Public Policy

Public policies are as old as governments. Whatever be the form, oligar~hy,
monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, democracy etc., - whenever and wherever
governments have existed, public policies have been formulated and implemented.
To cope with the varied.problems and demands of the people the government has
to make many policies, these policies are called public policies. This Unit tries to
explain the meaning and types of public policy. It will highlight the different
components of a policy and distinguish between policy, decision and goal. An
attempt will be made to bring out the relationship between politics and policy, and
importance and characteristics of public policy will also be discussed.

There are various studies about public policy and many scholars have attempted to
define public policy from different angles. Before explaining the meaning of public
policy, let us first go through some of its definitions.
Robert EyeStone terms 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 o: action of a person, group or government within a given
environment providing opportunities and obstacles which the policy was proposed
to utilise and overlcome in an effort to reach a goal 01 realise an objective or
From these definitions, it is clear that publi: 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 between the
important governmental agencies viz., the political executive, legislature,
bureaucracy and judiciary.
The following points will make the nature of public policy more clear in your minds:
1) P,ublic 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.
2) 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 termzBd as their discrete and segregated decisions.
3) 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 variety of forms like law,
ordinances, court decisions, executive orders, decisions etc.
4) Public policy is positive in the sense that it depicts the concern of the government
'and involves its action to a particular droblem on which the policy is made. It
has the sanction of law and authority behind it. Negatively, it involves a decisions
by the governmental officials regarding not taking any action on a particular issue.
Policy and Goals
To understand the meaning of policy in a better manner, it is very important to
make a distinction between 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 organisation
attempts to realise. Goais can be understood in a variety 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.
6 ..
If the government announces that its goal is to provide housing to all the members Public Policy :
of the deprived sections of society it does not become a public policy. It is a Meaning and Nature
statement of intention of what the government wants to do. Many a time the
government, for political reasons, announces goals that it has little desire to achieve. .-
I In order to become a policy, the goal has to be translated into action. Programmes
have to be designed to achieve specific objectives. As an illustration, let us look at
the policy of poverty alleviation. Several programmes have been designed 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 resources and
administrative personnel. These become concrete efforts to achieve a goal. Policy
spells out the strategy of achieving a goal. Thus policy is essentially an instrument
to achieve a goal. Statement of a goal docs not make it a policy.
Policies and Decisions
A distinction needs to be drawn between a policy and a decision also. Many a time
the terms are used interchangeably but that is not the correct usage. Individuals,
organisations or government are constantly taking decisions. But all the
decisions that are taken cannot be descr;ibed as matters of policy. The essential core
of decision-making is to make a choice from the alternatives available in order to
take an action, if there is only one course of action available then there is nothing
one can choose from and therefore, no decision can be taken. A decision can be
taken only when there is more than one alternative available. Thus a decision is the
act of making a choice. The entire science of decision-making has been developed
in order to analyse the conditions that can improve this activity and how a decision
maker can improve his choice by expanding the number of alternatives available to
There can be two types of decisions, programmed and non-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 about the problem are
important. For example, once the decision to open the library from 10 a.m. to 5
p.m. is taken, it does not require fresh consi~~ratioton keep it open during those
hours. The decision is incorporated into procedures that are established for the
purpose. Non-programmed decisions are new and unstructured. No well laid-out
methods are available for such decisions, each issue or question is to be dealt with
separately. Such decisions are required in the situations of unprecedented nature,
for example breakdown of an epidemic, occurrence of earthquake, etc. Training
in skills, needed for such decisions and innovative ability become releiant in this
regard. Both the programmed and non-programmed decisions have to be taken in
a broad framework or course of action.
Publlc policy is the broad direction or perspective that the government lays down
in order to take decisions. Each organ~sation or the individual is enjoined to take
1 a decision within a policy framework. Decision can be a one time action. Policy
i consists of several decisions that are taken to fulfil its aims. A policy consists of a
series of decisions tied together into a coherent whole.
There can be some similarity in the processes involved in decision making and policy
making. Both are concerned with choice among alternatives and for both similar
processes can be followed in generating alternatives. But we should always
remember that policy is a more comprenensive term, as it encompasses a series of
decisions and has a comparatively longer time perspective.


Post a Comment