EXPLAINING THE MEANING OF PUBLIC POLICY
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
In this present times, no unison can be found on a precise definition of the term public policy. There are several studies in relation to the public policy and several scholars have attempted to define public policy from dissimilar angles. It has been defined differently by various scholars as it all depends on the current problem that a concerned government wants to address for its citizens’ sake. In general, public policy provides guidance to governments and accountability links to citizens. Furthermore, it is one of the social science courses that any student can undertake due to current stresses that nations are exposed to in this modern world. In fact, the term policies are defined as purposive courses of action to a perceived problem (Cochran ; Malone, 2014). In a similar way, Anderson J.E (2003) defined 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.” In general, a policy acts as an instrument to deal with a problem at hand that a government or an organization has faced. For the purpose of addressing the objective of this paper, it will therefore explain the term public policy by looking at different definition that different scholars generated.
The study of public policy became significant throughout the post Second World War period (Frohock, 1979). During that time, the Second World War , did not only create major socio-economic crises in the countries that participated in the war but also created other uncountable troubles in the countries that had attained independence or were in the process of attaining independence from the colonial rule (ibid). Other scholars further disclosed that those societies were deprived more by their colonial masters. This indicates that those affected countries had no choice but rather to find instruments that were to address their current worse situations they were facing. Such innovated ideas are what we call public policy. Furthermore, Harold Lasswell (1936) argues that in the midst of the Second World War if you are to ensure stability of a democratic system in Europe after the conflict an implementation of public policy was required to produce expert advice. This again depicts that public policy is an effort a nation can employ to restore peace among others. Therefore, it is against this background that this paper will take a discourse to explain what it means when someone talks about the term public policy.
2.0 DEFINITION OF PUBLIC POLICY ACCORDING TO DIFFERENT SCHOLARS
In the first place, Cochran C.L. and Malone F.E (2014) defined public policy as the study of government decisions and actions designed to deal with a matter of public concern. If the government realizes that its citizens are in total danger of a certain crisis then it is the responsibility of such government to find possible means to arrest that issue at hand. This denotes that those crisis incidents that humiliate public life are better checked by choosing, formulating, and implementing policies. Public policy has also been defined as “the framework of ideas and values within which decisions are taken and actions, or inactions, is pursued by governments in relation to some issue or problem” (Brook, 1989: 16). With reference to these definitions, a good example for this sort of public policy here in Malawi is that of farm inputs subsidy programme which was introduced during the reign of the late president of the Republic of Malawi Prof. Bingu Wa Munthalika as a policy to eradicate food insecurity that this country were prone to.
According to James Anderson (2003) discloses that public policy may also be viewed as whatever governments choose to do or not to do. This is a similar definition that Thomas Dye (1972:16) generated. In this regards, it all means that there are a number of related activities that a government is mandated to achieve for its public. With consideration of the issue efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery of such programmes, others activities have to be left out in order to pave way to only those needful activities that are to serve public interests.
Further, Larry Gerston (1972) suggests that public policy is defined as an issue which appears and remains an agenda when one or more of the three criteria being the scope, intensity, and time are included. In his proposition, he meant that public policy attracts public attention if it has a significant number of people or communities being affected, the magnitude of the impact being high and that issue must also be there for a long period respectively. This indicates that with exclusion of any of the indicated criteria then such policies are neither put into consideration nor implemented. Based on this definition, an example that illustrates this is the introduction of free primary education programme in Malawi by the former president of the Republic of Malawi Dr. Bakili Mulizi. However, before this programe, it was realized that cases of dropouts of pupils were mostly increasing as quite number of parents failed to adapt with fees expenses. This was taken as an instrument denying children’s right to education though this programme was later regarded as a campaign tool.
In addition, Daneka and Steiss (1978) posit that public policy is “a broad guide to present and future decisions; selected in light of given conditions from a number of alternatives; the actual of decision or set of decisions designed to carry out the chosen course of actions; a projected programme consisting of desired objectives and the means of achieving them. These proponents realize that a working policy has to come from various choices in order to address the intended goal. This will in return retain development to that concerned country.
Guy Peters (1999) defined public policy as the sum of government activities, whether acting directly or through agents, as it has an influence on the life of the citizens. It does not only mean that activation of various policies are purely implemented by government itself rather sometimes other trusted third party are employed to do the task on behalf of the government. For example, currently, the Government of Malawi is distributing free mosquito nets to all households across the country in which an agent has won the tender to facilitate the programme on behalf of the government.
Public policy also refers to what governments do, why they do it, and what difference it makes (Dye, 2013). In this case, the government implements policies based on the reasons attached to it and at the sometime take into consideration the benefits it has on the lives of the citizens. Furthermore, Dewey (1927) simply looks at public policy as “the public and its problems.” Thus, problems have to be checked out through innovated ideas in order to save the society.
It is through the revelation of this paper that we have seen several definitions of the term public policy. Scholars out there devised such definitions depending on the area they want to address in order to eliminate societal concerns. This was in line to what Thomas Dye (2013) defined public policy as the design to alleviate personal or societal discomfort. In general, it is the responsibility of the government to facilitate such policies through various planned activities for the purpose of attaining the targeted goal. Above all, knowledge of the society is believed to be useful in order to facilitate the selected policies so as to realize development.