Meaning, Features, Reasons, Nature, Types of Public Policy


Meaning, Features, Reasons, Nature, Types of Public Policy

The one most important question in public policy analysis is why do we study public policy?

It is evident that in every society, there must exist some problems and these problems affect all of us in one way or another. These problems could be in the areas of politics, commerce, education, agriculture, communication, housing, transportation, health etc.

In order to solve these problems as they might exist at given points in time, government is always seen formulating policies in response to them and in relation to the objectives of growth, national development and well being of the citizens.

Therefore, there need for us to know causes and consequences of public policies as well as their procedures.


What is Public Policy?

Public policy is the cornerstone of every democracy and serves a very important purpose in almost every society. In Nigeria, we hear public policy quite often, but do we ever stop to think what good public policy is and what is not? Poverty alleviation, rural development, energy, housing and healthcare are some major public policy issues in our clime today and are the focus of most national lawmakers. There are many laws that positively benefit our society, and there are many that do not. What we can be sure about is that successful public policy is usually made up of two things: Good policy (measurable and positive outcome) and good politics (bi- partisanship). Good public policy solves public problems effectively and efficiently, serves justice, supports democratic institutions and processes, and encourages an active and emphatic citizenship.

Semantically, Public Policy is pronouncement of government intention(s) by people in position of public trust demanding government actions or in actions and having impact either negative or positive on the majority of the members of a given society.  Public Policy  can also be seen as the aggregation of peoples hopes, aspirations and intentions embodied in official documents such as legislative enactments, white papers, estimates, government circulars, conclusions of the council of the council of ministers (executive councils) development or rolling plans, etc, or otherwise enunciated and enacted as the current stand on certain issues.

Accordingly, it is a deliberate and binding action by the authoritative organs of the state designed to influence the behavior of the society. It is not a haphazard action but rather a systematic method of society fundamental national problems. The systematic approach is vital so that the numerous public problems will be prioritized against the available resources. As well as harmonies the various sectoral aspects of the total policy. As a system of laws, regulatory measures, courses of action, and funding priorities concerning a given topic promulgated by a governmental entity or its representatives, Public Policy almost always involves efforts by competing interest groups to influence policy makers in their favor. This is one unique attribute of public policy. A good public policy begins at inception hence to create strong policy, one must first define the problem, gather evidence, identify causes, evaluate the policy, develop solution, select best solution, evaluate benefits and costs, utilized the prince system to, develop political strategies to solve public problems effective and efficient, serves justice, supports democratic institutions and processes and encourage an active/empathic citizenship. Thus, the purpose of public policy is to use a public agency to identify, respond and implement a political process. In essence, Public policy is the means by which a government maintains order or addresses the needs of its citizens through its legal system.


Features of Public Policy

Public Policy is a formal documented statement of intentions and sets of actions of a government to either remove certain deficiencies or improve the conditions in any particular area of concern/interest. Thomas Dye defines it as “Whatever governments choose to do or not to do” (1987) while according to Anderson it is a “Purposive course of action or inaction undertaken by an actor or a set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern” (1994). Dean G. Kilpatrick goes a bit further and defines it as a system of laws, regulatory measures, courses of action, and funding priorities concerning a given topic promulgated by a governmental entity or its representatives. Whatever definition you like to use, there are certain features of the whole process of Public Policy which are common in all the countries.

These features are;

Exclusive Domain of the Elected Representatives: Public policy formulation is the exclusive domain of the elected representatives of the county; however it is implemented by the state apparatus which formulates strategies to implement it. Consequently policy is distinct from the strategy in the sense that while the policy is fairly general in nature indicating what is to be done and why, the strategy outlines the exact measures to be taken for realizing the goals and objectives set out by the policy.

Not a Random Act: Policy formulation and implementation is not a random act of an organization, rather it is a deliberate action taken by a competent authority which initiated the action and is approved by the public representatives, usually the minister in charge of a ministry or the cabinet.

Different Formats: A policy could either be a part of an overall development policy and strategy of the country i.e. Growth Strategy for Pakistan prepared by the Planning Commission or it could be a specific document addressing a particular issue i.e. Food Security Policy, Poverty Reduction Strategy, National Housing Policy.

Climate Change Policy etc. Legal Sanctity: Although it is not a piece of legislation approved by the parliament in the form of an act of parliament, it has the sanctity of its own and can be used as a reference for dispute resolution in the court of law. In some cases the policy itself or parts of the document, which is in essence a value judgment of the regime in power, could be converted into an act of parliament (Shahid 2015).

