Scope & approaches of the Public Policy

Power is the capacity of a person to alter the conduct of other person or groups. In terms of public policy, the exercise of power means determining the way decisions are made. And policy-makers have a responsibility to take action on these policy matters. Remember, the policymaking process is influenced by the sequence of related decisions made by powerful individuals or groups. Monopoly means single power without any external competition. The term Policy monopoly describes a closed system, where most important actors dominate policymaking. They hold power and undermine the problems or alternatives to their resolution.

Why study public policy

Resource scarcity drive government to adopt policies to achieve their objectives. The public policy acts as an important mechanism for moving a social system from the past to the future. An important goal of the study of the public policy is to help us understand and judge whether government action is an endeavour to promote equity, efficacy and social justice in society. Earlier, people assumed that problem is solved once a law passed along with the allocation of money for it. But now slowly thinking about the effectiveness of governments. It gave rise the interest to study public policy. Policymaking can be described as problem-solving behaviour.

Public policy can be studied for various good reasons.

1. For Theoretical and practical reasons

It can be studied with a view of gaining greater knowledge and understanding of the causes and consequences of policy decisions. Public policy can be viewed as either independent or dependent variable. For instance, New education policy, when policy viewed as a dependent variable, our focus is on educational factors that help shape the content of the policy. For instance, how do student helps the formation of policy? On the other hand, public policy as a dependent variable, our attention shifts to the impact of policy on the student.

2For Political and administrative reasons

The study of public policy has much to offer to the development of administration in different sectors of the economy. It pushes administration to engage in such issues are of public importance and are concerned with the effective delivery of public services. People with political goals study public policy to learn how to promote their preferred policy choices along with balancing the relationship with society.

Scope of Public policy

These days people are expecting the government to do many things. So, there is great pressure on the government to achieve human development in all aspects by taking the help of relevant technological innovations, adopting the necessary institutional changes, make use of human as well as natural resources. Government action must respond to peoples aspirations. Initially, the government formed mainly to provide security and basic needs to its people. But now it becomes the main guarantor to large-scale enterprise, the determiner of the social and economic programme. If we keenly observe our entire life from birth to death, we can know how policy decisions are impacting our day-to-day lives. These developments gave public policy a big place. The range of public policy is vast. It deals with substantive areas like environment, defence, education, housing, taxation, science and technology and so on. A rational analysis has to be the basis for decision-maker to reach realistic policy outputs. The structure of public policy-making involves the whole political system.

Typology of public policy

Social scientist, Lowi suggested the four types of public policy based on the issues and policies.

  1. Distributive policy issues: Policy issues concerned with the distribution of new resources. These include grants and subsidies. Eg: Ayushman Bharat – National health insurance scheme
  2. Redistributive Policy issues: It concerned with changing the distribution of existing resources. These policies control people by managing the economy as a whole. Eg: changing tax laws – GST
  3. Regulatory policy issues: They are concerned with the regulation and control of activities. Eg: Motor Vehicles amendment act, 2019
  4. Constituent policy issues: Constituent policy issues are those which concerned with the set-up or reorganization of institutions. Eg: Reorganization of planning commission into NITI Aayog

Lowi’s typology has basic limitations. It has been criticized as over-simplistic.

  1. Conflict policy issues: Political scientist Cobb and Elder propose an alternative classification of policy issues in terms of conflict rather than content. A conflict may arise between groups over issues relating to the distribution of positions and resources. Such issues then constitute the agenda for policy or decision-making and are known as conflict policy issues.
  2. Bargaining policy issues: Hogwood and Wilson use the criteria of cost and benefits as forms of bargaining and conflict and a range of alternatives. There is redistribution which involves bargaining over who gets what, who gets more. And who gets less.

Development of the policy approach

It was in America where initiatives towards a more integrated approach to the study of public problems and policy began in the work of Harold Lasswell which resulted in the publication of a volume on POLICY SCIENCES.

Lasswell’s approach regarded policy science as the discipline concerned with explaining the policy-making and policy-executing process to the policy problems of a given period. To him, policy sciences were explained through three perspectives.

i. Multidisciplinary Perspective

Lasswell’s ‘POLICY ORIENTATION’ article was multi-disciplinary in nature. The orientation is two-fold. In part, it is directed towards the policy process, and in part towards the intelligence needs of policy”. According to him, the policy sciences should not be equated with neither“ applied social and psychological science” nor with what is studied by the political scientists’. The focus of this approach is upon the fundamental problems of man in society. Every social and political problem has a different dimension. So policy sciences must integrate knowledge from a variety of disciplines into a supra discipline focusing on public policymaking.

ii. Contextual and Problem-oriented Perspective

Policy sciences were problem-oriented and adopted broad contextual approaches. Lasswell identified two main approaches in this perspective.

a . Policy analysis: Concerned with knowledge in and for the policy process

b. The policy process: Concerned with knowledge about the formation and implementation of public policy

Although these two above approaches – have their own utilities and constraints, it would be harmful to isolate them.

iii. Explicitly Normative Perspective

Normative generally means relating to an evaluating standard. Here the policy sciences as explained by Lasswell were normative in their concern with human value. The prominence on values has remained the foundation of the policy sciences. Some claimed that the normative aspect of the policy sciences was neglected due to the quantitative techniques, such as operations research, was essentially value-free and had nothing to do with the concerns of values or ethics. But, we should consider a value-free approach might be adequate for very limited systems analysis problem. The normative and value questions remain at the centre of the contemporary policy sciences.

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