The Lost Art Of Policymaking

The Lost Art Of Policymaking
Public policy is meant to evaluate the options available to government officials and institutions on how to address specific problems or issues being faced by the citizenry. Public policy defines the actions and decisions taken by governments to address social, economic, and political problems, and to guide and regulate the behavior of individuals and organizations within an informed scope. As far as Pakistan is concerned, public policy exists just to pay lip service to the art of policymaking, but political capital and will for policy implementation always come up short.

For instance, the Sindh government passed legislation in 2013 titled ‘The Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2013’. The Act promulgated a policy for the provision of education in the province. What happened to the implementation of this policy? What is the impact of this policy in Sindh overall?

Clause 3 (3) of this Act clearly states that “privately owned or managed schools shall also provide free education to such students of the age of five to sixteen years, at least ten percent of their actual strength of students.”  Has the government acted to make this possible? How many schools are made liable to act on this clause?  Minister Education Sindh should inform the public regarding the impact of this policy in Sindh.

According to Thomas. R. Dye, “whatever a government chooses to do and not chooses to is public policy.” Under this definition, from the staunch smell of waste dumping on Pakistan’s streets to maintaining relations with other nation-states in the world are all part of public policy. People, society, institutions, governments and interest groups are part of policymaking in either the design or the impacting process. But this is hardly understood and taught in Pakistan. Severe gaps in understanding public policy exist at all levels of our country’s business.

Policymaking encompasses the laws, regulations, and programs that the government implements to address public needs, and reflects the values, goals, and priorities of the society it serves. Public policy shapes the distribution of resources and opportunities, and can have a significant impact on the well-being of citizens.

To Pakistan’s misfortune, policymakers here do not possess the required knowledge and capacity for making policy in the interest of the public, whereas for whom policy is made lack either the tools, the capital or the willingness to influence the policy making process. For instance, an effective policymaking cycle involves agenda-setting, policy formulation, decision-making, implementation, evaluation, and feedback. But a good policy is one which is made after making sure that no stone is left unturned on understanding policy problems.

Understanding policy problems means that the issue or problem is comprehended fully and even conceptualized well in order to have a vivid picture of the problem to be addressed. If the problem is poorly conceptualized, then the resulting solution is likely to be half-baked.

In the procedural context, agenda-setting involves the issues that are brought to the attention of policy-makers through a variety of means, including the media, interest groups, and elected representatives. However, social media is also considered one of the contributors in policy agenda-setting. Secondly, policy formulation seeks developing proposals by government agencies, and may also be influenced by interest groups, experts, and the general public.

Thirdly, decision-making seeks proposals which are then evaluated and discussed by elected representatives, who make decisions on the policies to be implemented. Is that practiced in Pakistan? What percent of Pakistan’s youth is involved in the decision-making process? Does the government not know that more than 64 percent of Pakistan’s total population is comprised of the youth?

Fourthly, implementation involves putting policy into action through the development of laws, regulations, and programs. Lastly, comes evaluation and feedback. This is to evaluate policies regularly to determine their effectiveness, and feedback is used to make improvements to the policy implementation. Sadly, in Pakistan, neither is feedback valued nor is evaluation ever done properly or honestly.

A whole multitude of actors are involved in policymaking. In Pakistan, the Parliament is responsible for making laws, while the executive branch, consisting of the President, Prime Minister, and Cabinet, is responsible for implementing policies. The judiciary serves as a self-reliant assessment on the other branches of government. The role of interest groups, the media, and the general public in shaping public policy differs, but they always play the role of a catalyst in raising awareness and advocating for particular issues and problems.

The government needs to clearly understand the importance of policy actors. The unanimous observation is that Pakistan is good at formulating policy, but lags significantly in the implementation department. Once a policy is made, analysis ought to follow for comprehending the impact of that policy. Generally, the steps of policy analysis revolve around problem identification, the review of existing literature and data, evaluating policy alternatives, assessing feasibility, choosing the right course of action, and conducting implementation & monitoring, evaluation and adjustment.

Making policy implementation successful in Pakistan seems more daunting than summitting Everest. Pakistan has always failed to implement policy successfully.

Successful implementation of public policy requires careful planning and attention to several key factors; mostly importantly, a focus on clarity of goals - the policy should have clearly defined goals and objectives that are widely understood and supported. This needs to be supported by effective planning - the implementation plan should be well-designed, and should take into account the resources and capacities required, as well as any potential obstacles. Strong leadership is also critical for ensuring that the implementation of policy is properly managed and resources are effectively deployed. Adequate resources need to be made available: funding, personnel, and technology should be made available to ensure the successful implementation of policy.

Stakeholder engagement, including affected communities, interest groups, and other relevant parties, is critical for building support and ensuring that policy is effectively implemented. Monitoring and evaluation, which is the task of regular evaluation of the implementation process is necessary to assess progress, identify challenges, and make necessary adjustments to ensure flexibility and adaptability.

To have effective policymaking in Pakistan, along with clear outcomes and impacts for the country, there are some key skills that need to be mastered by policymakers in Pakistan. These include research, critical thinking and analytical skills, strategic thinking, problem solving, communication, interpersonal communication, adaptability, understanding of governance, budgeting, and clarity on institution building. Only by developing these skills, policymakers in Pakistan shall become more effective in making policies that meet the needs of the country and its people.

The author is a public policy expert and works as a Project Coordinator in the PSDP project focusing on Agriculture and Livestock. He can be reached at