The study of public policy gained significant importance in the late fifties and sixties. However, policy science did not come into existence all of a sudden. It started to emerge when social scientists started researches on a wide range of sociopolitical problems. After the World War II, significant developments were made in the areas of operations research, economics and social psychology. These developments proved to be helpful in formulating new ways for more systematic and empirical investigations of policy making. Although, a considerable level of research was done in the areas of sociopolitical studies but the clear concept of a policy science was first introduced in 1951 by Harold Lasswell. "Lasswell's seminal work identified six basic characteristics of an emerging field of study, concerned with explaining policy making and policy executing process. (McCool)
The study of public policy gained momentum in the late 1960s. With the introduction of the Great Society program by Johnson, the need for developing an understanding of expanded government activity originated. Another factor that led to the evolution of policy studies and processes was the proliferation of government programs in the 1960s and 70s. As the government became increasingly interested in resolving various social problems, policy makers were forced to seek assistance to find solutions to these problems. Search for solutions to various social problems led to several researches in the areas of social sciences. However, it is interesting to note that the academic work done in the areas of social sciences was incompatible for practical implementation of policy studies. Research and teaching done in this area have generally been considered as inapplicable to the real social problems. Because of the inability of the academic researches in social sciences to contribute towards the development of applied policy research, the demand for improved policy analysis increased.
Policy Science and Policy analysis defined:
Policy researchers presented several definitions to describe the concept of policy science and policy analysis. Some of these definitions are presented below:
The application of knowledge and rationality to perceived social problems" (McCool)
Systematic and empirical studies of how policies are made and put into effect..." (McCool)
is a form of applied research carried out to acquire a deeper understanding of socio-technical issues and to bring about better solutions." (McCool) is principally concerned with describing and investigating how and why particular policies are proposed, adopted and implemented. It focuses on explanation rather than prescription, on searching scientifically for the causes and consequences of policy, and on general explanatory propositions. (McCool)
From the above-mentioned definitions, it becomes clear that the concept of policy science or policy analysis refers to the process of investigating some form of government problem or output. Researchers have noted that various scholars have used the term policy in several different ways in order to enforce a particular implication on a specific term.
Basic guidelines or principles to understand policy processes:
There are several guidelines or principles to help us describe the concept of policy and policy process. Among these several guidelines, a few are discussed here:
With the rise in policy researches, several improvements were being observed in theory, methodology and research design of policy studies. Development in the areas of policy studies introduced a new era of policy analysis and evaluation of alternatives. Scholars called for an improvement in governance through policy research. According to them, the study of policy matter would enhance government's understanding of policy processes and outcomes. This would enable the policy makers to assess past and present policies in a more unprejudiced manner and would guide them to devise policies in the most effective way.
As discussed before, a number of scholars argued that the academic work done in the areas of social sciences was inappropriate for policy studies. In the same context, Yehzkel Dror argued in his work Design for Policy Sciences (1971) that the existing scientific paradigms were totally inadequate for policy research and proposed a policy science paradigm. (Mc Cool) At the same time, Lasswell published his work and presented the concept of policy science in a more refined manner.
A considerable level of work was done on the subject by the end of 1970s. Numerous researches were available on the issue along with innumerable case studies and conceptual work. Soon policy science emerged as a new discipline, which was not just a modification of disciplinary approaches but was an elementary change in viewpoint, approaches, procedures and attitudes. Policy analysis is different from earlier behavioral studies as it is primarily interested in developing conclusions based on standards and giving prescriptions along with concrete pragmatic effort.
Policy analysis soon became an important tool in government's decision-making process. It helped the government in defining the reasons for failure of several programs and in proposing methods for improvements. In the meantime, the authenticity of policy analysis was questioned. Although, significant developments were made in the last few years but some discrepancies were found in the literature of early periods. Policy literature developed in the sixties and seventies was either too explanatory and entirely academic or too technical having an over emphasis on empirical methodology.
In the recent years, a considerable progress has been made in developing new methods and theories for public policy analysis. However, it should be noted that this progress is still not a significant accomplishment as there still is a noticeable lack of harmony in several aspects of public policy analysis. In order to bring improvements in the policy theory, it is important to recognize the particular challenges of building theories that can include such distinct phenomena. Many theorists recognize the unique challenges faced by the researchers in developing theories. According to McRae:
In the face of these problems - the risk of politicization, the multiplicity of methods and the weakness of evidence - we require special safeguards to maintain common concerns and common standards in the development of policy models within technical communities." (McCool)
The above-mentioned opinion of theory and model building in policy analysis is somewhat an optimistic version. There are some scholars who are less confident about the issue as mentioned below:
The new public policy is an intellectual jungle swallowing up with unbound voracity almost anything, but which it cannot give disciplined - by which I mean theoretically enlightened - attention." (McCool)
It is obvious that there is no best theoretical explanation to define policy analysis. According to researchers, there is no single best way because an increasingly diverse nature of the policy problems calls for the adoption of a variety of approaches. Hence, it can be argued that policy studies in fact does not have a single theory that may best define it. However, there is a multitude of theories to define policy analysis. According to Mazmanian and Sabatier:
Today researchers are faced with an embarrassment of riches; they must choose which theoretical perspective to adopt and specific hypothesis to test." (Mc Cool)
One of the reasons, for which it is not possible to develop a single universal theory of policy, is the extremely diverse nature of the subject. It is not possible to explain numerous variables and extremely complex relationships through a single theoretical approach. Another reason is that by defining a single theoretical approach to policy sciences, policy theorists will develop a tendency to segregate themselves in a single academic or substantive specialty.
As far as the matter of defining the concept of public policy is concerned, there are numerous definitions, which are theoretically distinct from each other. For instance, Lasswell defined policy as "the most important choices." On the other hand, Austin Raney, another contributor to policy studies in the early times, has defined policy in a rather complex manner. (McCool)
From the above discussion it becomes evident that policy analysis is primarily the use of rationale and facts to make the best policy choice. Before choosing a specific policy alternative, one should consider the facts and explore the origin of those facts if possible. The use of reasoning and facts is the basic characteristics of all applied sciences. While analyzing a policy choice, policy makers often have to draw conclusions from other sciences. For instance, if the consequences of a policy alternative depend on technology, their assessment can involve applied natural sciences. While considering policy alternatives in this context, a policy maker will have to conduct a technology assessment. On the other hand, if a certain policy alternative is expected to influence human relations, its assessment can involve applied social sciences.
The process of policy analysis not only involves the consideration of various disciplines of science but it also entails behavioral, ethical, and philosophical considerations. Non-scientific knowledge is also vital for effective policy making because in most of the cases, science is little helpful in defining a solution to a real problem as compared to non-scientific knowledge. The process of policy making involves judgment of what variables to consider and which variables to neglect. Moreover, in order to measure the affect and consequences of a…