Public Policy

Public policy may be defined as a proposed course of action of an individual, a group, an institution or a government for the accomplishment of certain objectives in a given situation. Public policy is one that is formulated by some public or governmental authority. Government, which is the representative of the interest of the society as a whole, is the legitimate institution to make public policy. Whatever policy the government formulates in the form of legislation, regulation, executive orders, or
court decisions is public policy. In fact, it is the ‘authoritative base’ of the public policy that distinguishes it from the policy in general.

As pointed by Anderson, Brady and Bullock, “Goal directed or purposeful course of action followed b an actor or set or actors in an attempt to deal with a public problem. This definition focuses on what is done, as distinct from what is intended, and it distinguishes policy from decisions. Public policies are developed by government institutions and officials through the political process (or polities). They are distinct from other kinds of policies because they result from the actions of legitimate authorities in a political system.” However, this definition is narrow in focus as it refers to ‘what is done’ in contrast to ‘what is intended to be done’. The government need not engage in a formal action for public policy to be put into effect.

According to Thomas R. Dye, “Public policy as whatever government chooses to do or not to do.” He argues that public policy must include all actions of the government and not just stated intentions of either government or a government official. He also points out that public policy must include what government chooses not to do, as government inaction with respect to particular issues can have as great an impact on society as government action. However, this definition can be criticized on the ground that it is too vast as it also includes ‘what government chooses not to do.’

From the above mentioned definitions, we find there are different views about the definitions of public policy. However, we can summarize that it is the study of a set of government policies of conducting public welfare activities. 

But now the question arises as to what should be included in the scope of public policy. The scope of public policy may be highlighted on the following broad areas:
  1. Promotion of social welfare: Policies pertaining to social welfare cover the problems pertaining to food, housing, health, education, social security, social welfare, employment etc. Public policy has a direct bearing with the socialization of the people by providing social equity and guaranteeing social justice, trying to eradicate all social evils, promoting education, setting up social insurance, social security and launching welfaristic schemes for the backwards, women, children and minorities.
  2. Economic betterment: Policies relating to economic affairs deal with activities of various sectors of economy such as industry, agriculture, foreign trade and commerce, foreign exchange etc. for ensuring a prosperous and stable economy. In agriculture sector, policy improves the quality and use of seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, agricultural equipment etc. In the industrial sector, it deals with the efficient development of both the small scale and large-scale industries and promotes better employment facilities. It launches various schemes to train and educate the common people in different trades, occupations and skills.
  3. Political advancement: For the success of any political system, awareness on the part of the common people is essential. This is more so about a democratic system. In such a kind of system, public policies are framed to encourage common masses to participate actively in the affairs of the government.
  4. Administrative efficiency: Public policies help to promote administrative efficiency directly as well as indirectly. This means that there may be policies, which are specifically formulated to and aim at enhancing efficiency of the administration. Thus, they lay down various procedures or guidelines to be followed by the administration in immediate future. Besides this, an enhancement may be a result of some other policies. With officials knowing what exactly they are expected to do and a code of discipline and conduct guiding all performances, all of it naturally adds to the efficiency of the administrative system.
  5. Management of financial affairs: The scope of public policy also covers the entire financial management of the government. Thus, it includes the realm of taxation, circulation of money, borrowings, debt structure, foreign exchange and the like.
  6. Environmental protection: Public policies are also aimed at creating healthy and clean environment. Environment pollution has become major threat before the world towards the close of the previous century. Hence, protection and maintenance of environment in the modern time has become a major responsibility of the governments. Thus, they are required to lay down policies in regard to water, air and noise pollution, for maintenance of eco-balance, afforestation, soil conservation and the like.
  7. Foreign affairs: Public policies are also framed to promote and maintain international relations. Thus, maintenance of international peace, harmony and cooperation are the important areas covered under the scope of public policies. Besides, what sort of relations with other countries of the world are to be maintained are decided through public policies.
  8. Defense: A state has also to frame policies in the field of defense as well. Such policies are of paramount significance for, its stability and progress depends upon how much effective its policies in the field of defense. These policies include both maintenance of internal order and defending its external boundaries. Since now days the two problems have almost become worldwide phenomenon, no government can dare to ignore them.
  9. Development of infrastructure: The acid test of a country’s development and progress is that how efficiency it has developed its infrastructure. All the countries that are considered as developed in modern times have a well-developed infrastructure. On the other hand, main hindrance in the development of Nepal is that we have not been able to create a well-developed infrastructure in the form of transportation, power and electricity, communication network etc. Seen in this background, it obviously becomes imperative for a country to formulate relevant policies in these areas.

Characteristics of Public Policy

The public policy contains the following main characteristics:
  1. Purposive (Goal-oriented) actions: Public policy in modern political systems reflects the behavior made on the basis of definite objective. It implies that public policy does not reflect the behavior that occurs suddenly or incidentally. For example, public policy reflects the
    behavior determined for the purpose of alleviating poverty, but does not reflect the behavior made for the relief of the people sufficient from earthquake all of a sudden.
  2. Course of action: Public policy is a plan of action or course of action taken by government authorities. A single decision made by an authority on his discretion cannot be a public policy. Because, since a decision will have to be implemented there may be a doubt that the decision of a single person will be implemented.
  3. Action doing: In public policy what the government actually does is reflected instead of the intention of the government, since mere intention of the government may not be converted into reality. For example, although there is a law that child labor should not be used; it cannot be a policy if not being implemented.
  4. Positive or Negative form: Public policy may be of both positive and negative form. Positive form involves the action taken by the government to influence certain action. For example, the policy that there should be at least a female teacher in each primary school for female upliftment is a positive policy. The negative form involves the government policy on not doing certain work. For example, government’s disinterest in pollution control is a negative policy.
  5. Law based on authorities: Public policy is positively based on laws. Similarly, the authorities having authority devise public policy. Consequently, those violating public policy should face penalty and punishment. Such compulsions cannot be found in the policies of private enterprises, since only the government has power to punish those who violate the laws. For example, only government can punish those who drive a car without license.
  6. Applied social science: Public policy analysis is assumed to be the subject of applied social science. Policy analysis makes enquiry and uses different methods of reasoning for producing and transforming relevant information with policy, which can be utilized in solving policy problems. United Nations has also dubbed policy-making act as policy science.

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