Public Policy: Meaning and Nature

Public Policy: Meaning and Nature
 Introduction 

Public policies are as old as governments. Whatever is the form, oligarchy, monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, democracy etc., — whenever and wherever governments have existed, public policies have been formulated and implemented. To cope with the varied troubles and demands of the people the government has to create several policies, these policies are called public policies.

This paper  tries to explain the meaning and types of public policy. It will highlight the dissimilar components of a policy and distinguish flanked by policy, decision, and goal. An effort will be made to bring out the relationship flanked by politics and policy, and importance and features of public policy will also be discussed.

Politics and Public Policy

Before discussing the meaning of public policy, it would be better if we are clear in relation to the relationship flanked by public policy and politics. Policy making process is a part of politics and political action. According to Gabriel Almond, political system is a set of interactions having structures, each of which performs its functions in order to keep it like an on-going concern, it is a set of processes that routinely converts inputs into outputs.

Almond classifies inputs of political system into generic functional categories like political socialization and recruitment, interest aggregation, interest articulation and political communication. Output activities are those which are accepted on through a political system in response to demands or stresses placed upon the system in the form of inputs. Outputs can take the form of governmental policies, programmes, decisions etc.

Another model on politics-policy relationship is the Feedback or the Black Box Model‟ coined through David Easton. According to this model the remaining demands which have not been incorporated in the decisions and policies will again be fed back through the same process for the purpose of its conversion into decisions. These two models establish clearly the relationship flanked by politics and policies in a political system.

Meaning of Public Policy

There are several studies in relation to the public policy and several scholars have attempted to describe public policy from dissimilar angles.

Before explaining the meaning of public policy, let us first go through some of its definitions. Robert Eyestone conditions public policy as “the relationship of government unit to its environment. Thomas R. Dye says that “public policy is whatever government chooses to do or not to do” Richard Rose says that “public policy is not a decision, it is a course or pattern of activity. In Carl J. Friedrich‟s opinion public policy is a proposed course of action of a person, group, or government within a given environment providing opportunities and obstacles which the policy was proposed to utilize and overcome in an effort to reach a goal 01 realize an objective or purpose.

From these definitions, it is clear 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 can also be said that public policy formulation and implementation involves a well planned pattern or course of activity. It requires a thoroughly close knit relation and interaction flanked by the significant governmental agencies viz., the political executive, legislature, bureaucracy, and judiciary. The following points will create the nature of public policy more clearly in your minds: Public Policies are goal oriented. Public policies are formulated and implemented in order to attain the objectives which the government has in view for the ultimate benefit of the masses in general. These policies clearly spell out the programmes of government.

Public policy is the outcome of the government‟s communal actions. It means that it is a pattern or course of activity or the governmental officials and actors in a communal sense than being termed as their discrete and segregated decisions.

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. It can take a diversity of shapes like law, ordinances, court decisions, executive orders, decisions etc.

Public policy is positive in the sense that it depicts the concern of the government and involves its action to a scrupulous problem on which the policy is made. It has the sanction of law and authority behind it. Negatively, it involves decisions through the governmental officials concerning not taking any action on a scrupulous issue.

Policy and Goals

To understand the meaning of policy in a better manner, it is very significant to create a distinction flanked by policy and goals. Goals are what policies aim at or hope to achieve. A goal is a desired state of affairs that a society or an organization attempts to realize. Goals can be understood in a diversity of perspectives. These can be thought of as abstract values that a society would like to acquire. There are also goals that are specific and concrete. Removal of poverty is a goal that the government wants to pursue. Public policies are concerned with such specific goals.

They are the instruments which lead to the achievement of these goals. If the government announces that its goal is to give housing to all the members of the deprived sections of society it does not become a public policy. It is a statement of intention of what the government wants to do. Several a times the government, for political causes, announces goals that it has little desire to achieve. In order to become a policy, the goal has to be translated into action.

Programmes have to be intended to achieve specific objectives. As an illustration, let us look at the policy of poverty alleviation. Many programmes have been intended for this, e.g., The integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP), The National Rural Employment Programme (NREP) etc.

Each programme has certain goals to achieve within a specified time and each programme is provided with financial possessions and administrative personnel. These become concrete efforts to achieve a goal. Policy spells out the strategy of achieving a goal. Therefore policy is essentially an instrument to achieve a goal. Statement of goal docs not creates it a policy.

