In the past government’s role has been fast changing with more emphasis being placed on initiating guidance on policy and planning, on engaging stakeholders and citizens and in certain circumstances empowering stakeholders to produce programs and services(Smith, 2003). What is more fascinating is the fact that the environment for policy and planning has been so complex to the extent that one can ask a question on who really own policy issues? Smith (2003) argued that “ownership of policy issues is often unclear, especially when more than one department and often more than one level of government is involved. Community is also increasingly claiming ownership of policy issues and process”. Torjman, (2005) defined a policy as a “substantive and administrative procedures whereby in substantive, it is concerned with the legislation, programs and practices that govern the substantive aspects of community work while administrative procedures, the policy involve the collection of statistical information on neighborhoods and the evaluation of complex community programs”. To collaborate with what Smith (2005) has said, one can conclude that indeed the field of public policy is very dynamic and that it is also very complex. However, it is from this background that I want to explain what really public policy is all about.

The study in the field of public policy begun sometime back in North America and Europe soon after the end of Second World War. Several issues prompted scholars to start developing policies to be used in addressing certain problems. Some of these issues were as follows: many countries experienced more problems whereby the absence of a policy made countries to struggle in coping up with the emerging problems and the other issue was that there were introduction of public universities whereby scholars started conducting researches that led to the development of theories that were used in solving social problems (Pacecila etal, 2006). However a better understanding of the meaning of public policy can be understood in the definition of public policy by Hogwood and Gunn, (1984). These two authors defined public policy as follows; Public policy as programs, public policy as a specific proposal, public policy as decisions of government, public policy as an expression of general goal and public policy as official authorization.

Firstly, Hogwood and Gunn (1984) argued that public policy can be understood as programs. In their argument, they said that Programs are seen as means through which the governments try to achieve the intended goal (Hogwood and gun 1984). Another scholar Cloete, (1998) defined public policy as “government’s program of action to give effect to selected normative and empirical goals in order to address perceived problems and needs in society in a specific way therefore achieve desired changes in that society”. This means that it is the responsibility of governments to come up with various programs that are aimed at improving the welfare of their citizens and such programs are seen as public policies. For instance here in Malawi the government is pursuing different programs like the Farm Input Subsidy program, whereby according to Chibwana etal (2011) argued that the “program was introduced to enhance food self-efficiency by increasing smallholder farmer’s access to and use of improved agricultural inputs thereby boosting the incomes of resource poor farmers”. Such kind of programs can be seen as policies.

Secondly, public policy can be explained as a specific proposal. Proposals are specific actions that the political organizations such as groups of interest parties and the government itself would like to see achieved (Hogwood and Gunn 1984). According to Fredrich, (1963), public policy is a “proposed course of action of a person, group or government within a given environment providing obstacles and opportunities which the policy was proposed to utilize and overcome in an effort to reach a goal or realize an objective or purpose”. This simply means that a proposal can be seen as a policy. In short what the government or any other actor propose can be regarded as a policy. During campaign period as a country is going closer to general elections, many political parties do propose a lot of things in form of manifestos so that when ushered into government, they should implement those proposals. For example, in Malawi during the 2014 general elections, the DPP proposed many things like the introduction of community colleges, improvement of road transport by constructing tarmac roads. Such kind of proposals may be seen as policies.
Third, public policy can be understood as decisions of government. In this context the researcher focuses on the analysis of specific situations which others call as a case study approach (Hogwood and Gunn 1984). Decisions that were made by the Russian and America government in dealing with the issue of Cuban crisis in 1962, can be regarded as policy decisions (Allison, 1979). Daneke etal, (1979) defined public policy as a “broad guide to present and future decisions selected in light of given conditions from a number of alternatives, the actual decision or set of decisions designed to carry out the chosen course of actions”. However, by looking at the above definitions, one can conclude that decisions can be seen as policies. For instance, the decision that was made by the American government by coming up with a Bush doctrine as a reaction to terrorists who attacked them during the 9/11 attack, can be regarded as a policy. In Malawi context the issue of Lake Malawi wrangle, the decisions of having a round table discussion by the two concerned governments in dealing with the matter can be seen as policies.

Fourth, public policy is defined as the expression of general goals or desired state of fact. In this point, Hog wood and Gunn (1984) argues that in a “document, political party policy is used in order to indicate the general goal of government activity”. Another scholar Cochran, etal (2014) defined public policy as a “framework within which actions are undertaken to achieve public goals”. Daneke etal, (1978) argued that a public policy can be seen as a projected program consisting of desired goals and the means of achieving them. This entails that goals that are desired by governments to be achieved can be seen as policies. In Malawi context, around 2000 the government under the leadership of Dr Bakili Muluzi introduced vision 2020 policy. In the vision, Malawi aspires to achieve a lot of things by 2020 and some of them are: reducing poverty level, reducing mortality rate and reducing malnutrition levels by 2020(Nyondo, 2015) If these goals would be achieved then it will be said that a goal has been achieved and these goals can be perceived as policies.

Lastly, public policy according to Hogwood and Gunn (1984) is defined as official authorization. “These are laws voted by parliamentarians or decisions of government which permits or require a certain activity to be carried out” (Hogwood ; Gunn, 1984). For example the recent exercise carried out by the national registration bureau. Parliament passed an NRB act in 2010 allowing every Malawian citizen to have national registration cards. According to Kalonde, (2018), the exercise got started in May 2017 and finished in November 2017 and a total of 9,000,000 Malawian got registered. Therefore, the authorization by parliament for National Registration Bureau to carry out a national registration exercise can be seen as a public policy.

In a nutshell, this essay has explained the meaning of public policy as articulated by different scholars and the main discussion has been focused on the understanding of public policy by Hogwood and (Gunn, 1984). These authors have defined public by looking at five definitions namely: Public policy as programs, public policy as a specific proposal, Public policy as decisions of government, public policy as an expression of general goal and policy as official authorization. The essay has also shown how the discipline of public policy started whereby it has been argued that it started sometime back after the end of Second World War. During this period many countries were confronted with big problems and that there was a need to have a proper guidance.

Cloete, F. ; Wissink, H. ; De-Coning,(2006) Improving Public Policy from Theory to practice, Hatfield, Van Schaik.

Chibwana, C., Fisher, M. (2011). The Impacts of Agricultural input Subsidy Program in Malawi. News Letter media Libraly. accessed on 15th November 2018.

Cochran, C.L, Malone, E., (2014). Public policy perspectives and choices: 5th edn., Lynne Rienner publishers, USA.

Daneke, G.A., Steiss, A.W., (1963). “Planning and Policy Analysis for Public Administrators” J.W., Sutherland(ed) Van Nostrand and Reinhold Company, New York.

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