There is no consensus on the definition of public policy. The lack of a definition that is universally accepted is brought about by differences in views of different communities on what constitutes public policy. The term “public policy” has generally been used to refer to the various activities performed by government agencies, bureaucrats and politicians on policy matters. Siu (3) defines public policy as “the formal or informal actions carried out by a government on specific issues that have a significant social, economic, political and environmental impact on the public at large or specific population groups within a society. It represents a government’s position towards an issue that is perceived by the public as a problem. Public policy is developed with consideration to the interests of the public. According to Siu (3), a government “inaction” may sometimes constitute public policy. The definition given by Siu (3) is often supported by organizational processes and structures, financial and human resources, and ideological justifications. Although it may not be perfect, it encompasses most of the elements that that a number off social scientists perceive as the components of public policy. The definition aligns with the Kingdom’s perception of public policy. Kingdom (15) perceives a public policy as a set of problems experienced by the public, which the government officials and other people outside the government pay close attention to. Kingdom (15) explains that an issue is considered a public policy when the government puts it on the list of priorities to be addressed. Jackson and Jackson ((as cited in Siu, 3), in their definition of public policy, emphasize more on the public sector’s origin and enforcement through legal actions. Dye (as cited in Siu, 3) gives a simplified, general definition of public policy. According to Dye, public policy is “whatever government chooses to do or not to do.” On the other hand, Pal (as cited in Siu, 3) defines pubic policy as an action or a set of actions by government authorities designed to solve a problem or a set of problems experienced by the public. Overall, the above definitions can be summarized to give one general definition of public policy; a public policy refers to an action or a set of actions (or inaction) by government officials in response to issues that are perceived by the public as problems. This paper presents a comprehensive overview of the public policy development process
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Principles of a Good Public Policy
There is no clear-cut definition of a good public policy. The lack of consensus is brought about by the presence of different values and views among individuals from different groups or communities. Each set or group of individuals has its own unique view of how the members should be governed and how they should lead their lives. People usually refer to their own beliefs and value systems when making a judgment on whether a public poli9cy is good or bad. In some cases, those who are inv0lved in the process of developing public policies may make judgments that suit their interests or those that do not threaten their interests. Others may choose public policies that lead to the protection of specific lifestyles or resources. In addition, public policy may be judged based on the impact it has on the general public and at the individual level. In some cases, policymakers prefer the policies that are in line with the laid development objectives. In this regard, a policy may be rejected, not because it is bad, but due to the fact that it is not on the top of the list of priorities.
Despite the lack of consensus on what constitutes good policy, there are general principles that guide policymakers to make the most appropriate policies. The principles guide the policymakers to develop policies that are most beneficial to the public and that are in line with the best interests of the general public. There are six main principles that policymakers should give consideration during the process of policy development, namely, short-run and long-term considerations, justice, cost-effectiveness, impact, accountability, and balance of public interests.
Short-run and Long-term Considerations
A good public policy must give considerations to the current and future needs of the public. In other words, public policy should be based on objectives that are formulated to solve the current problems, as well as the problems that may arise in the future. Without giving the consideration to the future ramifications, a program may end up being inexpensive in the short-term but very expensive in the future. In addition, the program may have harmful effects in the future. A good example is the establishment of a fish processing company beside a lake; such a program may have short-term benefits such as an increase in the level of employment an increase in the supply of fish to the surrounding community. However, if the fishing is not regulated, it may lead to the extinction of fish in the lake, which may have a dire effect on the surrounding population.
A good public policy must adhere to the principles of sustainability. There are three principles of sustainability, namely, economic sustainability, environmental sustainability and social; sustainability. Economic sustainability refers to the application of the available resources to the best advantage and in the most efficient way possible in order to derive short-term and long-term benefits. Environmental sustainability implies the movement towards the use of renewable rather than non-renewable resources and the minimization or elimination of polluting and hazardous wastes. Environmental sustainability is meant to ensure that life does not become too expensive in the future in case the non-renewable resources are exhausted. Social sustainability, on the other hand, refers to creating and maintaining quality of life for all, including future generations.
Public policy may not be regarded as good if it creates benefits presently but it has negative effects on future generations. For instance, incurring too much debt to fund a current program and spreading the repayment to many years in the future may not be a good idea. Every policy must strike a balance between benefits and costs, presently and in the future.
Social justice is integrated into the societal values in most communities. Justice, in this context, refers to fairness in the distribution of resources in a community. The resources may be tangible properties, such as natural resources, equipment, and equipment, or they may involve opportunities, such as healthcare, housing, services, skills, and knowledge. John Rawls describes three standards of social justice: (1) all individuals in a society must have equal access to the same kind of liberty; (2) all individuals in a society should have equal and fair access positions of public responsibility; and (3) any inequality in the distribution of resources in a society should favor the worse-off group. Incorporating the aforementioned standards of social justice in public policy makes it more inclusive, lucrative and fair. A good public policy should be formulated with regard to the principle of social justice so that people from different social and economic backgrounds get equal access to the available opportunities.
