Policy is primarily a purposive course of action. Without action it is mere a wish. The policy making process does not end when a policy is approved or launched. It is a continuous process. Anderson mentioned “Policy is being as it is being administered and administered as it is being made”. Thus policy cycle approach continues to be the basis for the policy analysis.
The conceptualisation and planning of public policy are covered as part of broader process of policy analysis. Different shades of individuals and groups e. g. academics, research institutions, pressure & interest groups, political parties etc. are involved in the process of policy analysis. The different issues with which policy analysis is concerned are:
- The content of public policies
- Problems which public policies are intended to solve
- The relationship of these problems with public policies
- The functions of policy makers
- Future consequences of policies
The policy analysts may focus on different stages of policy process e. g. policy formulation, implementation and evaluation and may be interested in different aspects e. g. role of political parties in policy making, impact of bureaucracy on decision making or the role of professionals in policy.
In conceptualisation and planning of public policy, policy cycle is of utmost importance. The figure above indicates the framework for systematic analysis of information related to the policy formulation. The four important parameters which are necessary for the policy cycle are :
- Inputs which represent needs and demands
- Processes which provide for long term care services
- Outcomes that identify the end results
Stages in Conceptualisation and Planning of Public Policies :
The various stages involved in the conceptualisation and planning of public policies are as follows :
A. Identifying the Problem
The first step is to identify whether there exists a problem at all. The problem should not be defined in terms of just the abstract terms but in more substantial terms. Attempt should be made to identify the form of failure confronted. Once the problem & the form of failure which has engendered it are ascertained, the next step is to ascertain the objectives which will be accomplished if the problem is solved. The objective should be rational. For example, ensuring proper attendance of teachers is a means to achieve universal literacy and not an objective in itself.
B. Identifying the Various Alternatives
The proper form of governmental intervention should be identified which suits the condition most. For example, following possibilities can be there to stop pollution in the river Ganges :
- Abutters may be granted rights to clean water. They then can sue the polluters
- Restrictions may be placed by the government on industrialists and town dwellers to dump waste in the river
- Polluters may be required to pay according to the amount of waste dumped keeping in mind the “polluter pays” principle
- Government may directly take the responsibility of cleaning up the river
These various alternatives can be further refined keeping in mind the various difficulties and practical considerations. Many a times the process of finding the alternatives is seen as merely a mechanical exercise and adequate attention is not paid to the proper alternatives.
C. Identifying the Consequences of the Alternatives
After identifying the problem and the possible alternative courses of action, the consequences of each alternatives are identified. Models for forecasting would need to be made for this purpose e. g. in case of pollution problem of Ganges a model would have to be made in which it needs to be predicted how the quality of water in the Ganges responds to various types of pollution & weather conditions. In such cases computer simulation can prove to be of much use. All the consequences should be taken into account and not just the economic ones.
D. Identifying the Preferred Course of Action
The last step is to identify the preferred course of action after choosing among the alternatives. Choosing among the alternatives may be a simple or complex process depending upon the feedback of forecasting techniques. So improving the forecasting techniques for predicting the consequences of the various courses of action is a must to make the policy analysis process more relevant and fast.
Limitations to the process of Conceptualisation & Planning
The problems being faced by mankind are becoming increasingly complex and the administrators are facing multitude of tasks confronting them. In such an uncertain future, it is questionable whether policy analysis would be fully successful in finding the solutions regarding future of society. Following limitations are observed in conceptualizing the policies :
- It must be realized that it is very difficult to find solutions to problems like poverty, unemployment, inequality, environmental degradation etc. Such problems are more pronounced in case of developing countries. Such problems are not uni- dimensional but multi dimensional.
- For making effective public policies there should be a consensus on what the actual problems are. In a society where there no consensus on the values it is difficult to plan the public policies for future effectively.
- Government is an over burdened institution. It is unfair to assume that government has cures for all the ills afflicting the society. Problems as variegated as population growth, ethnicity, family conflicts etc. are’ difficult to be solved by government alone.
- Sometimes the policy makers are interested in seeing only the positive aspects of the programmes made by them.
- There is lack of reliable scientific knowledge about social problems. Due to this social scientists often give contradictory recommendations.
- Social ills are the result of so many problems that giving a simple explanation to them is not appropriate many a times.
Despite all these limitations, policy makers can atleast measure the impact of past and present public policies before designing the future ones. Public policy rests on the assumption that some information is better than no information and right questions are better than no questions asked even if definite answers may not be available.