Explaining the meaning of public policy
The term ‘Public policy’ provides guidance to government as well as accountability links to citizens. Public policy adoption and implementation guide the government to deal with matters of public concerns such as unemployment, inflation, housing, social welfare and education to mention a few (Chisinga 2007). Its study dates back to the beginning of civilization (Cochran and Malone, 2014). Since that period to date, there have been several implications of this concept as there is no agreement on exact definition of the term. In general terms, Public policy is the broad frame work of ideas and values within which decisions are taken and action or inaction is pursued by governments in relation to some issue or problem (Brooks, 1989.p.16). Recently, defining ‘public policy’ may seem to be the wastage of time as there is no universally agreed definition of what institutes the issue to be called public policy (Anderson, 2003.p.1). However, it has to be noted that defining the term is of great value as everyone should fully understand it, hence this essay explains the meaning of the public policy as guided by meanings of scholars such as Dye(1972), Anderson (2003) Fredrech(1972) (Daneke and Steiss, 1978, Cochran.
To begin with Dye, public policy is defined as anything a government chooses to do or not to do or action or inaction (Dye, 1972.p.18). Policy making is a fundamental activity of every government since public policy is its heart, soul and identity (Cochran and Malone, 2014).This means that governments such as Malawi can decide to act or not to address a certain problem or behavior. In the first place, governments are guided by public policy in a range of related actions in a given field. The government can choose to impose normative guidelines for action. For instance, Malawi government took an action by formulating alcohol policy in March 2013 which emphasizes the need to reduce the harmful use of alcohol because of the public outcry that most youths were taking excessive alcohol (National Alcohol Policy Document, Drafted March, 2013). On the other hand, public policies cannot always mean to any policy that does not always involve action from either government or other actors (Chisinga, 2007). In this respect inaction can constitute to policy as well. This can be deliberate attempts not to act on a certain issue. For instance, in Malawian context, it is very true especially to politicians as much of the political activity is concerned with maintaining the status quo. Furthermore, it is not easy to identify and analyse the policy as inaction than policy as action. For instance, the information bill is not yet signed by the president despite being approved in the August House.
Another way of explaining public policy is to view it as a broad guide to present and future decisions, selected in light of given conditions from a number of alternatives; the actual decision or set of decisions designed to carry out the chosen course of actions; a projected program consisting of desired objectives (goals) and the means of achieving them” (Daneke and Steiss, 1978). In Malawi for example, the country introduced Agriculture sector wide approach (ASWAp) from 2011 to 2015 which prioritized and harmonized agriculture investment framework towards the achievement of the Malawi Growth and Development strategy (MDGs). ASWAp was intended to improve food security and nutrition, increase agricultural incomes and also ensure sustainable use of natural resources (www.agriculture.gov.mw).
In addition, public policy is a proposed course of action of a person, group or government within a given environment providing obstacle and opportunities which the policy was proposed to utilize and overcome in an effort to reach a goal or realize an objective or purpose (Fredrech, 1963).The concerned parties who are proposing action to address a concern can deliberate and make careful decision to address the issue. In this case, public policy concern can be poverty which is a complex issue whose source can be traced to many factors such as low literacy levels, education, insufficient food, poor health, severe disability and economic shocks. In the case of reducing poverty the governments and other responsible groups can come up with interventions such as increasing child benefits, provide money to lower income families (Battle and Mendelson, 1997). In Malawi for example, National Youth Policy was introduced in 2013 with the purpose of empowering the youth to deal with the social and economic challenges they encounter in their daily lives.
According to Anderson (1975.p.3), policy is relatively stable, purposive course of action followed by an actor or set of factors in dealing with a problem or matter. In the same vein a policy becomes public policy if they are developed by government bodies and officials. This definition focuses on what is actually done instead of what is only proposed or intended; differentiates a policy from a decision. For instance, in Malawi, the Malawi public service management policy was introduced to address various performance challenges confronting the Malawi public service (Office of President and Cabinet, 2018). Similarly, Alcohol policy was also formulated in March 2013 which was intended to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. It was then realized that there was high increase in the rate of alcohol consumption in the country according to global status report on alcohol of 2011(National Alcohol Policy Document, 2013).
Finally, Cochran (1999) defines public policy as an outcome. In this respect, public policy is the outcome of the struggle in government over who gets what. The Government through its agencies makes policies to achieve intended goals. For instance, Malawi government introduced Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) from 2005 up to date to assist small scale farmers who are poor. The policy’s objective was that if farmers are accessing cheaper farm inputs, there would be security in the country although it does not meet the intended objectives since most people are still food insecure. In other words, “this is the impact of the activities in which the delivery versus impact different is very essential in determining the goal of public policy (Anderson 2003). Public policy adoption and implementation can help a country recover from acts of aggression brought by wars (ibid). For instance, in the USA the government passed key social welfare policy such as the social security Act of 1935, the civil rights act of 1964(Cochran, 2014).
In conclusion, the paper has demonstrated that although there are numerous definitions of public policy, what is in general is the purposive character public policies are expected to have and the way in which they are expected to address the public problems.