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© Kamla-Raj 2004 J. Hum. Ecol.

, 16(3): 173-180 (2004)

A Theoretical Review of Core Issues on Public Policy

and its Environment
S.T. Akindele and O.R. Olaopa

Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria
KEYWORDS Environment. Definitional Pluralism. Public Policy Hierarchy. Policy Formulation. Rational Activity. Policy Impact

ABSTRACT The centrality of public policy to human governance has been theoretically examined in this paper. In doing this, its
core issues that have long attracted the attentions of scholars and practitioners all over the world were analytically perused giving
relevance to the strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats operating within the environmental space that usually surrounds
the policy process, and its executors.
Consequent on this, the indispensability of the environment and its multidimensional forces to a problem-free public policy
process are identified giving recognition to their futuristic implications.

The third part discussed the environment of
The issue of public policy and its environ- public policy, its various dimensions and linkage
ment is central to the process of governance with the policy process. And, the fourth part
particularly in the area of interractional affinity concludes the paper with requisite comments on
between the ‘ruler’ and the ‘ruled’. Hence, it the indispensability of ecology to effective and
has attracted, though amidst disputations, the efficient policy outputs.
intellectual and practical attentions of scholars
and practitioners within the scholarship or world Concepts of Public Policy and Its Subject
of public administration, political science and Matter
other policy sciences.
Consequent on the foregoing, there has been The term public policy has not been amenable
a tremendous maturation of multidimensional to any easy definition. It is a concept that has
interests in public policy and its environment long fallen a victim of definitional pluralism.
over the years. In the process, the multifocal Consequent on this, various scholars using
consequences of policy contents and their im- different analytical frameworks have defined or
pacts on the environment, the policy makers and attempted the definition of the subject matter of
society at large has been variously analyzed (public) policy. The tendency or development in
within various polities of the global political our view has led to various contestation on the
community. concept in question in terms of political dis-
Given this premise, this paper theoretically course, thinking and practical application.
reviews the core issues involved in the public Sharkansky (1978) commenced this
policy as well as its delicacies for the environ- analytical consideration of the subject-matter of
ment and the latter’s slippery terrains for same. (public) policy on the premise that the term
And, in pursuit of its goal, in this regard, this “public policy is ambiguous”. According to him,
paper is divided into four parts starting with the “policy can refer to a proposal, an on-going
introduction. programme, the goals of a programme, major
The second part concretely examines the decisions, or refusal to make certain deci-
concept of public policy and its subject matter sions”(Ibid). He further argued that:
giving deserved recognition to the various It would be misleading to specify one
schools of thought that have contributed to the definition of policy (at any particular time)...
intellectual and practical eclecticism of the con- but, the context in which the term is used should
cept within the international political systems. indicate the intended meaning (Ibid).
In this part, reasons for policy formulation, Based on the foregoing he defined public
public policy hierarchy, its evaluation and criteria policies as:
for same as well as the processes involved are the goals and actions of administrators under

