EXPLAINING THE MEANING OF PUBLIC POLICY
Public policy is the heart, soul and identity of governments everywhere. Policies are developed in several ways and on different levels. Any democratic government has a role to elevate the living standards of people it serves and this is possible to a government with properly and well defined policies regarding every aspect of all actions it targets to accomplish. (Hannekon and Rowland, 1966.) While Hannekon and Rowland view a policy as an indication of a goal, a particular purpose, a plan of action that has been decided upon, Baldwin (1976) defines policy as a formulation of rules, norms and prescriptions intended to govern the subsequent decisions and actions of government. Like the idea of public, the concept of policy is not precise term. It simply denotes guidance for action. It is therefore, in the scope of this essay to provide the meanings of the term public policy as per interpreted by several scholars using different contexts.
2.0 DESCRIPTION OF PUBLIC POLICY
As a point of departure, public policy can be understood as any initiative that a government opts to do or not. A government can decide to have an action or not in order to get rid of a problem. (Dye, 1972). The significance of public policy cannot be over emphasized. In any given field, it acts as a course of action that helps to guide a range of related actions. Public policy does not only deal with a single problem, but also tackles cluster of entangled and long term issues. Accessory to that, Public policy plays a greater role to citizens through its provision of accountability link and guidance to governments. (Fredrick, 1963)
Hoogwood and Gunn (1984) suggest that one can understand public policy via consequences of measures. This is the context where public policy can be interpreted directly as outputs and indirectly as outcome results of policy measures. It is emphasized that the outputs and outcomes are two different approaches to public policies meaning. However, one can choose to understand the concepts as a result of implementation of policies and not interpreting them as definitions.
Public policy according to Brooks (1989) is understood as the development of decisions by government, from the broad framework of ideas and values to act or not as a way of tackling issues of public interests. For example, when the government wants to deal with poverty, a situation which might affect the masses and not simply an individual, it adopts a broad framework of ideas and values from several actors from which it relies for the delivery of its goal and later decides on the way forward as to how best an issue of public interest can be dealt with. This is in the same line of thought with Boyd (2000) who also puts it that public policies are simply government decisions actions designed to solve issues of public concerns. Boyd adds that public policy is an overall frame work within which government takes actions to accomplish the goals of citizens. As a concept, is filtered through a specific process of policy, adopted, implemented through laws, regularly measures courses of government actions and finding priorities and enforced by public agency. (2000)
Fredrick (1963) has it that public policy is viewed as a deliberate and normally a careful decision used by government to tackle the chosen concerns of the public. It helps in the identification of goals and concerns by the public. Public policy formulation however, not a simple or simplistic process and public policy issues are also far more complex. Its effects are not simply on an individual, rather, a group of people or even a population entirely. Fredrick further explains that “The complexity of public policy is also viewed in its focus upon isssues of greater consequence. For example, the objective might include protecting the environment, promoting healthy child development, reducing poverty and revitalizing neighborhoods.” (2000)
In addition, Public policy is also said to be defined as a theoretical model for an assessment of government activities and their consequences in trying to involve several circumstances. It is not a system of decisions neither is it that of an individual.( Leslie,2005) There is a close relationship between public policy and public management more especially in the implementation stage where civil servants have higher or lower level of discretion in making decisions and have the ability to come up with several practices to implement policies. (Hogwood and Gunn, 1984)
According to Brooks (1989), public policy is a social political space constructed as much through techniques and instruments as through aims and content. Its instrument constitutes social and technical device that arranges particular social relations between the state and people it addresses due to representation and meanings it has. The concept of public policy instruments enables people to move beyond the functionalist context and view public policy from the perspective of instruments that structure policies.
John Peter (1998) in his work “Analyzing public policy” has also described public policy as a principled guide used by the administration of executive branches of the states in accordance with a class of issues but in a situation which is in line with the law and institutional customs. Peter adds that “constitutional laws and regulations are the components of the platform of public policy. (1998)
To sum up, public policy development is an iterative process rather than a linear one. There are key phases which result in public policy. The emergence of a problem that requires the attention of the public and decision makers, placing this problem on governments agenda in order to find solutions, formulation of alternative to resolve the problem, an adoption of policy and the implementation and evaluation of the policy. Other actors that contribute to public policy often in network on which government relies for the delivery of complex policy goals are public servants, political parties, cabinet, media, interest group, legal systems and public. A close study of the public policy reveals that the importance is rendered on the concept “public” in line with public interest, public opinion and public sector. This therefore, entails that the concept purports to work for the benefit of the spheres of the masses or citizens unlike the private. Though there are endless debates regarding what is public and private, yet public policy is designed to serve the public not private.( Hogwood and Gunn, 1984)