Public policy has been thoroughly debated concept ever since its initial conceptualization in the 1950’s, which was interpreted by Harold Lasswell (Birkland, 2001). Although in a very basic sense, it could be defined as the desires and specific values of a governing body. There have been various visualizations that have been associated with public policy through various political actors, as different perspective approaches could completely alter its whole definition. I will be demonstrating two different conceptualizations of public policy, through an interpretational constructivist approach by Stone against a more factually, scientifically based positivist approach through Knill and Tosun, both perspectives will be put against each other, and then finally I will relate the conceptualizations towards the empirical study executive order 13767 by Donald Trump to build the ‘Trump wall’.
Before further discussing the various perspectives of the concept of public policy, different understandings of the concept public policy must be first brought to light to have a more thorough understanding of the topic. Through Knill and Tosuns perspective, they interpret public policy as “a course of action or non-action by a government body towards a specific issue” (Knill, Tosun, 2012), compared to Thomas Birklands definition, whose perspective states that “a statement by the government, at any level of what it intends to do about a public problem” (Birkland, 2001) While both these definitions find common grounds in terms of recognizing the power of the governing body and that there needs to be a problem to begin with, They contrast in terms in terms of Knill and Tosun definition stating that a response is required by the governing body in order for it to be classified as a public policy as opposed to Birklands definitions which states that the body only really needs to communicate to the public on what it intends to do about the issue at hand.
In relation to a positivist approach to public policy, there must always be a reliance on scientific expertise in the subject matter and the reliance on empirical analysis is of utmost importance towards a positivist approach, everything must be concrete to public policy (Knill, Tosun, 2012). Through this perspective of public policy there is a reliance on concrete facts, as is it believed by positivists that without a numerical and full evidential understanding there cannot be true understanding. Furthermore, positivists believed in a technocratic approach, who believed in “the management of society by technical experts, technical experts (or technical elites) refer to individual with high amount of practical knowledge in the governing body in order to be able to efficiently manage” (Merriam-webster, 2019). Positivist believe in notion of specialized individuals in a position to make decisions as they believe in the idea of an elite group having the power for most efficiency.
In contrast there is the constructivist approach, this approach can be seen examine and explained by political bodies, such as Stone. Through a constructivist approach there is not a focus on facts and scientific evidence but more on a matter of interpretation, they criticize the very foundation of the positivist view point (Knill, Tosun, 2012) and believe in a complete contradiction of the positivist perspective. Constructivists do not believe in anything being set and rely on assumptions, they also believe in all aspects of policy being debatable and that self-interest and altruism coexist in communities, also believe in the manipulation of information as a strategy (Stone, 2012) Constructivists believe that there can never be a single idea agreed to be correct, they always question the validity of everything and look for the different interpretations of such set idea. Also believing that people’s self-interest and the happiness of the public are always interrelated and cannot be separated so there will always be a common problem (Stone, 2012).
Issued on January 25th 2017, Trump declared executive order 13767 after it being promised in the 2016 United States election in which he announced the policy he proposed of a wall to be built on the border of Mexico and the United States. As stated, “to secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism” (The White House, 2019). Through this policy Trump, exercised a constructivist view point through a manipulation of information in order to appeal to the nationalistic right wring population of the US in order to get more votes in the election. Also appealing to his own self-interest of altering the environment to suit the needs of corporations through the executive which is bound to increase local industry.
In conclusion, public policy has various conceptualizations as demonstrated through Harrold Lasswell’s definition, the positivist factually and scientifically based approach though Knill and Tosun and Stone’s constructivist interpretational approach as demonstrated through the case study executive order 13767 in Trump’s construction of the wall in the United States Mexico border through manipulation of information. An understanding of all visualization will help us to gather a greater understanding public policy as a whole and they must all be taken into consideration for us to get a broader understanding of what can actually be considered public policy.
- Birkland, T. (2001) An Introduction to the Policy Process. Oxford: Routledge.
- Knill C. and Tosun J. (2012) Public Policy: A New Introduction. Hardback.
- Merriam-webster.com. (2019). Definition of TECHNOCRATIC. [online].
- Stone. (2012). Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making. 3rd edition.
- The White House. (2019). Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements | The White House. [online].