taken in an effort to shape the quantity or quality ecological or the environmental determinism
of public service (Ibid). involved in public policy formulation or public
In the same vein, Siegel and Weinberg policy- making.
(1977) once argued that: The foregoing and other experts’ “quibble”
public policies are shaped (or made) when over the subject matter of (public policy)
government or comparable authorities decide notwithstanding, most definitions of (public)
whether or not to alter aspects of community policy argued Starling (1988) “boil down to the
life (Ibid). classic formulation that: a policy is a general
They further argued that “ polities are public statement of aims or goals (Ibid). And, without
to the extent that they involve governmental or prejudice to the multiple analytical frameworks
quasi-governmental decision making and deter- on the subject-matter of public policy as a
mine the interest of the ccommunity”(Ibid). And, concept, policy within any political environment,
that whenever we dwell on public policies, we could be taken to mean “a kin of guide that
focus on governmental actions and the conse- delimits actions (of the relevant or appropriate
quences that flow from them” (Ibid). functionaries of institution or government itself)
Contributing to the explanatory efforts on the (Ibid). Hence, it (public policy) has to follow the
subject - matter of public policy, Eyestone (1977) required process of problem formulation,
broadly defined public policy “ as the relationship planning/formulation, adoption, implemen-
of a government unit to its environment, a posi- tation, and evaluation which Anderson (op cit)
tion that tallies with that of Anderson (1975) referred to as “a sequential pattern of activity
in his system analysis to demands arising from in which a member of functional categories of
its environment”. while Dye (1972) defined activities can be distingushed.” This required
public policy as “whatever government choose process, to Brewer and Deleon (1983) involves
to do or not to do”, to Richard Rose (1969) public six stages: initiation; estimation; selection;
policy is “a long series of more or less related implemen-tation; evaluation; and termination.”
activities.” This explains Peter Aucoin (1973) argument that
In a similar position, Carl Friedrich (1963) “policies are the result of process which,
had earlier defined public policy as: deliberates and determines the values priorities
a proposed course of action of a person, of society.”
group or government within a given environment Put differently, without prejudice to the
providing obstacles and opportunities which the foregoing, public policy consist of the goals and
policy was proposed to utilise and overcome in assumptions that underlie what government
an effort to reach a goal or realise an objective does. It is a guide for government action and
or a purpose. inaction. (Starling, 1974). Policy making implies
The inadequacies of some of these definitions that government must make choices to do one
could be identified if viewed within the para- thing rather than another or to do little of this
meters of the definition of public policy once and a lot of that or not to do anything at all. It
given by James Anderson (op cit) as: therefore implies that an attempt of a government
a purposive course of action followed by an not to act, is a policy. Public policy making in
actor or a set of actors in dealing with a problem the language of Brain Smith (1974) implies “a
or matter of concern. rational activity of government that involves
He has additionally examined the concept planning” policy making is a combination of
of public policy through various theoretical politics and planning.
perspectives. These ranged from the perspective Public policy in a more explicit language is
of political system theory, group theory, elite an action or inaction of the government and
theory, functional process theory, institutional when there is a problem and such action or
theory, incrementalism, game theory to public inaction is directed towards such problems for
choice (Ibid). accomplishment of some purpose or goal. (Hugo,
Each of these perspectives viewed the subject- 1972) Arising from the definition, a policy is a
matter of (public) policy differently in terms of course of action or inaction intended to
the compelling influences and authoritativeness accomplish some ends. This definition includes
involved in public policy-making. But then, none those conscious decisions not to act on a problem.
of these perspectives took for granted the In other words, a policy can be said to be a course

of action selected from among alternatives on (b) Government formulates policy in order to
the basis of some specific criteria. Deducing accelerate economic development. It is a
further from the above definition, public policy known fact that, in the public adminis-
in roles purposive action is akin to planning, tration, public policies involve planning
although the two terms are concep-tually especially at the implementation stage. If
different. Anderson (op cit) differentiates policy planning is part of policy making, and
from such other concepts as ‘decision’ by the economic development involves planning,
fact that it is “what is actually done as against logically policy making is an instrument
what is proposed or intended. Furthermore, in of economic development.
defining public policy, a distinction should be (c) Government formulates policies in order to
made between government policy and private make for the continuity in the public
policy. This is because policies are made not only administration. This is in line with the
by government bodies but as well as private “theory of continuity of policy process”. In
organizations. Public policy therefore can be the theory of continuity of policy process,
described as “those policies developed by it is believed that government comes,
governmental bodies and officials” (Ibid). government goes but public administration
Anderson notes that there are five main remains forever. What actually makes for
features of public policy viz: such continuity is public policy making. As
1. It is an action that is undertaken for a one government comes and goes, initiation
particular purpose. and implementation of public policy remain
2. It is a course of action rather than forever.
separate discrete decisions. (d) Government formulates policy in the
3. It is what government actually does interest of the public rather than the govern-
rather than what it intends to do. ment. Afterall, government exists for the
4. It may be either positive (actions) or perpetualization and preservation of human
negative (inactions). life, and liberty. In performing this role,
5. It is based on law and administrative government can be accredited for policy
decision (Ibid). making or simply put, government formu-
This last point above buttresses the contri- lates policy in order to better the conditions
bution of David Easton system as another of the populace.
analysis on public polices through which he (e) Government initiates policy in order to
defines it as the authoritative allocation of scarce render administration easy. This is referred
societal values (Easton, 1965). to as an administrative purpose of policy
Arising from various definitions so far, initiation and implementation. The admini-
reasons for making public policy can be iden- strative functions (like planning, organi-
tified. sing, staffing, co-ordinating and budgeting
-(POSCORB) all combined, are instruments
Reasons for Policy Formulation of public policy making.
(f) Government formulates policies for their
There are six major reasons why government own selfish ends. This is to say, govern-
formulate public policy. This, we shall discuss ment’s survival depends on the effective
one by one. initiation and implementation of public
(a) Policy making is a problem solving pheno- policies.
menon. That is to say, government formu- Having itemized the purposes for policy
lates policies in order to provide solution initiation, our next endeavour is to discuss
to problem(s) affecting the public. Although through illustration what is called “public policy
in doing this, a distinction should be made hierarchy (PPH)”.
between what is of public interest and what
is of government interest. What is govern- PUBLIC POLICY HIERARCHY
ment interest may be incompatible with the
public interest. Whether public or govern- The public policy hierarchy is regarded as
mental interests, both actions would be “unbroken claim” through which policy passes
deemed to be public policy making. before a solution to a given problem could be

