Policies may simply be defined as the guidelines that govern the desired way of life of a group of people, and as a result they are often designed around the norms and values of a society. A policy is a plan of action designed to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes; they may apply to government, private sector organizations and groups, as well as individuals. Jenkins defines policies as “a set of interrelated decisions taken by a political actor or group of actors concerning the selection of goals and the means of achieving them within a specified situation where those decisions should, in principle, be within the power of those actors to achieve.” (Jenkins, 1978, pp.5). Jenkins stresses the point that policy is more than a single definition. The study and analysis of policies must take into consideration the process involved in making critical decisions, identification of alternative courses of action, and ultimately, choosing the best courses of action on the basis of the impact it will have.
Policies may be understood as political, management, financial and administrative mechanisms arranged to reach explicit goals. The term “public policy” in particular, refers to the general principles by which a government is guided in its management of public affairs. Miyakawa argues that “if a definition of public policy is to indicate the essential characteristics of public policy, it must distinguish between what governments choose to do and what in fact they actually do.” (Miyakawa, 2000, pp.10). Public policies refer to the actions of government and the intentions that determine those actions. Peters defines it as “the sum of government activities, whether acting directly or through agents,
as it has an influence on the life of citizens.” (Peters, 2003, pp.6). “The public policy process refers to all the mechanisms through which decision making and the implementation of public policy are made in our society. It is a process in the sense that it involves a linked series of activities and events oriented to the achievement of one or more specific objectives.” (Miyakawa, 2000, pp.3). A public policy is therefore a deliberate act of government that in some way alters or influences the society or economy outside the government. It includes, but is not limited to issues such as taxation, regulation, expenditures, and legal requirements and prohibitions. Public policies are made solely in the best interest of the general public, and intend to somehow affect everyone, though the effects may not be in the same way or at the same time. What is therefore clear is that the public agenda is the focal point for policy decisions, and this public agenda changes as public priorities and values shift.
The essential element of public policies is to address a social problem that affects a significant number of people or groups, which is considered to be important and in need of a solution. Rainwater considers a social problem to be “a condition which is defined by a considerable number of persons as a deviation from some social norm which they cherish.” (Rainwater, 1974, pp.1). Developing public policy recommendations that serve the interests of a diverse group of people is a very challenging and formidable task. The study of public policy or what governments do can be approached in a number of ways, and “there is no single process by which public policy is actually formed.” (Miyakawa,
2000, pp.12). Miyakawa highlighted five major theoretical approaches to the study of public policy: institutionalism, elite theory, group theory, input-output models and systems theory. According to Miyakawa, each approach focuses attention on aspects of politics that are somewhat relevant to the study of public policy, however, we are not to be “too rigid or dogmatic in defense of or use of a particular theory.” (Miyakawa, 2000, pp. 12).
As it relates to policy making and implementation there are quite a...
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