Knill,Tosun(2012) consider Public Policies as ‘omnipresent’ and as such are inevitable in our day to day activities. In our daily news items, both print and electronic media, citizens are confronted with the effects of Public Policies. In Ghana, recent discussions on whether or not to pay TV license, free SHS, fuel price increases, paperless ports system, digital address system and so on are all characterized by the effects of Public Policies in our lives. It is also important to add that, such policies do not emanate from one single channel but from various sectors including public outcry, state institutions, cabinet meetings, court rulings etc. Policies are formed all be it to improve the lives and to solve problems. Policies encapsulate the very fabric of our entire lives even to the minute decisions of what will be available for us to eat and wear.
We must therefore appreciate the role of policies and the effect it has on us and not just feel unconcerned about decision taken for us. Others always see policies as political ideologies been imposed on the citizen. This may not farfetched as governments spearhead the implementation of policies.
Policies shape the globe and are key arriving at a decision. This report seeks to enhance our understanding of public policies, the nature and characteristics of policies and the theories that underpin these policies. It also seeks to give us an appreciation of the processes involved in arriving at a policy and whether those processes have evolved, changed or improved.
CHARACTERISTICS OF POLICIES
1. Public Policies are often made to find solutions to a public problem that might need urgent attention. One of the key characteristic of policies is that it seeks to find answer to a problem either now or anticipated in the nearby future. This often dwells on the overall support of both the government and the majority of the people to find lasting solutions to their plight.
2. Policies are said to be made on behalf of the public. Public policies have a mandate to meet the needs of the public. The people should be the ultimate beneficiaries of whatever policy being implemented but this turns out not be the case as a few people end up enjoying the benefits to the detriment of the masses
3. Policies are also geared towards a goal or a desired end such as a lasting solution. Policies are made with an ultimate goal in mind such as improving health care, education or housing in an area. All these goals help to shape the inputs that will be adopted for implementation such that a determination can be made at the end of day if the goal has been achieved.
4. Governments are the major actors in policy decision. Several actors could make input and lobby their way through but the ultimate responsibility lies with the government of the day to determine which course of action will be appropriate.
5. There are several collaborations to the interpretation and implementation of public policies especially between public and private institutions. As we know, policies cover a wide array of areas so it is necessary that such partnerships are formed to enhance the implementation of policies.
6. Policies define what government wants to do and what it stays away from doing. As resources continue to be scarce and problems continue to abound, it leaves government with the tough decision of prioritization at all times. Policies will enable the citizens to know the key objectives of a particular government through its policies.
DEFINITIONS OF PUBLIC POLICY
Public Policy is seen by many in different ways to reflect various meanings with regards to processes and the end result. It is also seen as a complex phenomenon which is difficult to define because it contains a complex word which in all uncertain terms must represent the interest of the public. Public interest is also relative as the entire population might not be interested in an issue with the same eagerness or anxiousness. Elected officials are usually required to carry out their mandate in the interest of the constituents but more often than not they carry out the interest of themselves or their political affiliation.
Several actors have attempted to find a definition to this term to suit the various analysis they intended to carry out. Clarke E Cochran et al (2010) considers the term to mean the actions of government and also a declaration of an intention by the government. They also give an interesting dimension of public policy as a struggle within the system where the end is to find out who got what and probably at whose expense. Dye (2013, 14th ed) is considered by many to have given a classic definition as whatever government chooses to do or not to do. Cochran and Malone (2010) also opined that policies which are in the interest of the public usually consist of political decisions, which states out the preferred programs for implementation with the aim of achieving the numerous goals that society sets out for itself. Peters (2010) also defines Public Policy as the sum of government activities which are often undertaken by themselves or their agents or representatives to impact positively of society. Birkland (2016, 4th ed) sees policies as a ‘statement’ by authorities in whatever capacity on their intentions and ideas on how to find solutions to the ever complex problems they are faced with Such statements can originate from cabinet meetings, parliament house, law courts, seminars and conferences or even a general outcry of the masses on a new development. The silence of an authority can also be interpreted as a policy.
POLICY AND POLITICS
Policies are often influenced by politics. Even though politics can be viewed as the nature of governance, it is usually characterized by many as a deception for personal gains to the detriment of the masses. Lasswell(1958) puts it right that politics connotes ‘who gets what, when and how’. An attempt to understand who gets control of which resource, opportunity or position and at what times to meet which specific objectives is influenced by the choice of policy needed to be applied. This forms the basis for questioning the real purpose of certain policies as it becomes unclear the real intentions of government, the timing and the beneficiaries of a particular policy.
Policies and Politics go hand in hand because they support each other in achieving the desired results to improve the conditions of people. The negative connotation associated with politics could influence the implementation of a policy and the desired results may not be achieved. However, politics could also be used in a positive light to gather resources and public support for a policy which would enhance its sustainability.
THEORIES THAT UNDERPIN POLICY
As already established, Policies are simple what government chooses to do or not to do. This is rooted in decision making which can be traced in several theories. However the three main theories we wish to focus on will be the rational theory, incremental theory and the mixed scanning theory which we accept that all the processes can be traced from.
In social decision making, it is important to identify what decision need to be taken in solving a problem. This approach places much emphasis on the alternatives available the always posits that there is enough control and authority t be able to make a choice out of the various alternatives that will help to solve the problem. This focuses much on efficiency with the notion that the resources available both human and material could be managed in such a way as to help solve a problem. It also involves setting of a goal and evaluating alternatives to meeting the goal. The rationalist is of the view that ones the best alternative is chosen it will intend lead to the best consequence, a view opposed by the incrementalist. A lot of time and energy could be spent on developing and settling the one and most effective alternative. This theory is therefore considered as utopian because the decision maker cannot have the required resources and intellect to be able to make that one decision that suits all and improves all at the same time.
As opposed to rational theory, the incrementalist hold the view that, not one decision is in all conclusive, however a system of ‘increasing’ decision making as and when necessary was realistic. This theory is an admission of the fact that the cognitive capacity needed for expert decision making is limited hence the need to allow for much information to be available before further decisions are reached. The emphasis is not on evaluating new alternatives but on expanding the scope of the existing ones to meet desired objectives. Also, add-on factor creates opportunity to be able to analyze the consequences effectively as lessons from the existing decision could be relied on.
Clarke E. Cochran et al., American Public Policy: An Introduction. 10th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Wadsworth, 2010.
b. Thomas R. Dye, Understanding Public Policy. 14th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2013.
c. Charles L. Cochran and Eloise F. Malone, Public Policy: Perspectives and Choices. 4th ed. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2010. d. B. Guy Peters, American Public Policy: Promise and Performance. 8th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2010.