Decision making is one of the most basic and at the same time the most complex processes in political and administrative systems. This involves, among other things, defining the problems and finding possible solutions. It also involves different needs, interests and explanations related to social phenomena. Ultimately, the complexity lies in finding ways to “significantly change the way collective issues are approached” (Dente and Subirats, 2014).
In the public sphere, decision-making can be made visible in the design and implementation of strategies that have a direct impact on situations defined as a collective problem. The latter is what is defined as a “public policy”, A concept that we will develop in an introductory way in this article.
What is a public policy?
The word “political” is a term which has its origins in the most classical traditions of philosophy and can have many definitions, depending on the purpose of its use. The most modern definitions refer to questions relating to the exercise of power. And in this sense, the term is also related to the intention to solve collective problems, which in turn, links public power and expenditure to everyday life.
If we also understand the “public” as a common space, where conflicts and solutions are generatedWe can say that a “public policy” is a set of objectives, decisions and actions carried out by a government to solve problems considered to be priorities in a particular context (Tamayo, 1997). Some examples of public policy are the set of measures that are implemented to manage health, education, culture, sport, among others, and the costs and benefits that this implies.
In this way, public decisions and public policies are closely linked, But that do not refer to the same process. The second is a much larger mechanism, and it’s made up of different decisions.
The public policy construction cycle
All the objectives, decisions and actions that make up a public policy are achieved through a complex process that starts with the detection of a problem. The latter must be important enough to give it more or less immediate political and governmental attention. In other words, that is to say to put it on the government’s agenda, And in this way, start to come up with different solutions that have a significant impact on the problematic situation.
The process of developing public policies then follows different phases, traditionally divided as follows: defining the problem, designing alternative solutions, deciding on an alternative, implementing, evaluating the results obtained.
About the analysis process
As we have seen, public policy is the set of actions implemented to resolve a collective problem, previously identified. At the same time, we can talk about another process: the analysis of public policies, which occurs when evaluating the scope and results of the actions implemented. Or, when evaluating the objectives, the action of the different actors, the networks generated, the means used, among other elements of the process of implementing a specific policy.
Being the result of a process, the isolated phases of public policy making do not have meaning or effectiveness in themselves, but in relation to others, which is made visible precisely in the analysis. For example, it is possible to make an appropriate definition and detection of a problem, however be wrong in the implementation of the solution. Or it may happen that there is an appropriate implementation plan, without a well-defined problem, or without an implementation plan corresponding to the real problem.
For all of the above, the concept of public policy can also be understood as a term that is operational for analysts, although, due to the complexity of each of the phases we have outlined above, this is only partially when commissioning each.
Who makes them? Government and citizen participation
The processes by which public policy decisions are made depend closely on the activity of different actors, as well as a plurality of needs and interests.
Originally, and in many contexts, the process of formulating public policies was a task reserved for politicians and experts. In other words, for one or more actors deemed competent to launch one of the phases that make up the public policy process.
However, and given that specialized actors are often unaware of the problem and the impacts of their solution, the process of design, implementation, evaluation and analysis has recently evolved towards more participatory mechanisms, including the people who will be affected by the policy in question. The latter led to the acquisition of public policy development processes a complex nature with regard to decision-making, Where various mirages may arise regarding the participation of different actors.
In very general terms, participatory processes have emerged after recognizing that the government, traditionally responsible for formulating public policies, as well as “politics” itself, are only a collection of people and institutions endowed with of political and legal powers to make decisions, which have an impact common spaces. Thus, the people who are also part of these spaces can be considered competent in political terms.
- Dente, B. and Subirats, J. (2014). Public decisions. Analysis and study of decision-making processes in public policies. Editorial Ariel: Barcelona.
- Tamayo, M. (1997). Analysis of public policies. In Bañón, R. and Carrillo, I. (Eds.). The new public administration. University alliance: Madrid.