solved (Fig. 1). The PPH is divided into four out an intention from its conception to
major categories viz: political policy, executive realization.
policy, administrative policy and technical A policy that is formulated which is not
policy. implemented cannot solve the problem. Imple-
mentation is putting the goals and objectives set
forth in a policy decision into practice. Policy
Political policy implementation therefore, includes all activities
that must be undertaken on the course of action
Executive policy
to be followed in order to realize the intended
objectives of a given policy. The policy imple-
mentation to some policy analysts includes the
Administrative policy
time lag or period when an action is being
Technical policy conceived to the point when the objectives being
conceived have been realized.
Fig. 1. The Public Policy Hierarchy There are three elements in the implemen-
tation of a given policy namely (i) a decision to
The Political Policy is regarded as a general be made concerning the organizational structure.
policy process through which discussions are (ii) Policy goals must be translated into specific
taken with broad objectives. It is political in the rules and regulations. (iii) Resources must be
sense that a decision taken by the government allocated and rules must be applied to the specific
aimed at solving some problems which may be problems addressed by the policy.
multiple in nature. More specifically, political Bearing the three major elements in mind,
policy consists of the determination of major one can make a reference into a comment of
policy objectives in broad terms. The effect of Bamisaye (1983) when he asserts that “the
such broad policy is to provide a general success of any given policy depends on how well
framework within which effective policy may be it has been implemented. “A policy that is well
worked out. formulated may end in failure if not well
The Executive Policy is regarded as the implemented. But a policy that is badly formu-
effective reduction of general or political policy lated with good implementation may end into
into which concrete practical objectives manifest successful ground”.
itself as a cabinet policy. Having done this, the
policy would now move to administrative sectors POLICY ANALYSIS AND EVALUATION
or policy. This sector is what is called as “actuat-
ion”. That is to say, it is a point where ministerial The policy analysis is a supradisciplinary
responsibility is carried out. This is the form in effort focusing on policy making. Its essence is
which the ministerial administration is carried the improvement of policy making through “the
out. use of systematic knowledge, structural rationa-
Finally, the technical policy is a day-to-day lity and organized creativity.” The big question
adoption by officials in working out admini- that arises is “Against what grounds do we
strative policies of the government. This stage evaluate a policy?” The three major alternatives
is concerned with the implementational of grounds against which a given policy can be
interpretation of policy contents by the seasoned evaluated are: (i) against the promises of such
technocrats and higher civil servants. The policy; (ii) against the best known alternatives;
contents of policy are decoded by the technocrats and (iii) against the absence of a policy.
for envisaged positivism vis-a-vis the raison
d’etre of such policies. CRITERIA OF POLICY ANALYSIS

POLICY IMPLEMENTATION There are a number of criteria by which

public policies have been studied by various
Implementation of a policy follows its scholars. These include efficiency, effectiveness,
initiation or formulation for the purpose of this equity and impact analysis. Other criteria include
paper, implementation process would be seen as feasibility, adequacy, appropriateness, net
all activities that must be undertaken to carry benefits, compliance, equality, public participa-