Policies and Decisions

A distinction needs to be drawn flanked by a policy and a decision also. Several a times the conditions are used interchangeably but that is not the correct usage. Individuals, organizations or government are constantly taking decisions. But all the decisions that are taken cannot be described as matters of policy. The essential core of decision-making is to create a choice from the alternatives accessible in order to take an action, if there is only one course of action accessible then there is nothing one can choose from and so, no decision can be taken. A decision can be taken only when there is more than one alternative accessible. Therefore a decision is the act of making a choice.

The whole science of decision-making has been developed in order to analyze the circumstances that can improve this activity and how a decision maker can improve his choice through expanding the number of alternatives accessible to him.

There can be two types of decisions, programmed and none programmed. Programmed decisions are repetitive and do not require a fresh consideration every time they are taken. These decisions are routine in nature and for these definite procedures can be worked out. Each decision need not be dealt with separately. In programmed decisions, habits, skills, and knowledge in relation to the problem are significant. For instance, once the decision to open the library from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. is taken, it does not require fresh consideration to keep it open throughout those hours. The decision is incorporated into procedures that are recognized for the purpose. Non programmed decisions are new and unstructured. No well laid-out methods are accessible for such decisions, each issue or question is to be dealt with separately. Such decisions are required in the situations of unprecedented nature, for instance breakdown of an epidemic, occurrence of earthquake, etc. Training in skills, needed for such decisions and innovative skill become relevant in this regard.

Both the programmed and non programmed decisions have to be taken in a broad framework or course of action. Public policy is the broad direction or perspective that the government lays down in order to take decisions. Each organization or the individual is enjoined to take a decision within a policy framework. Decision can be a onetime action. Policy consists of many decisions that are taken to fulfill its aims.

A policy consists of a series of decisions tied jointly into a coherent whole. There can be some parallel in the processes involved in decision making and policy making. Both are concerned with choice in the middle of alternatives and for both similar processes can be followed in generating alternatives. But we should always keep in mind that policy is a more comprehensive term, as it encompasses a series of decisions and has a comparatively longer time perspective.

Features of Public Policy Making

The meaning and nature of public policy will become clearer through throwing light on dissimilar features of public policy. Some of the major features of public policy making are: Public Policy Making is a Very Intricate Process: Policy making involves several components, which are interconnected through communication and feedback loops and which interact in dissimilar methods. Some parts of the process are explicit and directly observable, but several others proceed through hidden channels that the officials themselves are often only partly aware of.  

These hidden procedures are very hard, and often impossible to observe. Therefore, guidelines are often shaped through a series of single decisions that result in a „policy‟ without any one of the decision makers being aware of that process.

It is a Dynamic Process: Policy making is a process that is a continuing activity taking place within a structure; for sustenance, it requires a continuing input of possessions and motivation. It is a dynamic process, which changes with time, the sequences of its sub-processes and stages vary internally and with respect to each other.

Policy Making Comprises Several Components: The complexity of public policy making as we know is a significant feature of policy making. Public policy formulation often involves a great diversity of substructures. The identity of these substructures and the degree of their involvement in policy making, vary because of dissimilar issues, circumstances and societal values. Policy Structure creates Dissimilar Contributions: This feature suggests that every substructure creates a dissimilar, and sometimes unique, contribution to public policy. What sort of contribution substructures create, depends in part on their formal and informal features which vary from society to society.

Decision-Making: Policy making is a species of decision-making because it lets us use decision-making models for dealing with policy making. Lays down Major Guidelines: Public policy, in most cases, lays down general directives, rather than detailed instructions, on the main lines of action to be followed. After main lines of action have been decided on, detailed sub-policies that translate the general theory into more concrete conditions are usually needed to execute it.

Results in Action: Decision-making can result in action, in changes in the decision-making itself, or both or neither. The policies of most socially important decision-making, such as most public policy making are planned to result in action. Also policies directed at the policy making tools itself such as efficiency drives in government are action oriented.

Directed at the Future: Policy making is directed at the future. This is one of its most significant features since it introduces the ever-present elements of uncertainty and doubtful prediction that establish the basic tone of almost all policy making. Actual policy making tends to formulate policies in vague and elastic conditions; because the future is so uncertain. It permits policy makers to adjust their policy according to emerging facts and enables them to guard against unforeseen circumstances.

Mainly Formulated through Governmental Organs: Public policy is also directed, in part, at private persons and non-governmental structures, as when it calls for a law prohibiting a certain type of behavior or appeals to citizens to engage in private saving. But public policy, in most cases, is primarily directed at governmental organs, and only intermediately and secondarily at other factors.

