Is Public Policy = Government?
Public Policy is still a nascent discipline in India, and as a practitioner of this discipline, I am often asked: “What is Public Policy?” In this article, I attempt to shed some light on this field that affects each one of us. Arriving at a comprehensive definition of public policy is quite challenging, but I am going to present two definitions which, in my opinion, expound the fundamental ideas behind the term.
The first definition is more operational, which states that public policy refers to the course of action that a government takes in response to a problem or challenge. The second, a wider and frequently cited definition, offered by Thomas Dye, says that Public Policy is anything a government chooses to do or not do. In both these definitions, it is to be noted that the government means all arms of the state, i.e. the legislature, executive, judiciary and government agencies. It is clear from these definitions that public policy could manifest itself in various forms, in the constitution, legislation, regulation, bye-laws, government orders, judicial decisions, among several others, and can flow from various levels of state actors, starting from the Parliament and Central government, right down until local self-government agencies such as Panchayats and Municipalities.
In my understanding, public policy forms the strategy and action plan for the state, which directs and drives government activities and decisions. For instance, the legislature’s move to amend the constitution and make education a fundamental right is a reflection of its public policy on education, just as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s recommendations on Net Neutrality reflect public policy on internet services. Even actions such as infrastructure development or procurement are a result of policy decisions made by the state. Public Policy, thus, is omnipresent and has a bearing across all sectors, impacting industry, citizenry and foreign relations alike.
In this sense, a study and understanding of public policy is important for any organization, as an interaction with the policy framework in some form or the other, is inevitable. In recent years, this requirement is being recognized more clearly and many organizations are engaging individuals with policy understanding to change the way they operate. In fact, there is a shift from the idea that public policy is solely the domain of the public sector, with more and more private sector organizations and citizen groups getting more involved in policy processes, in a sense moving from simple compliance to active engagement.