tion, freedom, predictability and procedural illustrated with road construction by a given
fairness. (Deniston et al., 1978) government. For example, for rural trans-
Efficiency measures the relationship between formation, a govern-ment may initiate policy of
the cost and benefits of a policy or programme. road construction and tarring. Having pronoun-
The costs and benefits may be in monetary or ced the policy, the next stage and the part of the
non-monetary form. government is to consti-tute a Tender Board
Effectiveness on the other hand measures the which will be responsible for the award of
extent to which a particular programme or policy contract. It does not stop there and what follows
is meeting its targeted goals or objectives. is the awarding of the contract. Although, before
Equity however, focuses on the distributional this stage, government must have budgeted some
effects of a policy in terms of “who gains or who amount of money for the road construction and
loses” as a result of a particular programme or tarring. At the end of the award, real construction
policy. and tarring commence. Analytically, the policy
Adequacy involves the process of assessing output of the road con-struction under illustration
a given policy rational or irrational to the pro- is the amount of road that can be physically
blem at stake to be solved. observed as tarred. But, with the initial high
Feasibility deals with means of achieving the budget for the proposed 250 kilometres, if the
end of a given policy. An analyst would like to government end up with only 150 kilometres;
evaluate his policy in terms of available human the end product of 150 kilometres physically
and material resources. It is true that a given tarred out of the proposed 250 kilometres, is the
policy can be formulated and implemented with policy output.
the means of scarce resources. When such On the other hand, policy impact would also
happens there is no magic or evaluation rather be explained by illustration emanating from the
to conclude instantly, that such policy is not above. When the road under illustration has not
feasible. Feasibility has to do with the conduci- been tarred, the drivers were driving with care
veness of the implementation of such a given with little or no accident recorded.
policy. Conversely, when such road is now tarred,
Ethic deals with a situation when one talks drivers are tempted to speed with high record of
about the ethical orientation of a given society accidents. Tarring of roads as recorded in
during the course of policy implementation. It kilometres is the policy output while the recorded
should be noted that there is a variation of ethical accidents that follows would be classified as
values among countries. To this end, a policy policy impact. Also, the reduction of damages
that is successful in a given country may not done to the vehicles after the construction is also
succeed in another society based on different an impact. To this end, there can be both positive
ethical values. and negative impact of a given policy.
Technological Assessment. This has to do
with technological know-how of a given country. The Environment of Public Policy
For example, where there are computers with
other sophisticated technological equipment. The public policy and its formulation as
Such a country can easily evaluate polices rather discussed herein so far, are usually dictated by
than a technological bankrupt country where the imperatives of the political setting or environ-
evaluation on technological background is highly ment within which the policy makers exist. This
anachro-nistic. is implicit in the fact that:
Policy inputs are the transmission sent from
Process of Public Policy Analysis the environment to the conversion process of the
administrative system. Inputs include demands
In dealing with the process of public policy for policy, resources; and support opposition, or
analysis, one would be required to distinguish apathy towards the actions of administrators
between policy output (PO) and policy impact (policy makers). (Sharkansky, 1978 op cit)
(PI). Policy output refers to the actual activities The essence of this is discernible from the
that government perform by way of imple- diagram (Ibid) (Fig.2).
menting policy plan. This leads to an input and Feedback: represents influence that outputs
output model of a given policy. This can be have upon the environment in a way that shapes


(1) demands With Input include: expression of policy
(2) resources, and
performance, or goods
(3) support or opposition (1) structures,
from citizens and
and services actually
(2) decision procedures delivered to the public and
officials of other (3) administrators’ personal
branches of r to official in other
expreriences and
government segments of
predispositions and
(4) control procedures government

Fig. 2. The conversion of policy inputs into policy outputs

subsequent inputs. “extent to which human beings or human

Environment: include (1) clients, (2) costs of goo- organizations (e.g. policy-making establishment)
ds and services, and (3) members of the public are shaped by and, are products of environmental
and other government officials who support or forces” (Forcese and Richer, 1975). Simply put,
oppose agencies, administrators, or programs. an environment refers to “all the external condi-
If this discussion of public policy and its tions and circumstances that surround an
formulation vis-a-vis the indispensability of organism at a given time” Dressler and Willia,
policy environment is correct, what then consti- 1976). Given this line of explanatory effort, an
tutes the subject-matter of the environment? Put environment has been argued to refer to “all the
differently, what is an environment? And what conditions, circumstances, and influences surro-
could be done to avail the policy makers maximi- unding and affecting the development of an
zation of the strengths and opportunities of the organism or group of organism” (Dressler and
environment and, the maximization of the Willia, 1976).
latter’s threats and weaknesses? Not only this, the environment is multi-
Provision of answers to these questions and dimensional with each dimension having its
their linkage with the subject matter of public influence on those (e.g. policy matters) that exist
policy and its formulation is the core of the within it. And, according to Dunfee et. al. myriad
discussion that now follows. of factors surround or influence organizations
(like the policy making establishments in the
Concepts of Environment, its Various public sector). To these scholars, the major
Dimensions and Linkages with Public Policy dimensions of any establishment’s operational
and its Formulation environment include: legal, political, social and
economic components and, that, each of these
The issue of the environment is a multidiscip- constitutes a mini-environment that needs to be
linary one. It has attracted the central concern understood by the policy-makers in their for-
of various disciplines within the social sciences. mative, planning, formulation, implementation,
And, the disciplinary explanations of this evaluation and termination of public policy.
concept have been dictated by the chauvinism A synoptic perusal of these dimensions of
of each discipline. In spite of this however, all environment shows that the legal environment
dimensions of considerations that have been includes the courts, legislative bodies, law en-
given to the concept of environment affect human forcement agencies, practising bars, administra-
beings who create and work within policy- tive boards, commissions and departments. It
making administrative setup and, who (e.g. equally shows that the political environment
policymakers) relate or attempts to regulate the encompasses the legislative processes at all levels
policymaking center or administrative setup or of government. And, as for the economic
establishments to environment. environment, it deals with the commercial world
Sociologists, using the disciplinary field of of organization or policy-making establishment.
their calling (sociology) have emphasized the It shows the structure of the market place and

