Public Policy | Definition, Characteristics , Types & Theories

Public policy is a definite and purposeful course of an action selected or adopted by the government and its institution from among alternatives to solve or address a given societal problem. Usually societies at a given point in time are confronted with problems and government is always seen formulating and implementing policies to solve them.

Examples of societal problems that government makes and implement policies to solve includes, unemployment, insecurity, armed robbery, poor standard in education, dwindling national income, corruption, low quantity in agricultural production, inflation, low standard of industrial products, poor health system, poor access to financial services for economic activities, rising social and economic inequality, political, religious, social and ethnic violence or agitation, poor transportation system, poor housing system, drug abuse, rape and poor public service delivery.

Characteristics of Public Policy

  • It outlines the pattern of solving a particular problem.
  • It is goal oriented. In essence, policy is directed at attainment of certain goals or objectives.
  • It is a response by political system to the challenges and problems arising from the environment.
  • It is usually formulated by government authorities.
  • It is usually designed to effect a given target population in a defined geographical entity.
  • It is a process that runs through formulation to implementation and to evaluation and through feedback; may result to modification of an existing policy or formulation of a different policy considered to be more appropriate.
  • It is generally the potent instrument for the pursuit of development.

Types of Public Policy Making Models

  • Rational comprehensive model: On the basis of this model, public policy is arrived at by considering all alternatives and their consequences with aim of arriving at a more appropriate policy option. The rational comprehensive model has the merit of being thorough and scientific in approach to arriving at a policy option. However, it has the disadvantage of being impractical and time wasting.
  • Incremental model: this model emphasizes small or incremental addition or modification in an already existing policy as a solution to problems or challenges. This type of policy is usually conservative.
  • Mixed scanning: mixed scanning model entails a process of arriving at a public policy through adopting the features of rational comprehensive model and incremental model.
  • The satisfying model: in the use of this model, a public policy is arrived at by choosing the alternative that is satisfactory, good enough and feasible rather than the optimal alternative.

Theories of Public Policy

Theories of public policy making is concerned with the identification and discussion of the source of public policy in terms of who makes or influence the content of public policy, the direction of public policy flow and the interest that public policies serve.

The System Theory: this theory states that input in form of demand and support comes from the environment into the political system that process them and bring them out as output in form of goods and services. In essence, according to this system theory, public policies are responses of the political system to the problems, challenges, aspiration which their solutions are made as demands on the political system by the environment. The political system in specific terms that process these demand (inputs) consist of the public institution like the legislative arm of government, the executive arm and the judicial arm.

The Elite Theory: this theory sees the source or the makers of public policies as well as the interests that policies are meant to serve as the elites. This assumption is a consequence of the fact that the elite’s theory believes that the society is divided into two – the masses and the elites.

The elites are the few in society that wield power and influence governance and policy making. The masses on the other hand are the majority that is governed and controlled by the elites.

The Group Theory: the group theory of public policy assumes that public policy is the equilibrium or compromise reached in group struggle or competition for favourable allocation or re-allocation of values in the society. This group theory assumes that public policies are usually made in the interest or favour of the most influential groups in the society.

In order to ensure greater influence and more favourable allocation of values, groups all work to enhance their access to the key points of policy making. Usually the level of influence of any group depends on its leadership, resources and strategic position.

Groups in this context refer to social, political, economic, religious or occupational groups in the society. Groups as source of public policy by this theory is a consequence of the theory assumption that the society is a mosaic of groups and that these groups continue to interact and compete for the authoritative allocation of values by the political system through policy pronouncement.

The Institutional Theory: this theory assumes that public policy is often initiated, formulated and implemented by government institutions. Consequently it assumes further that institutional analysis concentrating on structures, procedures and relationship with each other can help in understanding policy formulation and implementation. Using this theory, the focus on policy analysis would be the executive, legislature and judicial bodies or arms of government.

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