Policy Advocacy

Public agenda for policymaking is prompted by individuals or organizations with their ability to capture the attention of policymakers. They put forward the issues of public concern before policy-makers are called Agenda-builders. They act as advocates because they convince others to take a particular course of action. Advocacy is an important part of the public policymaking process. It involves research and arguments which are capable of influencing the process. Usually, policymaking begins with individuals, NGO, civil societies, interest groups.

The study of public policy is regarded as an important aspect of politics. Policymaking is essentially a manifestation of power. In general, the power can be defined as the ability of an individual to influence the behaviour of other people. In terms of public policy, power can be defined as the capacity of an individual or group to determine policy decisions. In policy-making, power is exercised by different individuals and groups such as members of parliament, members of the council of ministers, and Bureaucrats. Each of them exercises their influence, which taken together make up the policymaking process. This process consists of complex interrelationships of the decisions made under the influence of powerful individuals and groups.

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Let us see who and how they act as advocates in influencing those who have the power of taking policy decisions. 

Citizens

In the first instance, the power to influence government lies with the ordinary citizen though it is difficult to imagine that an individual voice is heard. Take anti-corruption movement in India led by Kisan Baburao Hazare popularly known as Anna Hazare. The movement gained momentum from 5 April 2011, when anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare began a hunger strike at the Jantar Mantar monument in New Delhi. It aimed to eradicate corruption in the Indian government through the introduction of the Jan Lok pal Bill. These actions of Hazare awaken the nations public policymakers on the issue of corruption, most prevalent ill-practice in society. 

Harold Lasswell said that policy sciences should function to facilitate the interaction between the citizens and its problems. The issue here is how a citizen can place his policy input before the policy-makers. 

In a democracy, the government has to be not only representative but also responsive.

Dorothy Pickles

In a representative democracy, it is assumed that power flows from the people. People elect their leader to represent them. Through legislature, the representatives of the people frame and decide policies by a majority vote. Yet in reality, citizen participation in policymaking is negligible. Many people do not see exercising their adult franchise can significantly impact their lives. People have to be cautious while choosing their representatives, because after an election an individual alone, can hardly act as a policy advocate. In politics, groups rather than individuals affect the way a policy is made. However, a government how dictatorial it can be, cannot afford always to go against the wishes of the people.

Media and Internet

In the modern era, the news media is defined as the fourth branch of the government while the other three branches are Legislative, Executive and Judiciary. The news shown in newspapers and the media creates a substantial impact on the people moreover the policymaking process. Media is also known as the watchdog of government. People are expecting a positive initiation by the government when they suddenly aware of any critical public issue. For instance, the Criminal law (Amendment) Act, 2013 (Nirbhaya act) is an Indian legislation passed by the Lok Sabha on 19 March 2013 and by the Rajya Sabha on 31st March 2013 due to the national outrage over the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012. There are many such incidents happens every day all over India. But the amplification of this particular case by media outlets forced policymakers to enact this law. Since the media acts as a medium of communication between people and the political elite, it is important to ensure they function in a bias-free manner. Otherwise, it may distort the very concept of democracy. The thought-provoking information provided by media in issues like offences against women and children, pollution, lack of basic infrastructure can unite the local population to raise their voice against policy change or policy enactment.

Internet is another category of mass media institutions. These days, the internet has become a potential tool for advocacy. By overcoming, the traditional barriers of time and space, the web has globalised civic life. The internet allowed people to access news of their choice at any place and at any point in time. Anyone can become part of the mass media by setting up his/her social networking site or account. Sending e-mails to officials, Twitter trending, posting a video on a social platform, tagging an official to post are some of the ways people choose to highlight their problems. Besides, anonymity is becoming a major concern on the internet. People can hide their identity and can spread fake news as well. So some form of regulation by the government can be allowed on the internet, especially on social media platforms.

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Interest groups

Interest groups are also known as ‘Pressure groups’. They act as communication between the official and non-official forces for action or non-action on some perceived problems. Non-governmental organizations are one type of interest groups. They can communicate more effectively than individual citizens with public opinion on policy decisions. Public opinion raised by a large number of people will impact more on policymakers. Acting alone, may not signify the intensity of the problem. 

An interest group is a collection of people or organisations that unite to advance their desired political outcomes in government and society.

Thomas A. Birkland

Further, interest group staffs may be invited to public committees or councils to seek their opinion and suggestions on new policies. 

Cause-promotion groups

Cause promotional groups such as Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, India, Environmental protection society, Malaysia, etc., promote causes and are consequently engaged in lobbying activities. For eg. Save the Children organization in India transformed the lives of over 10 million children since its establishment in 2008. They are providing shelter, education and nutritious food. Thus, the interventions of the organisations have influenced the policymakers to come out with the policies that promote the economic and social interests of the society.

Expert-based organizations

These are research-based projects for the benefits of the backward sections of the society such as India council for agricultural research(ICAR), Indian council for medical research, Indian society of agribusiness professionals bring their ideas and solutions to the policymakers. In the way, they are participating in public policy changes and decision making.

Political parties

Political parties also exert influence on the formulation of a public policy. Political parties differ from interest groups as the primary concern of political parties is to get elected. They keep public problems in their party agenda to win an election whereas, interest groups are deeply involved in lobbying and focused on specific issues.

Source: Public policy, A Contemporary perspective – RK Sapru

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