Friday, April 11, 2014

Significance of Public Policy in Public Administration

Policy can be defined as planned action of an entity whether individual, or a public or private institution to achieve a specific objective within the context of an environment. Policy formulation is pre-requisite for all types of management. Yehezkel Dror defines policies as “general directives on the main lines of action to be followed". The objectives of an organization are concretized in the form of public policies. Paul Appleby mentioned “The essence of public administration is policy formulation”. Public policies are those which are developed by the governmental bodies & agencies though the non­governmental actors like private bodies or voluntary organization also influence in the making of public policies. David Easton says public policies differ from other, policies due to the existence of “authorities” in political system e. g. executive, judiciary, administrators etc.

As an academic pursuit in the social sciences, public policy emerged in 1950s. In the past, the studies of public policies was dominated by scholars of political science who concentrated on the institutional structure and philosophy of government. The public policies per se were rarely the subjects of study. Thomas Dye, a leading scholar in the field of policy analysis says that traditionally political science described the institutions in which public policy was formulated but the relationships between the institutions and the content of public policies were unexplored but today the focus is shifting to the content of public policy. Today the study of public policy has evolved into what is virtually a new branch of social sciences - “policy sciences”. Harold Lasswell was the first scholar to formulate the concept of policy sciences way back in 1951

“Public” - The Essence of Public Policy

Public Policy is concerned with those areas of policy which are labeled as “public” as opposed to the “private” spheres. The public comprises that domain of human activity which requires governmental intervention or some sort of common action. Public administration is an instrument for securing public interest rather than private interest. The civil servant is supposed to be the rational functionary whose main job is to carry out the will of the elected representatives. The public dimension is generally referred to ‘public ownership’ or control for ‘public purpose’. However, there has always been a conflict between what is public and what is private. W. F. Baber argues that there are ten key differences between public and private sector. These are:

  1. It faces more complex and ambiguous tasks

  2. It has more problems in implementing its decisions

  3. It employs more people with a wider range of motivations

  4. It is more concerned with securing opportunities or capacities

  5. It is more concerned with compensating for market failure

  6. It engages in activities with greater symbolic significance

  7. It is held to stricter standards of commitment and legality

  8. It has a greater opportunity to respond to issues of fairness

  9. It must operate or appear to operate in the public interest

  10. It must maintain minimal levels of public support

The Concept of “Policy”

Like the idea of public, the concept of policy is also not a precise term. It may take the form of

  1.   A declaration of goals

  2.   A declaration of course of action

  3.   A declaration of general purpose

  4.   An authoritative decision

Policy is a purposive course of action taken or adopted by those in power in pursuit of certain goals or objectives. Public policies are those policies which are adopted and implemented by government bodies and officials. David Easton defines public policy as the authoritative allocation of values for the whole society. Thomas Dye states “Public Policy is whatever governments choose to do or not to do". Robert Lineberry also says that it is what governments do and fail to do for their citizens.

Goals and Policies

Goals are the long term aims of the organization which are to be achieved. They are quite permanent and they do not change even over the years. It is through the achievement of goals that an organization achieves social legitimacy and once the organization abandons its goals, it loses its members and hence the death of oraanization occurs.

Significance of Public Policy in Public AdministrationPolicies on the other hand lie between goals and the day to day decisions. Policy is a short term decision taken in order to translate the objectives or goals of the organization into reality. A policy hence acts as a guide for the day to day programmes. Hence the objectives of the organization which are often vague are concretized through the policies.

Features of Public Policy

Public Policy has the following prominent features:

  1. One public policy extends to all the sections of the population. It shows “Universality" of public policies.

  2. Only governmental policies involve legal obligations. That is, public policies have societal legitimacy. They have legal sanctions behind them.

  3. Public policies can be coercive in nature i. e. only public policies can impose sanctions legitimately on the violators.

  4. It is purposely prepared and does not come by chance. Public policies are result oriented and are not random in nature.

  5. It is what governments do and what subsequently happens.

  6. Public policies can either be positive or negative. A negative policy can be in the form of not taking any action on a matter on which governmental opinion or action is called for.

Relevance of the Study of Public Policy

Study of public policy in the field of public administration is of direct relevance to all the practitioners, academicians and the public. For the academicians the relevance of the study is to gain an understanding of the causes and consequences of policy decisions. They view public policy as a dependant variable and study as to how environment and the surrounding political system shape it. Similarly, they also analyse by viewing public policy as an independent variable and then studying its impact on the environment and the surrounding political system.

Similarly the professionals study public policy from the point of view of understanding the causes and consequences of public policy. This study permits them to apply the knowledge of social sciences to find out solutions for practical problems in order to make the policy a success.

Study of public policy is also relevant for the public. If the citizens are enlightened then it is ensured that “right policies” are adopted to achieve “right goals”. It also improves the level of political awareness among the people and hence improves the quality of public policy. The essence is that their knowledge better equips them to expect and demand right policies.

Reference : Communication and Engagement with Science and Technology By John K. Gilbert, Bruce V. Lewenstein, Susan M. Stocklmayer


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