The process of policy development and implementation is associated with operational and capital costs. There are maybe various options for implementation of a public policy that may lead to the same impact. Efficiency in public policy development and implementation process requires policymakers to select the option that is least costly. In order to make the most appropriate decisions regarding the best implementation procedure, policymakers should make realistic estimates during the formulation stage. They must give consideration to different operational models in order to come up with realistic cost alternatives. This can be achieved by conducting a cost analysis of all the possible options, using financial information used in earlier r in other jurisdictions. Form the intended objective to be achieved, the financial data borrowed from other programs or other jurisdictions must be well understood. Even though the least costly procedure should be selected, policymakers must be careful to ensure that the option will bring about the intended objectives. In case the policymakers underestimate the cost of the program, the implementation process might face difficulties. In such a case, the officials involved in the implementation process might find some shortcuts in order to reduce the overall cost. However, the impact of the program may be compromised. Always, the policymakers should select an option with the maximum benefits.
Every public policy is designed to solve a specific issue that is perceived by the public as a problem. The policymakers are usually concerned with the effects that particular public policies have on individuals, institutions and the whole society, directly and indirectly. Since a lot of public resources are used during the implementation of public policies, the policymakers must justify the purpose for each policy and the overall difference that it will bring to the public after implementation. If there is no expected impact, implementing the public policy will be regarded as wastage of public resources. At the same time, if the intended impact is mot achieved, the policy will be regarded as a failure. A good policy must be based on realistic expectations and there must be practical ways of implementing the policy. In addition, the expected results must be met. Precisely, the policy must link the problems of the public with the resultant expectations. A bad public policy lacks clear, explicit, formal and consistent objectives. Essentially, impact, in this context, is different from the outcome. An outcome is the tangible deliverables or outputs of public policy. Examples of outcomes are phone calls made, material items produced, participants involved and users contacted. The aforementioned outcomes do not state whether a benefit has been achieved. An impact is different from an outcome since the former involves an extra step of evaluating whether the intended objective has been achieved.
Accountability is one of the principles that highly affect the appropriateness of public policy. It refers to the responsibility of the policymakers to ensure that the information included in the policy documents is well researched and the public policies derived from the information are well implemented, evaluated, monitored, managed and re-adjusted according to the findings of evaluation processes. In other words, the policymakers are answerable for the steps they make and the decisions that they arrive at during the policymaking processes. Accountability implies that the policymakers are in a position to explain the decisions they make to the parliament or legislature and to the general public. To ensure that policymakers always make consideration of the principle, public policies, in most cases, are built in a high degree of evaluation, enforcement, monitoring, and readjustment.
Balance of Public Interests
A good public policy must balance the interests of different groups who will be affected. Every community has various segments or groups of individuals with different and conflicting interests. For instance, there is always a conflict of interests between environmentalists and mining companies, buyers and sellers, tenants and landlords, land developers and farmers and labor unio0ns and business owners. Policymakers encounter difficulties while trying to determine the interests to promote or to disregard. One way of dealing with such a situation is to promote certain interests of a group and force them to sacrifice other interests for the sake of the other groups with opposing interests. For instance, the policymakers may require employers to raise salaries for their employees by a specific percentage. Such a policy will be beneficial to the employees. The employers may be dissatisfied with the policy. The policymakers may resolve the issue by adjusting the average working hours per day up. The ability for policymakers to come to a common ground or to reach a compromise depends on the level of consultation of all stakeholders involved.
Policy Development process
Identifying Policy Issues
The process of policy development starts with the identification of policy issues. In every society, there are many issues that are perceived by the public as problems. It is, therefore, difficult for the policymakers to determine the issues that need to be tackled and those that should not. In addition, the policymakers must take time to prioritize the issues that need to be tackled. The issues that are not included in the list of priorities are not public policy issues. There are numerous sources of public policy ideas, such as politicians, government bureaucrats, media coverage, investigative journalism, and public research problems, think tanks, consulting firms, and stakeholder groups. The policy ideas may also arise as a result of factors such as organizational or public pressure and social and global change. Some policy ideas may also arise as a result of global trends and events, such as natural disasters, emerging world views, changes in social values and norms, changes in technological conditions and evolving economic and political conditions. Policymakers may come up with policies in response to the pressure by various groups in the society, such as trade unions, business associations and professionals, non-profit alliances, community organizations, and lobby groups. New internal or external government information may also spur ideas doe policy issues. In most cases, policy ideas are developed by leaders or government officials who put forward the information to the policymakers.
