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Public policies are as old as governments. Whenever and wherever governments have existed, public policies have been formulated and implemented. Before discussing the meaning of public policy, it would be better if we define policy. Richard and Baldwin (1976) define policy as formulation of rules, norms and prescriptions intended to govern the subsequent decisions and actions of government. In this study, policy shall mean broad guidelines or statement of goals for a course of action that should be followed in an institution to address a particular problem or a set of problems in order to provide consistency in decision making. To cope with the varied problems and demands of the people the government has to make many policies, these policies are known as public policies. The public policy is more than law provision, and is an ongoing processes and complex concept. To define Public policy is difficult as there is no agree definition as many scholars define it in different ways. Therefore, this paper tries to define public policy in follows angles:
Firstly, Brooks (1989), defines public policy as the broad framework of ideas and values within which decisions are taken and action is pursued by governments in relation to some issue or problem. Similarly, Cochran and Malone (2014), argue that Public policy can be described as the overall framework within which government actions are undertaken to achieve public goals or the study of government decisions and actions designed to deal with a matter of public concern. This shows that policies are purposive courses of action devised in response to a perceived problem and they are filtered through a specific policy process which include adoption, implementation, regulatory measures, and courses of government action, funding priorities, and enforcement by a public agency (Cochran and Malone, 2014). These policies provides guidance to governments over a range of actions and also provides mutual accountability links between the government and its citizens. They are mostly shaped by individuals and groups through mobilization of interest groups, advocacy education and political lobbying.

Secondly, public policy is also defined as a set of inter-related decisions taken by a political actor or group of actors concerning the selection of goals and the means of achieving them within a specified situation where those decisions should, in principle, be within the power of those actors to achieve (Jenkins, 1978). This entails that public policies are goal oriented such that they are formulated and implemented in order to attain the objectives which the government or institution has in view for the ultimate benefit of the masses in general. These policies clearly spell out the programmes of government. In a nutshell, public policy seeks to achieve a desired goal that is considered to be in the best interest of all members of society. For instance, government may formulate and implement policies of access to clean water in Malawi and that’s why the government is busy drilling bole holes in all districts as well as starting Mulanje/Blantyre water project in order cube water problem in Blantyre city and other surrounding areas.
Thirdly, public policy is the broad direction or perspective that the government lays down in order to take decisions (Dye, 1972). Public Policy is also vital importance as it is the judicial bench mark for the protection of the public interest. Each organization or the individual is ordered to take a decision within a policy framework which can be a one-time action or not. Policy consists of many decisions that are taken to fulfil its aims (Dye, 2012). Dye (2012), further stipulates that public policy consists of a series of decisions tied jointly into a coherent whole. However, there can be some parallel in the processes involved in decision making and policy making but both are concerned with choice in the middle of alternatives and for both similar processes can be followed in generating choices.

In additional, Dye (1972), defines Public policy as whatever governments choose to do or not to do. As this is not enough other policy scientists also argue that public policy is best conceived in terms of a process (Jenkins, et al (1978). Such being the case, Lasswell (1956), introduced a model of the policy process which has been very successful as a basic framework in the field of policy studies and became the introductory point for systematic classification of the policy process. Public policy making is deemed not only a technical function of government but relatively multifaceted interactive process recognized by the diverse nature of socio-political, individual citizen, media and other environmental forces. These environmental forces that form the policy context lead to the distinction in policies and influence the output and impact.

Furthermore, Pal (2005), also define public policy as what the government chooses to do, or not to do. In short public policy can be referred as a decision made by government to either act, or not act in order to resolve a problem. Public policy is a course of action that guides a range of related actions in a given field. They infrequently tackle one problem, but rather deal with groups of complicated and long-term problems. Public policy provides guidance to governments and accountability links to citizens. Decision making is clouded by values, rather than based purely on objective data. Most issues tend to involve deeply held values/ interests and large amounts of money, making the policy process very difficult.

Rhodes (1996), define public policy as a sociopolitical space constructed as much through techniques and instruments as through aims or content. A public policy instrument constitutes a device that is both technical and social, that organizes speci?c social relations between the state and those it is addressed as per representations and meanings it carries. It is a particular type of institution, a technical device with the common purpose of carrying a concrete idea of the politics or society relationship and sustained by a concept of regulation. Using the idea of public policy instrument allows us to move beyond functionalist approaches, to see public policy from the angle of the instruments that structure policies. This choice of method replaces the typical approach through policy substance with observation and analysis from the point of view of instruments. In a way, it involves rebuilding through instruments, trying to see how the instrumentation approach allows us to address dimensions of public policy that would otherwise not be very visible. Moreover, public policy instruments are not tools with perfect person who studies theory of value neutrality, equally available: on the contrary, they are bearers of values fueled by one interpretation of the social and by specific ideas of the mode of regulation which is conceived.

Lastly, Hogwood and Gunn (1984), provided the following points to make the nature of public policy more clearly in the minds people as the goal oriented, outcome of the government’s collective action. They further said that it is what the government actually decides and is positive in the sense that it describes the concern of the government and involves its action to particular problem on which the policy is made. The aims or purposes of underlined policies are usually identifiable at a relative early stage in the process but these may change over time and, in some cases, may be defined only retrospectively. The outcome of policies requires to be studied and, where appropriate, compared and contrasted with policy-makers intentions. For a policy to be regarded as public policy it must reach to some degree, generated or at least processed within the framework of governmental procedures, influences and organizations.

Chisinga (2002), define public policy as a relatively stable, purposeful course of action taken by Government or public actors in addressing a social problem. These social problems or issues could be lack of employment, inflation, housing, land reforms, education and other things. These sorts of problems are referred to as public polity problems. Public policy problems are conditions that produce dissatisfaction among people who then seek redress through Government action. For social conditions to qualify as public policy problems there must be the following things: Widespread public awareness of the problem, widespread public demand that some type of action be taken and a widespread public perception that action by some governmental unit is appropriate and falls within the bounds of its authority.
From these definitions outlined above, it is clear shows that public policies are decisions of government and are actually the result of activities which the government undertakes in pursuance of certain goals and objectives. It can also be said that public policy formulation and implementation involves a well-planned pattern or way of activity. It requires a thoroughly close knit relation and interaction between the important governmental agencies, political executive, legislature, bureaucracy and judiciary.

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Cochran, C. L. & Malone, E. F. (2014) (5th Ed). Public Perspective and Choices Policy. USA: Lynne Rienner publisher.

Hogwood, B. W. & Gunn, L. A. (1984). Policy analysis for the real world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Frohock, M. (1979). Public Policy: Scope and Logic. Prentice Hall:
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Brooks, S. (1989). Public policy in Canada: An Introduction Mc Clelland and Stawart Inc, Toronto, Ontario.Dye, T. R. (1972). Understanding Public Policy. Prentice Hall: Englewood cliff.

Dye T.R. (2012). Understanding Public Policy, Harlow: Pearson Longman.
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Anderson, J. E. (1975) Public Policy Making. New York: Praeger:
Chisinga, B. (2002). The Politics of Poverty Alleviation in Malawi: A Critical Review in H. Englund, (ed) A Democracy of Chemeleons, Politics and Culture in the New Malawi, Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute.


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