its intimate intertwining-relationship with other formulation takes place within these environ-
environments (Ibid). The perusal equally shows ment necessitate the need - (as already discussed)
that the social environment is the one which all – for the policy makers to understand them and
members of the society are affected in one way their accompanying complexities. This is so
or the other by the activities or policy pronounce- looking at how the policy making is deeply
ments of governments. embedded within the environment (Fig. 3).
A summation of the foregoing shows why Looking at these complex webs of influences
policy-makers could or should not ignore the and the almost unidimensional relationship that
need to scan their operational environment and, submerges the policy maker’s of the policy-
why it is necessary for policy makers to comple- making center, the policy maker’s monitoring
ment policy formulation factors or authoritative and auditing of his operational environment
decision making with socio-political and becomes indispensable to his existence of conti-
economic factors (e.g. reduction of unemploy- nuous survival. This is the only way through
ment, hiring of minorities, quota system, federal which the opportunities offered and threats posed
character, enhancing human wealth, life and by the environment could be better or accurately
welfare, etc.) where considering making opera- analysed by the policy maker for the maximi-
tional decision. zation of policy benefits and minimization of
The reason for this is clear, looking at the policy costs and failures. And, it basically ex-
fact that the environment as explained above is plains the policy scholars’ emphasis on environ-
a unit that offers opportunities and poses threats mental forces and their impact on public policy
to policy making centres within the political as does their call for the understanding of the
system. This is particularly so in the sense that ecology of public policy and its formulation.
environment could be dichotomized in terms of
how it affects the policy-makers and their policy CONCLUSION
formulation. In other words we could talk about
Micro and Macro environments (i.e., internal In this paper, we have examined, using
and external environment). theoretical approach, the core issues on public
The fact that public policy making or policy and its environment. Our analytical orien-


Political Technological

The Citizens

Foreign governments Social

Trade Union Legal


CODE: (a) External Environment

(b) Internal Environment

(c) The reciprocal influences

Fig. 3. The reciprocal relationship of the environment with the policy makers

tation in this regard enabled us to concretely York, p. 18 (1975).

peruse various intellectual and practical efforts Anderson, J.E.: Cases in Public-making, Praeger Publishers,
New York, p. 4 (1976).
that have been expended on this central issue in Aucoin, P.: Theory and research in the study of policy making.
governance and administrative process. In: G.B. Doern and P. Aucoin (Ed.): The Structure of
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Von Van Dyke “Process and Policy” in above, see also
concept of public policy was exhaustively exami- Yehezekel Dror: Public Policy Re-examined (1968).
ned by ways of indepth perusal of various scho- Bamisaye, O.A.: Evaluation of Operation Feed the Nations
lar’s contribution and experts’ quibble on same. (OFN) Policy in Nigeria: A Case Study of Ondo State of
Consequently, we were able to highlight with Nigeria. M. Phil Dissertation Department of Political
precision that what now appears to be a near Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (1983).
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York, p. 79 (1974).
of public policy is the acceptance of the latter as Brewer, C.D. and Deleon, P.: The Foundations of Policy
the goals and assumptions that underlie what Analysis. The Dorsey Press, Homewood, Illinois (1983).
government does and what it does not do. Put, Deniston, Lynn, O. et. al.: Evaluation of Program Effectiveness
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York 1984 (Chapter 2), Dror, Yehezekel, Public Policy-
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