Public policies in a contemporary, multifaceted society are indeed everywhere. In the course of their daily lives people are affected either directly or indirectly, by an extensive array of public policies which are common in this modern and complex society. Public policies give advantages and disadvantages, cause pleasure, pain, and collectively have important consequences for people’s well-being and happiness as they constitute a significant portion of people’s environment. Whatever be the form, oligarchy, monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, democracy etc., whenever and wherever governments have existed, public policies have been formulated and implemented. Public policies also play a key role in introducing changes to societies and in guiding individual and collective behaviour. This essay therefore will try to explain the meaning of public policy.
There is no universally accepted definition of what institutes public policy in this contemporary world. Despite the diverse insight of public policy, many scholars have attempted to describe public policy from different angles. As stated by (Chinsinga B, 2007), Public policy refers to a relatively stable, purposeful course of action taken by Government or public actors in addressing a social problem. In his writing, he highlighted some of the social problems or issues as unemployment, inflation, housing, land reforms, welfare, education, and so on. Furthermore, he explains that ‘decisions which are made by governments are implemented in the form of laws, regulations, executive orders, court decisions and even the Government budget’. It is not easy to identify the recognized system for public policymaking process in the country. For example, the process of public policy making in Malawi is not institutionalized effectively as well as efficiently making it difficult to formulate and implement policies as the environment is so difficult (Chinsinga B, 2007). On the other hand, public policy has been defined as “government’s program of action to give effect to selected normative and empirical goals in order to address perceived problems and needs in society in a specific way, and therefore achieve desired changes in that society,” Rose (1976). Public policies, nevertheless, do not constantly consist of action. Inaction can constitute policy as well–what is not done or deliberate attempt not to act (Chisinga2007).
Furthermore, Cochran and Malone (2014), defines Public policy as the overall framework within which government actions are undertaken to achieve public goals or the study of government decisions and actions designed to deal with a matter of public concern. Similarly, Brooks (1989), argue that Public policy can be described as the broad framework of ideas and values within which decisions are taken and action is pursued by governments in relation to some issue or problem. This shows that policies are purposive courses of action devised in reply to an apparent problem and they are filtered through a specific policy process which includes adoption, implementation, regulatory measures, courses of government action, funding priorities, and enforcement by a public agency (Cochran and Malone, 2014). These policies also provide mutual accountability links between the government and its citizens and also provide guidance to governments over a range of actions. They are mostly shaped by individuals and groups through mobilization of interest groups, advocacy education, and political lobbying. Friedrich (1976) defines public policy as a proposed course of action of a person, group, or government within a given environment providing opportunities and obstacles on which the policy was proposed to utilize and overcome in an effort to reach a goal or realize an objective or purpose. These policies provide guidance to governments over a range of actions and also provide mutual accountability links between the government and its citizens. They are mostly shaped by individuals and groups through mobilization of interest groups, advocacy education, and political lobbying.
According to Anderson, J ( ) policy is defined as a relatively stable, purposive course of action followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern. However, this definition focuses on what is actually done instead of what is only proposed or intended; differentiates a policy from a decision, which is essentially a specific choice among alternatives; and views policy as something that unfolds over time. Policies can also be thought of as the instruments through which societies control themselves and attempt to direct human behavior in acceptable directions whether in a public or private sector.
In addition, Hogwood and Gunn (1991) discuss a number of common uses of the word policy: policy as a label for a field of activities; an expression of general purpose or desired state of affairs; a specific proposal; decisions of government arising from crucial moments of choice; a specific act or statute; and, outputs of the political process which is what the government actually delivers as opposed to what has promised or authorised through legislation.