One of the most crucial roles of public administration is policy formulation and implementation. Formulation and implementation of public policy is one thing, sustaining and maintaining the policy is another. Policy simply means a plan or a course of action or measures deliberately selected by a political party, government, business, company or individual from among alternatives to guide and determine or direct present and future decisions or affairs.
Public policy is whatever governments choose to do or not to do in dealing with problems of public interest. Public policy shapes our daily lives and has direct consequences on our well-being. Public policy might lead to peace, harmony or war and chaos.
It is as a result of public policy making that some nations are considered rich and others poor; why some states are called developed and others underdeveloped.
Policy making process is quite complicated and can result in good and bad policy, both having far reaching consequences. Policy cycle starts with agenda setting where the public becomes aware of an issue and be part of the decision-making.
The next stage is policy formulation that involves identification of policy alternatives, gather and analyse alternatives; apply a decision tool to choose the best policy alternative. The 3rd step is policy implementation that is basically the execution of selected options. The last step is policy evaluation that is concerned with determining the impact of policy on real life conditions.
Since the early 1980s when African countries began to slide into economic crisis, it has become common that the causes of this economic malaise lie in the inappropriate public policies. The mere existence of good policies does not automatically result in successful implementation. Problems with policies often lie in the implementation thereof, thus forming a policy gap.
The amount of time required to define a policy proposal or problem is determined by the issue at hand. Issues that are complex generally have more varied levels of involvement by various stakeholders that sometimes render the process endless, shapeless and fluid. However, it is important to realize that successful policy-making requires democratic decision-making.
Besides the policy-makers, the presence of an informed citizenry and self-organized groups may contribute valuable pieces to the final policy. Successful implementation of the policy again requires citizens’ participation and continual political monitoring and engagement.
A policy is considered ineffective when it has failed to address public problems in ways that are consistent with widely shared values and preferences.
Various factors may fail policy implementation and these may include the commitment and political will to implement policies, public/private partnerships, unhealthy inter-agency rivalry and coordination, inadequate understanding of the issues to be addressed, institutional weaknesses and resistance to change, corruption, unreliable data, inappropriate measures of success, inadequate consultations and analysis of changes in the external environment, lack of realism on how the policy will work, limited capacity and capability for successful policy delivery, failure to identify, manage risks and plan for unforeseen events, failure to establish an effective M&E framework, inadequate trialing and testing of policies prior to implementation.
Policy inconsistency/continuation and summersaults in Africa is another area that needs serious “magurification”. Once a new government takes over power, they usually abandon previous governmental policies. Ignorance, poverty, disease, patronage politics and overlaps in institutional mandates also affect policy implementation. For instance, we can have a policy on family planning yet there are people who believe [culturally that] if a woman or man uses contraceptive method, she/he becomes infertile. So, even if you provide family planning contraceptives free of charge, no one will use them. In Africa, we still have people who resist immunization.
The key to the success of any policy implementation is to understand the situation where the policy initiative is to be put into practice. The intention of the government must be made known, goals to be achieved are declared, means of achieving the goals are stated and programs to achieve those goals and actions announced. Basic questions like how well is the problem defined, what are its characteristics & what goals to be pursued must be answered. Most of the policies unfortunately fall short of the above and thus fail to tackle the right problems leading to inappropriate policies being implemented.
Most African economies have not been able to create knowledge about their economies and most policies are unrealistic and hastily designed based on assumptions leading to “Go-Win or Fail policies”. What you will find is continuous use of China Or Singapore models.
People just bring this ideas or something worked for example in Japan and say that oh it should work here and say yeah, go and make it work, without considering why did it work in Japan, what are basic issues and conditions that made it work, is it the same here in Rwanda for example. Knowledge needs to be incorporated into our policy making. Policy design is not just about analysis; it’s about data and facts. It has to be contexturized.
Inappropriate problem definition where the consequences of the problem are targeted instead of the problem itself has led to devotion of scarce public resources to solving the wrongly defined problems. In a situation where the wrong problem is defined, the real characteristics of the problem cannot be identified, leading to the setting up of wrong goals and finally the use of inappropriate policy instruments to achieve the goals.
Today in Africa, most policies find their way through to the citizens who have little or no knowledge of the social thought or social systems. Many politicians rely on armchair theorising about what and what would or would not work as policy. As long as the governments do not want to be people-centric, their policies will always meet ardent resistance. Beneficiaries should get involved and understand the policy. There is a need to educate the public to understand government policies.
The author is a policy analyst
The views expressed in this article are of the author.