What is Public Policy & the need for public policy

Public policy as a discipline

Date back for centuries, there is no separate study of public administration or policy sciences. There is only political science. Political science deals with the state and systems of government and its bureaucracy. Whereas, public administration deals with the people or bureaucrats who serve as the machinery of the state. Later on, public administration split as an independent and separate subject of study in 1887. Traditional political science studies largely focus on structural aspects like the description of the institutions in which public policy was formulated. It hardly paid attention to the role of such organizations played towards the formation of policy. Over the years, the attention towards policy framing gained so does the policy science is capable enough to stand out from public administration. We can say political science as a father to the public administration and grandfather to public policy.

 The key feature of public policy is to address problems that are of public concern. Policy sciences, as a social science discipline emerged with the publication of Harold Lasswell’s famous work in 1951 on POLICY ORIENTATION in the book named THE POLICY SCIENCES. He was considered as Father of policy sciences. He saw this as a concern with explaining the policy-making and policy-executing process and providing interpretations which are relevant to public problems of a given period.

Policy study is interdisciplinary because it includes political science, public administration, economics and management. That interdisciplinary quality of the public policy makes it interesting and exciting. Public policy is an effort to apply political science to public affairs.

Political scientists and their views on public policy

Public policy as whatever governments choose to do or not to do

Thomas R Dye

The authoritative allocation of values for the whole society

David Easton

It is what governments do and fail to do _ to and for their citizens

Robert Lineberry

Understanding Public Policy

When we are seeking the exact meaning of THE PUBLIC POLICY, first, we should understand two words the public and policy. Public means people. The public comprises that angle of human activity and government intervention or common action. The policy is nothing but a purposive course of action taken or adopted by those in power in pursuit of certain goods or objectives. So, the concept of public policy existed because there is an area which is not private or purely individual but held in common. But how can one know what is private and public? Remember, public concerns with securing opportunities. It employs more people with a wider range of motivations. It has standard commitments and legality. It must maintain a minimum level of public support above that required in private industry. The Public policy speaks government actual intention towards state and their planning or strategy to accomplish their objective. Ultimately public policy is about people, their values and needs.

Public policy is finally made by the government, even if the ideas come from outside government or through the discussion of government and non-government actors. The policy is always oriented towards a goal, or to the solution of a problem. Public policy is more or less interdependent dealing with different activities. Policy studies tend to focus on the evaluation of policy decisions, a rational approach rather than political analysis. Remember, a public policy may be simple or complex, broad or narrow covering a specific activity, such as family planning.


Public policy view, activities of government can be put into 3 categories:

  1. Specific policies
  2. General in nature
  3. Based on vague or inconsistent policies

Generally, guidelines to be followed by all specific policies are termed as “Megapolicy”.

Basic Concepts

Policy-making is closely related to decision -making. Policy-making does involve decision-making, but a decision does not necessarily be a policy. Generally, decisions are taken by the administrators in their work within the existing framework of policy. Whereas, policy decisions are made by public officials that give authorization and direction to public policy actions.

Policies are distinct from goals. Illustrating with means and end concept, goals are considered as the end towards which actions are directed. And Policy act as means which indicates the directions through which action is sought. Policies involve a varying choice of actions to attain those goals and objectives.

Policies are taken under the influence of values of policy-makers. Policy analysts would like to apply science, reason from rationality model to determine policy objectives. They try to solve problems by applying objective methods like cost-benefit analysis to limit policy objectives. However, rationality model can be applied to a limited number of problems. The public policy comprises a plan of action for the program and a statement of objectives. A good plan needs a proper policy framework to achieve its objectives.

Policy analysis is a systematic and data-based alternative to instinct judgement about the effects of policy. Policy advocacy is concerned with government ought to do. It is more of a prescription, unlike policy analysis. Policy management deals with the management of policy-making and policy-preparation process to assure that it produces high-quality policies. Policy analysis and policy management are interdependent and should be treated jointly.

Policy inputs are the demands made on the political system by individuals or groups for action or inaction about problems. Policy output viewed as actual decisions of the government. They are what the government says it is going to do. Whereas, Policy outcomes are the real results they may be intentional or not. Policy outputs are sometimes different from policy outcomes. So, the concept outcomes play a crucial role in analyzing the policy.

Source (Soft copy): RK Sapru books

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