Models, theories and concepts as approaches for analysing policy and decision making have been developed by political and social scientists to guide the study of public policy, to facilitate communication and to suggest possible explanations for policy actions. This essay is a critique of the relevance of the systems model to the study of politics.
A model is conceptually defined as a theoretical representation of empirical data that aims to advance understanding through highlighting of significant relationships and interactions. According to Heywood (2007) one of the most influential models in political analysis is the Political system model developed by David Easton (1979, 1981) which aims to explain the entire political process including the functions of the major political actors through what is called systems analysis. A system is an organised and complex whole, a set of interrelated and interdependent parts that form a collective entity. Roskin, Cord, Medeiros & Jones (1997) concur that in the political systems model the politics of a given country worked the same way as a biological system. Here they were trying to emphasise the interrelationships and inter dependence likening it to the biological human body; how the various organs needed or related to each other and likening this to the political system. Systems theory is therefore the theory that treats the political system as a self regulating mechanism responding to inputs (demands and supports) by issuing authoritative decisions or outputs (policies).
David Easton’s model illustrated the existence of a linkage between inputs and outputs in a political system(Heywood, 2007). Inputs consist of demands and support from the general public and demands in a political system range from pressure for the need of a higher standard of living, improved employment opportunities, greater protection to minorities, improved social benefits among many. Support on the other hand includes ways in which the public responds to the political system that is by paying taxes, offering compliance to the state through participation in public life and other societal issues. Heywood (ibid) further asserts that outputs on the other hand are in the form of laws promulgated by government, consisting of decisions and actions of government that is the passing of laws, the imposition of taxes and most importantly allocation of public funds. The outputs generate feedback which consist of further demands and support from the general public. Further Easton referred to what he called gatekeepers being political parties, church organisations, pressure groups which gatekeepers manage the perception of the people and convey their inputs in the form of demands and supports. Outputs from government go back to the people and the cycle goes on and on. He projected that a political system tends to operate at equilibrium as its survival depends on outputs being brought into line with inputs.
However, according to Anderson (1997) the usefulness of the systems theory in studying public policy is limited by its highly general and abstract nature. Older studies have devoted little attention to the nature and definition of public problems. It is now conventional wisdom that policy study that does not consider the characteristics and dimensions of the problems that stimulate government action is less than complete. In Easton’s model there is no clarity on the inputs which are the problems of the public. It gives a general picture of society. The importance lies in knowing both why some problems are acted on and others are neglected and why a problem is defined in one way rather than another. It is also important to know the nature of the problem whether it is foreign or domestic, a new item or an outgrowth of an existing policy to determine the ensuing policy making process, issues that the systems model is silent on....