In addition to the ones outlined and discussed above, Ikelegbe (1996) asserted that the main features of a policy is that, first, it involves a choice. It is an important choice or a critical or important decision taken by individuals, groups or organizations.

Therefore, there has to be several policy alternatives and policy formation involves the development of several policy alternatives and the choice of an alternative.

Second, polices are proposed courses of actions or projected set of decisions. Policies are prospective or are statements of future actions. Policies states what is going to be done or would be done. It outlines a course of contemplated or desired action in relation to certain desired objects or events in the real world.

Third, a policy is goal oriented. It is directed at the attainment of certain end states or objectives. A policy has certain purposes or intention.

Fourth, policies have to do with particular problems or problems areas. They are not abstracts, but rather relate to and are actually responses to the challenges and pressures arising from an environment. Furthermore, policies are designed and targeted at dissolving existing or future problems or satisfying certain needs.

Finally, a policy is a course setting action. It provides the direction, the guide and the way to the achievement of certain goals. It provides the frame within, which present and future actions are undertaken. It is a major guideline for action.


Reasons for the Study of Public Policy

 An understanding of public policy from a layman’s perspective will expedite the understanding of why we study public policy. Public policy is your kids' education. It is whether you will get quality health care when you need it. It is whether you can afford housing. It is the quality of the air you breathe and the water you drink. Public policy is about whether you have a job or not or whether you can walk down the street in safety. It is the junkie on the corner and the trash and rodents in the gutter. It is how long you will live and how dignified will be your burial.'

The scope of government activities effects our lives in countless, often subtle and unrecognized, ways each day, for better or worse. According to Okeke (2001) in a developing country like Nigeria, the government is the biggest spender and the biggest employer of labour, therefore, the activities of government should be interest and concern to the citizenry, especially in this era of massive unemployment and economic hardship. Citing Dye (1981), he provided three reasons why we study public policy. His reasons are corroborated by Anderson (1997).

These reasons are as follows:

(i) Scientific Reasons: Public policies can be studied to gain greater understanding of their origins, the procedures by which they are developed and implemented, or their consequences for society. This in turn will increase our understanding of the political processes and political behavior.

Therefore, it is in order to extend the frontiers of our knowledge of the causes and consequences of policy decisions, which in turn, improves our understanding of the character and behavior of organized society such as ours. Emphatically, as a scientific process, the study of public policy provides answers to the classical political science question of who gets what, how and when.

(ii) Professional Reasons: The study of public policy contributes to the promotion of professionalism as the understanding of the causes and consequences of public policy permits the application of social science knowledge to the solution of practical societal problems. The essence is that policy analysis has an applied orientation and is intended to determine the most efficient (or best) alternatives (i.e., the one that will yield the largest net social benefit) for dealing with current problems such as reducing air pollution and disposal of household refuse (Anderson, 1997).

(iii) Political Reasons: We can also study public policy for political purposes to ensure that the nation adopts the right policies to achieve the right goals. This will help to correct the excesses of the government. Public policy improves the democratic or political capacities of people, and not simply the efficiency and effectiveness of delivery of goods and services.

Summarily, the field of public policy has assumed considerable importance in response to the increasing complexity of the society. It is not only concerned with the description and explanation of the causes and consequences of government activity, but also with the development of scientific knowledge about the forces shaping public policy. The study of public policy helps to understand the social ills of the subject under study.


Methodological Difficulties in Studying Public Policy

The study of Public Policy faces a multiplicity of methodological challenges: it lacks the methodological focus of the other social sciences; it combines an analytical with a normative perspective. Indeed, in many ways, 'public policy' lies outside of traditional social scientific discipline with its canonical methodologies, clear-cut objects of study, and claims to its specific form of scientific objectivity.

Although methodology has played a defining role for the social sciences since their disciplinary emergence in the nineteenth century, they ended up largely following the path of the natural sciences in becoming ever more differentiated, methodologically formalized and institutionally self-centered.