Aims at Achieving what is in the Public Interest: Though hard it might be to discover out what the '„public interest” may correctly refer to, the term never the less conveys the thought of a “general” orientation and seems so to be significant and important. Furthermore, there is good evidence that the image of “public interest” powers the public policy making process and is so at least, as conceived through the several public policy making units, a “real” phenomenon, and a significant operational tool for the study of policy making.

Use of Best Possible Means: In abstract terminology, public policy making aims at achieving the maximum net benefit. Benefits and costs take in part the form of realized values and impaired values, respectively, and cannot in most cases be expressed in commensurable units. Often, quantitative techniques can so not be used in this area of public policy making but neither the qualitative significance of maximum net benefits as an aim nor the necessity to think broadly in relation to the alternative public policies in conditions of benefits and costs is so reduced.

Involvement of Several Bodies/Agencies: Industrial workers, voters, intellectuals, legislators, bureaucrats, political parties, political executives, judiciary etc. are the several organs that participate in public policy making and can power the policy process to a great extent.

 Types of Public Policy

Having explained the features of public policy making, we will now explain: the dissimilar types of public policy. There are several types of public policy like substantive, regulatory, distributive, re distributive etc.

Substantive: These policies are concerned with the general welfare and development of the society, the programmes like provision of education and employment opportunities, economic stabilization, law and order enforcement, antipollution legislation etc. are the result of substantive policy formulation. These policies have vast areas of operation affecting the general welfare and development of the society as a whole. These do not relate to any scrupulous or privileged segments of the society. Such policies have to be formulated keeping in view the prime character of the constitution socio-economic troubles and the stage of moral claims of the society.

Regulatory: Regulatory policies are concerned with regulation of trade, business, safety events, public utilities, etc. This type of regulation is done through independent organizations that work on behalf of the government. In India, we have Life Insurance Corporation, Reserve Bank of India, Hindustan Steel, State Electricity Boards, State Transport Corporations, State Financial Corporations, etc., which are occupied in regulatory activities. The policies made through the government, pertaining to these services and organizations rendering these services are recognized as regulatory policies.

Distributive: Distributive policies are meant for specific segments of society. It can be in the area of grant of goods, public welfare or health services, etc. These mainly contain all public assistance and welfare programmes. Some more examples of distributive policies are adult education programme, food relief, social insurance, vaccination camps etc.

Re-distributive: Re-distributive policies are concerned with the rearrangement of policies which are concerned with bringing in relation to the basic social and economic changes. Certain public goods and welfare services are disproportionately divided in the middle of certain segments of the society, these goods and services are streamlined through redistributive policies.

Capitalization Under the capitalization policies financial subsidies are given through the Union government to the state and local governments, such subsidies are also granted to the central and state business undertakings or some other significant sphere if necessary. Capitalization policies are dissimilar in nature than the substantive, regulatory, distributive, and redistributive policies as no provision for public welfare services is made through these.

 Stages In Public Policy Process

A brief highlight on the several stages of public policy will clarify the actual process of public policy in India. Policy formulation is the first stage in public policy process. Through this process the demands of the system are converted into policies. But before this it has to be clearly recognized as to which demands require to be converted into policies. At the policy interpretation stage, the formulated public policy is further clarified and interpreted in order to create it fully understandable. The after that stage in public policy process is policy education. The government through several channels of mass-media attempts to create the masses aware of the formulated policies. After this comes the stage of policy implementation, when the policies are systematically executed through the dissimilar administrative agencies at the central, state and local stages. To ascertain the impact of policies, it is very essential to keep an eye on the implementation process, to see that expenditure does not exceed the possessions accessible and to see that policies are positively affecting those for whom they are being made. For this proper monitoring of policy implementation has to be done, and policy evaluation stage is the final stage in policy process. Proper and appropriate administrative and adjudicative functions are needed for keeping a complete control in excess of the public policies.

The Rising Importance of Public Policy

It is clear from the above sections of the paper that policy is a purposive course of action in dealing with a problem or a matter of concern within a specific time frame. Before going into the question of importance which is attached to policy formulation, implementation and monitoring, it would be better to recapitulate the components of public policy. Policy is purposive and deliberately formulated. Policy necessity has a purpose or a goal. It does not emerge at random or through chance. Once a goal is decided the policy is devised in such a method that it determines the course of action needed to achieve that goal.

A policy is well thought out and is not a series of discrete decisions.

A policy is what is actually done and not what is planned or desired, a statement of goals does not constitute a policy.

Policy also delineates a time frame in which its goals have to be achieved.

Policy follows a defined course of action viz. formulation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.