During the process of identifying public policy issues, the policymakers must be able to define the problems that are worth to be considered. As Sue (91) explains that an issue is identified as problematic “because it creates a barrier a barrier to our desired objectives, actions or ends, or violates our sense of what is right proper, fair or just. In order to recognize a problem, policymakers need to make subjective considerations and objective facts. They must also be able to make a distinction between public and private problems. Unless a problem affects a significant number of people within a society, it cannot be perceived as a public problem requiring government intervention. Further, most compressing problems should be given priority. Any errors that may occur during this step may lead to negative effects on the rest of the policy development process. Examples of errors that may occur in the public policy identification step are; making wrong or ill-advised decisions, relying on n inappropriate recommendations, constructing irrelevant policy alternatives and wasting or misdirecting resources and research efforts.
Conducting Research and Analyzing the Findings
After identifying a policy issue to be addressed, policymakers proceed to determine the solution to the issue. The process of identification of the solution involves research to asses the impact, risks involved, cost, magnitude and nature of the policy issue. As well, the research process may involve the evaluation of the environment in which the problem to be solved has occurred. The information gathered during the research process is presented to the decision-makers for analysis. The research process helps to gather reliable and accurate information that will help to come up with thorough and sound solutions. Improper research process leads to the compilation of inaccurate and unreliable information, which leads to flawed public policies.
In order to derive accurate and reliable information during the research process, policymakers need to come up with a research plan. A research plan establishes the activities that will be carried out, gives consideration to the available resources, acknowledges time constraints and sets focused objectives. A good research plan must appease all the internal stakeholders. In order to appease them, the opinions of all the internal stakeholders must be considered when designing the research plan. Policymakers must also make consultations with the public and other stakeholders and incorporate their views when designing the research plan.
One of the most appropriate ways of framing a policy issue in the research plan is to transform the policy ideas into questions. The approach helps to define the direction of the research and to define the scope and nature of the research inquiry. In cases where the policy issues or ideas are too broad, the public policymakers should create subsets of research questions. In most cases, a public policy constitutes of many policy issues due to the many aspects involved in any given subject matter. The policymakers should, therefore, design numerous questions to represent each of the policy issues that are involved in public policy. The research plan should be flexible enough to allow more research questions that may be triggered by the actual research process. During the research process, factors such as timeline and scope of a policy approach may change. The political factors influencing the implementation of a policy issue may change. Over time, new impressions may emerge about better policy development processes. The higher authorities in a government may give instructions for new courses of action. Under such circumstances, the research plan and the research process should be flexible enough to allow responsiveness to change. In some cases, the policymakers might have to shelve the research process and start working on new policy issues.
During the research process, the policymakers must determine the most relevant information needed to answer research questions. They can achieve that end through the identification of indicators and measurements that can help in the process of answering the research questions. Indicators refer to the signs that point to the presence of a given issue or phenomena. Measurement refers to the degrees of an issue or phenomena expressed quantitatively.
Formulating Policy Alternatives and Recommendations
The process of analysis of research findings may provide answers to some of the research questions developed during the research process. However, policymakers encounter limitations during the actual process of conducting research, which hinders the ability to collect comprehensive information that is needed to determine the most appropriate solutions to policy issues. Time constraint is a major limitation during the research process. Due to tome constraint, important information, such as the emerging social pressure, shifts in public views or sentiments and unexpected crisis and emergencies may not be accurately recorded. Such factors have a great impact on the policy development process. However, the lack of accurate or comprehensive information to give outright answers to the research questions requires policymakers to engage in another process of identifying the various alternatives that are available for answering the questions. In other words, the policymakers engage in a decision-making process in order to determine the most appropriate solutions to policy issues. All the available information from the research process, other programs or other jurisdictions’ should be used to come up with a set of alternatives. During the process of determining the most appropriate alternative, the policymakers should also seek advice from experts. They should apply content analysis to qualitative data collected during the research process. Quantitative data should be analyzed using statistical tools. The findings of the analysis process should be presented in the best way possible. For instance, quantitative data may be presented in the form of figures and tables. Further, the strengths and weaknesses of each of the available alternatives should be carefully assessed. After analyzing the available alternatives, the policymaker should select the option that is most beneficial to the public. At this point, they should give consideration to the principles of a good public policy. For instance, the best alternative should be cost-efficient and should be in line with the interests of the public. In addition, it should have a clear procedure for arriving at the intended objectives. In short, the policy options that align best with the six principles of policy development should be selected.
When selecting the most appropriate option, the policymakers are likely to encounter political constraints, especially because each political side has its own interests and ideologies that influence decisions. When such situations arise, the policymakers should avoid being partisan; rather, they should only rely on their research findings to select the most beneficial solutions to public policy issues. However, the policymakers must also give consideration to the opinions of the decision-makers. In cases where partisan elements must be included in determining the most appropriate option; the policymakers should explore the impacts of the elements on the general public. The partisan elements should not conflict with the public interest. Other factors that should be considered when determining the most appropriate solutions to public issues are jurisdiction and international issues that may emerge during the implementation process, the political inclination of the decision-makers, stakeholder sensitivity, public sentiment, and dominant values.
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