The meta-theoretical reflection on methods has thereby been pushed to the background: inter-disciplinarily is all too often relegated to being an empty buzz-word and the bridging of theory and practice is frequently exhausted by functional issue networks superficially linking together the university with the policy-making process. Being a synthetic meta-discipline within the social sciences, public policy research is an inherently methodological form of inquiry and the integration of different perspectives on social reality as well as the merging together of theoretical understanding and practical engagement is its primary object. As such it has the potential both to re-energies the social sciences as a whole, and to re-conceive the relationship between knowledge and politics. Curiously however, methodology as a distinct field of inquiry has been relatively neglected within the public policy research community, a gap this Research Cluster seeks to address. It explores in new and innovative ways core research questions on, amongst others, the methodological foundations of applied social sciences, new structural phenomena such as network knowledge or e-governance, and the didactics of teaching public policy.


Nature of Public Policy

In any society, governmental entities enact laws, make policies, and allocate resources. This is true at all levels. Here, it is correctly argued that public policies are governmental decisions, and are actually the result of activities which the government undertakes in pursuance of certain goals and objectives. Thus, the following points will make the nature of public policy clearer in our minds:

Public policies are goal oriented: This means that public policies are formulated and implemented in order to attain the objectives which the government has in view for the betterment of the public.

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

Public Policy is what the government 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 variety of forms like law, ordinances, court decision, executive orders, decisions etc

Public policy may be positive or negative: It is positive in the sense that it depicts the concern of the government and involves its action to a particular problem on which the policy is made. Negatively, it involves a decision by the governmental officials regarding not taking any action on a particular issue.


Basic Elements and Scope of Public Policy

While basic elements of public policy are the fundamental things to know about public policy, the scope talks about the content and process of public policy making, the causes and consequences of a public [policy, the public demand, how decisions are made the implementation strategies and policies instrument as well as result of the policy, was unable to find a distinction between them hence agreed that policy demand, policy decisions, policy statements, policy output and policy outcome covers the basic elements and scope of public policy. Therefore, the following are the basic elements and scope of public policy:

Policy Demands: Policy demands are claims or expectations made on public officials by other actors in the political system. Whatever perceived problems that call for action or inaction of government are understood as policy demands. According to Okeke (2001), these claims constitute policy demands.

Policy Goals: These are objectives that are meant to be achieved through the instrument of policy action. It is important to assert that policy demand may differ from the goals which the political actors seek to achieve through a public policy. Apart from the declared intention for making a public policy, government could also have a hidden intention for introducing a policy.

Policy Decisions: Policy decisions are the resolutions made by public officials to act or not act in a certain way in relation to a specific societal problem. Public decisions are decisions by public officials that authorize or give direction and content of public policy. Such decisions could include enactment of statutes, issuance of executive orders, and promulgation of edits, administrative rules or making of important judicial interpretation of laws.

Policy Statements: Policy statements according to Anderson (1997) are the formal expression or articulation of public policy. They include legislative statutes, decrees, presidential orders, administrative rules and court opinions as well as indicating the intentions and goals of government and how to realize them.

Policy Output: This is the tangible manifestation of public policy or the actual thing done to realize policy goals. It is rather the result of implementing the policy in relation to the set objectives. The importance of policy out in the understanding of policy is unequivocal because if government makes a pronouncement and such pronouncement was not enforced, it becomes difficult to that the policy exists as pronounced. Thus, policy outputs must be evaluated in terms of the set targets as evident from policy decisions and statements.

Policy Outcomes: According to Ikeanyibe (2013), the concept of policy outcome is related to policy output since it is also the result of implementing a policy. But outcomes include both the intended and unintended consequences of a policy.


Types of Public Policy

According to Ikeanyibe (2013), public policies abound. This is because public policies may come in different forms depending on the prevailing circumstances in the society and the considered priorities of the government of the day. One important fact about public policy is that all public policies are biased in favor of some groups and disadvantage others in varying degrees.

Hence, public policies usually address specific areas of the society and such limitations are often used as the basis for classification. In other words, public policies are usually qualified with what they are meant to achieve or address, the scope covered or some other adjectival descriptions that will help to make some generalizations about policies.

Thus, there are many ways of classifying public policies. These ways include:

(i) The sector in which the policy is directed like housing, agriculture, defense

(ii) Similar policies could be recognized and distinguished in terms of the clientele, issues or problems for which they were designed like social welfare policy, child development policy etc

(iii) Substantive and procedural policies

(iv) A popular classification of policy was that made by Theodore Lowi (distributive, regulatory, and redistributive)

(v) McKinney and Howard (1979) classified public policy into fundamental, major and functional policies.