Actually the scope of public policy is determined through the type of role that the State adopts for itself in a society. In the classical capitalist society, State was assigned a limited role and it was expected that the State would merely act as a regulator of social and economic activity and not its promoter. With the advent of planned view of development, State began to be perceived as an active agent in promoting and shaping societies in its several activities.

This was measured as a great change in the role of a State. Public policies expanded their scope from merely one of regulation to that of development. Expansion in scope led to many other consequences like several more government agencies and institutions came into being in order to formulate and implement policies. In India, the Planning Commission and its attendant agencies came into being in order to formulate policies and develop perspectives that could describe the direction which the country would follow.

So, the first major goal of public policies in our country has been in the area of socio-economic development. Wide ranging policies were formulated in the area of industrial and agricultural development. Several policies were converted into Statutes, like Industrial Development and Regulating Act or Land Tenancy Act. Others were kept as directives in the several plan documents. For all policy directions, the Five Year Plans became the major source. These policies were of two types, one of regulation and the other of promotion. Laws laid down what could be done or not done through the entrepreneurs. This could be in the larger area like what goods can be produced through the public or whether certain goods can be traded only through government agencies. Laws also specified how State agencies themselves were to give goods and services like electricity, transport etc. The State undertook similar responsibility in the social sphere. Dowry Act, Divorce Act, etc., are examples of this. But socio-economic transformation was not the only problem when India became independent. There were also troubles of national integrity, the external environment was a source of threat, and the country had to develop appropriate policies to defend itself. Separately from this, there have been internal challenges. Regionalism has given rise to fissiparous tendencies that have to be countered in the long-term perspective. These would contain not only defense policies but also similar efforts at decentralization that make greater national cohesiveness. Therefore, since independence, public policies in India have been formulated with a view to achieve socio-economic development and maintain national integrity. These goals have been intricate demanding coherent policies. This has been a hard task because goals have had to be divided into sectors and sub-sectors. Several a times through its very nature, policies have been contradictory. What may be rational for economic development may not be so for national integration.

Therefore, the need of a strong Centre to cope with external threats etc. is significant but it may go against the principle of decentralization which gives for greater national cohesion of a heterogeneous society. This is the cause why ascertaining of the actual impact of public policy becomes a necessity. These days policy analysis is acquiring a lot of importance in the realm of the study of public administration. This trend is observable all in excess of the world. The success of policy formulation, execution, and monitoring ultimately depends on the success of policy analysis. In India, this trend appeared with the launching of our Five Year Plans. As the years passed through, one Five Year Plan was followed through another and disillusionment started setting in. Goals of socio-economic development could not be achieved. Those who were supposed to benefit from the development effort began to lose. Attention shifted to the management and administration in order to discover out why the policies were failing to achieve their objectives. This investigation did not contain the questions of policies being right or wrong.

It took the crises of the 1960s to raise the issue of correctness of policy. Disenchantment with the development processes followed the two wars in 1962 and 1965. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) enforced a devaluation of the rupee in 1966 and a terrible drought ravaged the land throughout 1966-68. It became apparent that the development policies were in trouble. In the early 1970s another war, drought, and the oil crisis gave a jolt to the plan that had been followed until then.

The culmination was the imposition of national emergency in 1975 to cope with the rising dissatisfaction. It was the emergence of the turbulent period that led to the questioning of the policies that had been followed. It was no more a question of implementation alone. The argument that began to gain the popular view was that policy itself was faulty and all the blame could not be put on administration. The first to pick up this line of reasoning was the discipline of economics. The economic failures dominated the scene and so it was natural that economists were the first ones to raise questions in relation to the appropriateness of policy. Students of public administration began to emphasize that implementation failures could also emanate from inadequacy of public policy and so policy analysis should also be incorporated in the area of study of public administration. This argument got support from certain developments in the discipline of public administration.

In view of the everyday experience, it was becoming hard to sustain the classical concept of separation of politics and administration. This distinction categorized policy formulation and implementation as two separate activities. Policy formulation was regarded as a political activity and policy implementation an administrative one. But this distinction got increasingly blurred and it was not an easy task to determine where policy formulation ended and where policy implementation began. It came to be accepted that both were interactive processes and had to be seen in an integrated method. With this change in view students of public administration began to devote greater attention to the troubles of policy formulation and power of policy design on implementation.

It is in this method that policy analysis has become a significant focus of study. Policy makers have also shown great interest in it because it ultimately helps in improving the effectiveness of policy. Several universities and research institutes are involved in policy analysis. The government gives for a lot of funds in this area.

Post a Comment

0 Comments