to adjust to this new policy landscape, as well as developed whole new ones.
Public policy in practice is a process, including a complex array of actors and interactions inside and around it. The process as a policy framework has very important advantages. Firstly, it suggest that the public policy is dynamic. Secondly, such a framework is flexible, showing that the actors and activities are changing over time and space. Thirdly, it is a useful tool for analyzing the interactive nature of policy activities and options. The systems approach outlined by David Easton as cited in Rawls (1995) has been generally accepted as a model for policy analysis for long time. Easton argued that political activity can be analyzed in terms of a system containing a number of processes which must remain in balance if the activity is to survive. Political systems are like a biological system, argued Easton and exist in an environment which contains a variety of other systems, including economic, social, and cultural systems (Rawls, 1995). The policy making process involve many sub-processes and necessarily extends over a certain period of time. The objectives and purposes of a policy are usually defined at the start of the policy process, but these may change overtime and, in some cases, may be defined only retrospectively. The outputs and outcomes of policies do not necessarily represent the end of the policy process, on the contrary they may give good reason for the prolongation of the policy process.
Sapru, R.K. (2010). Public Policy: Formulation, Implementation and Evaluation, (2nd edition). New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Limited
Dye, T. R. (2011). Understanding public policy (13th ed.). Boston, MA: Longman.
Anderson, J. E. (2003). Public policymaking: An introduction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, pp. 1 – 34
Thei, Geurts; Be Informed (2010). “Public Policy: The 21st Century Perspective”.
Hill, Michael (2005). Public Policy Process. Pearson.