This essay aims to provide the definition of public policy. Public policy began some time ago in North America and Europe soon after the end of World War II (Pacecila etal, 2006). The notion of public policy arose because of the emerging challenges which rendered countries struggle to withstand in the absence of policy (Pacecila etal, 2006). Policies are created to respond and address perceived problems that affect society for the common good of individual citizens. Just like other scholars, Sharkansky (1978) argues that public policy is misleading concept with no single common definition but the intended meaning is shown through the context in which the term is used. A review of literature indicates that different scholars support Hogwood and Gunn in defining the concept of public policy. In this regard, the researcher chooses to use definitions provided by Hogwood and Gunn (1984) in defining the term public policy. Therefore, public policy refers to labels of some field of activities, an expression of general goal, a specific proposal, decisions of government, and official authorization. Finally, the essay will explain why it is important to know public policy.
Firstly, public policy refers to labels of some field activity (Hog wood and Gunn, 1884). Considering this in mind someone may say that policies are the activities of government. These activities can be just mere aspiration or something governments achieve. They can also mean action or in action. Dye (2008) agrees with such kind of knowledge about public policy, and emphasizes that public policy refers to whatever government chooses to do or not to do. The objective of the government is to set an environment that is conducive to individual citizens. In this regard, governments need to formulate good policies that address concerns arising from all its spheres. Pacecila etal (2006) states these spheres of activities as economic, social and foreign affairs. in Malawi setting, good examples can be establishments of Malawi Revenue Authority act which empowers authorities to collect tax from both local and foreigners (achieved), the construction of Nsange inland port by the late president professor Bingo Wa Mthalika’s government (aspirated) and lastly the achieved policy that sees Malawi government ratifying both regional as well as international organizations such as African Union and United Nation (achieved). These bodies are useful in addressing the country foreign concerns like the Lake Malawi dispute with Tanzania. All these aforementioned examples are seen as activities of government hence are called public policies.
Secondly, public policy is defined as the expression of general goals or desired state of fact (Hog wood and Gunn, 1884). In this respect, Hog wood and Gunn, (1884) portrays that a document of political party policy can be used in order to show the general goal of government activity. Anderson, (1994), is not far from Hogwood and Gunn understands of public policy; he defines public policy as a course of action oriented to reach a certain goal. The catch phrase on the definition of public policy here is “expression of goals” or “goal oriented”. For instance, the Malawi government under leadership of Dr Bakili Muluzi introduced vision 2020 policy. According to Bikalemesa, (2014), the main objective or the goal of vision 2020 policy was to help government, private sector and individuals embark on “development path”. Therefore, public policy refers to all government or private sector programs developed to achieve or express a general goal or desired state of facts.
Thirdly, public policy can be defined as a specific proposal (Hog wood and Gunn, 1884). Proposals are specific actions that the political organizations such as groups of interested parties and the government itself would like to see achieved (Pacecila et al (2006). In a similar way, Friedrick (N,d ) asserts that public policy is a proposed course of action of a person, group, government within a given environment. For instance, a Malawi political and social commentator Patrick Phambala proposed that the country need to have a Malawi political party regulator to check the source of funding of political parties (Nyasa times, 2015). Furthermore, political parties make specific proposals during political campaigns in order to persuade voters to put them into power. Once voted into power some proposals are implemented others not. Such proposals can also be regarded as public policy because they address the concerns of populace in one way of the other.
Fourthly, public policy can also be defined as decisions of government (Hog wood and Gunn, 1884). In this context, the researcher focuses on the analysis of specific situations others call it a case study approach. For instance, decisions made by both the Russian and America government in dealing with the issue of Cuban crisis in 1962 can be regarded as policy decisions (Allison, 1979). Turning back to Malawi, the issue of Lake Malawi dispute, the decisions that guide both Malawi and Tanzanian governments in dealing with the problem can be seen as policies. Furthermore, public policy is regarded to be the heart, soul, and identity of governments everywhere (Cochran ; Malone, 2014). Poor decision making will affect the image that government portrays in international system. Consider for example the decisions made by George W booth on preemptive policy. These decisions received criticism from both Americans themselves as well as other people across the world. Therefore, decisions of governments means public policy and needs to be central in addressing problems encountered by individual citizens in the country.
Lastly, according to Hogwood and Gunn (1984), public policy is defined as official authorization. These are laws voted by parliamentarians or decisions of government which permits or require a certain activity to be carried out (Pacecila etal, 2006). In a recent exercise conducted by national registration bureau, the parliament passed an act requesting every Malawian citizen to have national registration card. There are also many institutions in the country that have an act or instrument authorized by parliament such as police act, immigration act, correction services act etc. All these authorizations are regarded public policy
This paragraph provides reasons as to why somebody may be interested to know public policy. Public policy knowledge will help both academicians understand why governments formulate policies. Akindele ; Olaopa,(2004) outlined the following reasons; government formulate public policy to solve problems, for continuity of public administrations, to improve economic development, and sometimes policies are formulated to meet Elites selfish interests, just to mention a few. Currently, Malawi government has formulated a national policy to help in the continuity of government programs. Knowledge of policy formulation will help both scholars question suspicious policies that do not address the needs of the people.
In conclusion, this essay has presented the definition of public policy by different scholars who agree with Hogwood ; Gunn’s meaning of the word public policy. Hogwood & Gunn,(1984) holds that public policy is defined as labels of some field of activities, as an expression of general goal, as a specific proposal, as decisions of government, and as official authorization. Having looked at all these definitions, the researcher extols the definition by Dye, (2008) which states that public policy is whatever government chooses to do or not to do. Lastly the essay has also understood that knowledge of public policy is useful because enables scholars to check government decisions that do not address the needs of people.