(vi) Yehezikel Dror (1973) classified public policy into Mega and Meta policies

(vii) Other classifications include transformative and restorative policies

(viii) Reversible ad irreversible policies (Ndiribe, 2007)

(ix) Explicit-Implicit Policies

(x) Material- Symbolic Policies (Anderson, 1997)

(xi) Collective Good-private Good policies.

Distributive, Regulatory and Redistributive Policies

This classification was pioneered by Thoedore Lowi (1962). His classification was based on the objectives which the public policies are meant to achieve. Distributive Policies are types of policies, which involve incremental dispersal of government resources and benefits to different segments of the population and to individuals and institutions.

They can be the actual favors, benefits or patronage policies that are dispensed to a small number of people. This dispersal is continual and those not favored at one point, may be favored at another time. However, the nature of distributive polices is that recipients and losers do not come into direct confrontation.

Although potential beneficiaries seek required favors, they do not often oppose or interfere with favors to others. Examples of distributive policies are those that relate to public land, tariff, orts, etc. Regulatory Policies are policies, which refer to law or policy outputs that regulate distribution, practices, actions and activities. These are policies, which relate to directions, rules and frameworks on activities in various areas such as business, commerce, agriculture, transportation, etc. Their impact is either increases in costs or restrictions or expansion of activities and alternatives to private individuals organizations. Examples are NAFDAC and Standard Organizations.

Redistributive Polices are policies that specifically transfers resources from ne group to the other. The rationale is reducing the level of inequality in eth society. They benefit particular segments or category of the population, such as the unemployed, homeless, the poor, the retired, etc. They relate particularly to transfer of resources among large groups or classes (Anderson, 1975). Examples of distributive policies are social welfare programmes and some educational and tax policies.


Substantive and Procedural Policies

Substantive policy as what government is going to do such as constructing highways, overhead bridge, paying welfare benefits etc. substantive policies directly distributes to people advantages and disadvantages, benefits and costs. On the other hand, procedural policies pertain to how something is going to be done. For example the due process law, the federal character commission Act. However, it is usually difficult to discern the difference between substantive and procedural policy since all policies are likely going to provide guidelines in pursuit of some tangible or intangible benefits or costs to the people.


Fundamental, Major ad Functional Policies

This category of classification was championed by McKinney and Howard (1979) who based their classification in terms of scope of coverage. Fundamental Policies are policies derived from the constitution; hence they are based on constitutional provisions or judicial interpretations of the constitution. Such policies can only be changed or abolished by constitutional amendment and are characterized by large size, high importance and long tenure. They are considered supreme as they determine the nature of other policies.

Major policy is based on legislature enactment made by the highest legislative bodies at varying levels of government. They are either in the form of laws or programmes.

Major policies are therefore important and backed by the highest legislative bodies. They could be regarded as general policies, stating broad outlines and frameworks. The various National Development Plans are vivid examples. Functional polices emanate largely from the executive branch but could also emanate from decision and resolution set by legislatures and the courts. They are actually minor policies that relate to regulations and guidelines. They could also be administrative decision that are made in the process of implementing or administering public policy programmes overtime and indifferent situation and circumstances. They are therefore functional and operational policies.


Mega and Meta Policies

This classification was put forward by Yehezkiel Dror (1973). Mega Policy is a policy that constitutes a framework for others, which usually are minor or secondary policies. Mega policy is a master policy within which and by which some other policies within a specific policy issue or area are made. It provides the guide, the direction and the major assumptions and goals for other policies. Mega policies dictate the pace of more specific policies in relation to scope, time, levels of change and orientation. Both the Privatisation and deregulation policies are examples of mega policies. Meta Policy is a policy that relates to policy making. Its attention and goal is on how to make other policies and particularly how to make better policies.

Meta policy is concerned with the mode of policy and the system within, which public policy is made. It relates to policies on the process, guides, techniques, methods, requirements and characteristics of policy-making system. It is concerned with the design and redesign of policy-making systems in terms of structure, procedures, patterns, outputs level, models, methods, components, personnel and requirement. The goal of Meta Policies is to influence positively or improve policymaking systems and thus policy making.


Transformative and Restorative Policies

Niribe (2007) classified policies according to the nature of effects they have. He talks about transformative and restorative policies. A policy is transformative when its principal aim is changing the status quo. It seeks to effect radical changes. Restorative policy is concerned with returning the society to its previous state or status. All maintenance, regulatory policies not geared towards initiating radical changes are restorative (Ikeanyibe, 2013).

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