THE CONCEPT OF PUBLIC POLICY
The concept of policy is not well known to majority of Tanzanians. While most of them think of the term as the jargon prevalent to academicians and government workers, others claim to ‘not do policy’ owing to its great irrelevance to their work-or, for that matter their lives.
The truth, however, is that policy is prerequisite for functioning of any educational institution, different government sectors and government in general. Policies are essentials with which education system and government relies to in order to serve the county.
In Tanzanian context the role of ‘public policy’ cannot be underestimated. Public policy control transportation systems, it determines the quality of services provided, it regulates taxes and even control people’s social lives. The significance of policy is further seen in Tanzanian educational system where educational policies are constantly being tailored to conform to the changing knowledge demands and labor market.
Public policy, therefore, affects us both profoundly and pervasively. It influences virtually every aspect of our lives. This chapter introduces the concept of policy. It further delineates the significance of policy in deriving efficiency to different sectors.
The meaning of policy
Guba, E. G. (1983) in “The effect of definitions of policy on the nature and outcomes of policy analysis” provides several definitions of policy
- Policy as an assertion of intents or goals.
- Policy as the accumulated standing decisions of a governing body, by which it regulates, controls, promotes services and otherwise influences matters within its sphere of authority.
- Policy as a guide to discretionary action
- Policy as a strategy undertaken to solve or ameliorate a problem
- Policy as a sanctioned behavior, formally through authoritative decisions or informally through expectations and acceptance established over (sanctified by) time.
- Policy as the norm of conduct characterized by consistency and regularity in some substantive action area.
- Policy as the output the policy making system, the cumulative effect of all the actions, decisions and behaviors of the millions of people who work in bureaucracies. It occurs, takes place, and is made at every point in the policy cycle from agenda setting to policy impact.
- Policy is the effect of policy making and policy implementing system as it is experienced by the client.
Summarizing above points, a policy can be defined as a statement of intent or a plan of action adopted by an individual or a social group. A policy is a projected program consisting of desired objectives and the means to achieve them
Haddad defines policy an explicit or implicit single decision or group of decisions which may set out directives for guiding future decisions, initiate or retard action, or guide implementation of previous decisions (Haddad, 1995:18). According to Haddad policy is a key to educational planning.
Characteristics of a policy
What constitute a good policy is normally believed to have the following attributes
- It must be known and understood by all who are affected by them. Written policies are most effective because they spell out what organization members should or should not do under a given situation.
- Policies should be stable. If policies are to serve as guides to actions, they should not be changed frequently. Careful study should therefore be taken in formulating policies.
- Policies must be sincere. Policies are public pronouncement of the philosophy and beliefs of the organization, ministry, educational institution etc. The wording of policies should include real intention; otherwise, they become mere writings on paper and meaningless in practice.
- Policies must be realistic. Present situations or conditions must be considered if policy statements are to be implemented. They should not be a mere statement of ideals and commitments which cannot be implemented if conditions were different.
- Policies must be inclusive. Policy makers take as full account as possible of the impact the policy will have on different groups who are affected by the policy. Brings together the view points of the regulator and the regulated to find the best middle ground.
- A good policy should be reviewed periodically. A particular policy may be good in one set of circumstances but it may not prove useful in another set of circumstances. A periodical review of the policy makes the policy more adaptable and acceptable.
- Policies must be goal based. Focus on outcome delivered without unnecessary emphasis on the method by which it is to be achieved.
- A good policy should prove to be an effective instrument for the execution of the plans of the organization.
Educational policy, on the other hand, may be defined as range of decisions with a common long term goal affecting education sector. Decisions that are contained in an educational policy may cover a single aspect (e.g. education provision) or many aspects (e.g. education provision and financing).
Aims of policies
- To solve existing socio-economic and political problems
- To address the prevalent challenges
- To establish efficiency in public services
- To introduce a sense of accountability among workers in organizations and public sectors
Importance of policy
- Policies promote development and well being of the society
- They ensure smooth and proper running of organizations
- Policy provides detailed task instructions and forming the basic structure of organizations, government sectors etc.
- Policies address desired issues and goals according to the public priorities. In education sector issues to be addressed among others include, access to educational opportunities, equity in the distribution of educational services, structure of the education system, internal efficiency of educational sector and institutional arrangement for the management of education sector
Categories of policies
Torjman (2005) provides the following categorization of policies. These include substantive and administrative policy, vertical and horizontal policy, reactive and proactive policy, and current and future policy.
1.Substantive and administrative policy
Substantive policy is concerned with the legislation, programs and practices that govern the substantive (unique) aspects of society. This dimension of policy includes, for example, income security, employment initiatives, child care services and social exclusion.
Administrative policy focuses largely upon administrative procedures or rules that govern administrative procedures in organization. The procedures are normally set to ensure efficiency, responsibility, and accountability.
2.Vertical and horizontal policy
Vertical policy refers to policy that is developed within the organization that has responsibility for its implementation. According to Smith (2003), Vertical policy is what we think of as the normal or traditional way in which policy decisions are made.
Vertical policy is developed within a single organizational structure and generally starts with broad overarching policy, sometimes called “corporate” or “framework” policy. Such decisions are made at head office and guide subsequent decisions throughout the organization. At the regional level we might develop regional or “strategic” policy, which translates the national decisions to the regional level, taking into consideration the specific context. Finally, the regional policy is made specific enough to guide operational decision-making.
Horizontal policy, also known as integrated policy, is developed by two or more organizations, each of which has the ability or mandate to deal with only one dimension of a given situation. Horizontal policy is created between parts of an organization or among organizational components that are similar in hierarchical position.
3.Reactive and proactive policy
Reactive policies are the policies that emerge as a reaction or response to an urgent-public concerns or crisis that require immediate attention and therefore it must be addressed. Disease outbreak and environmental disasters are examples of such crises.
Proactive policies, by contrast, are introduced and pursued through deliberate choice.
The national skills and learning agenda exemplifies this approach. Knowledge and learning increasingly have been recognized as vital keys that unlock the doors to both economic wealth and social well-being.
4.Current and future policy
Current policies are the policies that are in high need by public and thus are in public agenda. Example, policies relating to health care often have high profile.
Future policies are the policies that are not in public agenda yet. Such policies require to be publicized in order to call for public attention. Publicizing usually involves gathering evidence that supports the policy. Relevant evidence includes, for example, research findings, evaluation data and results from focus groups.