WHAT IS A PUBLIC POLICY
Historically, the first public policy was known as Magna Carta proposed by John 1 the king of England and was signed in 1251 CE. The main focus was to introduce checks and balances on government power. This was followed by the United States of America constitution that codified what was known as ”enlightened age and a new land” that influence public policy and rights of the people. Some of the historical prominent scholars that influenced the formulation of several public policies are: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Earl Bartz just to mention a few, (American University, 2019.) Currently, the world does not have the consensus definition of public policy. Different scholars defined public policy based on their field of study. A policy has been defined as “a 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” (Cloete, 1998). Another scholar Anderson (2003) defined a public policy as “a relatively stable, purposive course of action followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern.” Furthermore, Brooks (1989) defined a public policy as “the broad framework of ideas and values within which decisions are taken and action, or inaction, is pursued by governments in relation to some issue or problem.”
Following the above stated definitions, it is clear that public policies are governmental decisions, and are in reality the result of activities which the government undertakes in pursuance of certain goals and objectives. It can further be understood as course of action designed to attain an objective. Public policy is the authoritative allocation through the political process of values to groups, or individuals in the community. In this regard, public policy is a guideline for action. Public policy is purposeful activity; a course of action put into operation to realize postulated objectives or goals (Marume, 1988). Policies are different from rules of law. The rules of law compel or prohibit behaviours while policies simply guide actions towards the achievement of desired outcomes (Smith, 2003).
Gerston (1997) suggested that an issue can be on considered on public policy agenda when it meets one or more of the three criteria. Firstly, it must have sufficient scope that is a significant number of people or communities are affected. Secondly, is the intensity of the problem, which means the magnitude of the impact must be higher and finally time, which means that it has been an issue over a long period.
There are some factors that need to be considered when coming up with a public policy. The first one is public interest. This factor answers a number of questions, among them are; “what is in the best interest of our society as a whole”? “How is the common good balanced against any private or special interests”? “Is the process fully inclusive”? Other factor is effectiveness that responds to the question of how well a policy achieves its stated goals. Furthermore, there is also an issue of efficiency that seeks to address the question of how well resources are utilized in achieving goals and implementing policy. Consistency is also another factor that addresses the degree of alignment with broader goals and strategies of government, with constitutional, legislative and regulatory regime. The factor of fairness and equity seeks to know the degree to which the policy increases equity of all members and sectors of the society. The policy should also be politically viable. This means that the policy should have sufficient scope, depth, and consensus support from that of elected officials and all are comfortable with the decision. Finally, the policy should be technically correct. The policy should pass through the technocrat’s criteria (Smith, 2003).
The other part to look at is the public policy development phases. Leslie, (2005) suggested that there are important phases that are followed in order to come up with the public policy. The first phase is the emergency of a problem. The public and decision makers recognize the problem and analyze the situation. The other phase involves value and goal clarification. The consideration of values and goals are crucial part of policy formulation. This involves describing desired results and developing criteria and indicators. This phase is followed by option generation that involves placing this problem on the government’s agenda in order to find a solution. This stage is followed by selection phase, which is the formulation of various alternatives to resolve the problem. After this the policy is adopted. The other crucial phase is implementation. This phase involves understanding of success factors, to assess the capacity, assign the responsibilities and to choose instruments of implementing the policy. The final phase is evaluation that involves monitoring and obtaining feedback from the various stakeholders.
Government alone cannot be the entity involved in policy making. Marume (1988) proposed that other actors do work in the form of a network with government for the delivery of complex policy goals. The following are the actors of policy making; the cabinet, this posse’s monopoly of power over supply of legislation, and locus of power. The public servants, that provide technical knowledge and policy advice and as service providers. Political Parties develops relationship in exchange for political support. The Media, with the duty to report information to the public, generate interest and shape public opinion. Interest Groups that seek to advance interests of members can also have a major influence to force policy network to react on certain issues that affect them. There is also legal system that interprets laws and acting independently. Members of the public have the constituent power to elect government officials.
Torjman, (2005) said that “We literally eat, drink and breathe public policy.”This statement reflects that public policy controls all the spheres of life. Despite playing such a vital role, policies face numerous challenges, for example, policy implementation gap. This problem is mostly common in developing countries such as Malawi. The implementation gap could be as a result of many factors, which could arise from the policy itself, the policy maker, or the environment in which the policy has been made (Khosa, 2003). Malawi national land policy of 2002 faces a lot of resistance from local chiefs and because politicians do not want to lose political mileage, the implementation never materialize.
In conclusion, public policy is an authoritative statement, made by a person or body with the power to do so and the decision made is deemed to be of public interest. The good policy must states matters of principle, be focused on action, stating what is to be done and by whom. It can also be said that public policy formulation and implementation processes involves a well planned pattern or course of activity. It requires a thoroughly close relationship and communication flanked by the considerable governmental agencies as well as the political executive, legislature, civil societies, the bureaucracy and judiciary.