Seeking a Sound Public Policy Framework


By: Marudut Napitupulu

Power is not distributed evenly amongst all members of the policy community: sort of things determine the relative power of policy community members. Policy making process involves number of participants with varying degrees of influence on the policy cycle. Members of policy community participate with different level of power in different situations. In order to understand policy making it is important to identify where and how the power changes and how this shapes the policy outcome. I will argue that the relative power within the actors can be influenced by major determinants such as: authority, resources, expertise, individual voice and lobbying groups.

Colebatch (2002 p.23) states two dimension of the policy perspective in defining the policy participants: vertical dimension and horizontal dimension. Vertical dimension is a ‘rule’ that focus on instrumental process, where the government and the hierarchical institutions take place as the policy actors. The horizontal dimension as ‘the structuring of action’, enable nongovernmental bodies take place in the policy process, such as industry organisation, expertise and related interest groups.  Similarly, Coleman and Skogstad (1990, cited in Colebatch 2002 p.35) define ‘sub-government’ and ‘attentive public’ as the policy community elements; the former is ‘a power focused centre’ and the latter ‘an epistemic community on the periphery’. Moreover, Judge (1993, cited at Richardson 2000) states that ‘policy community are networks characterized by stability of relationships, continuity of a highly restrictive membership…’

According to Colebatch (2002, p. 25) there are three means of entering the policy arena: authority, expertise and order. Authority aspect refers to legitimate power-owners having the right to participate. Both expertise and order aspects enable broader groups the policy arena.  Colebatch also adds collectiveness as a basis for participation. Matheson (2006) suggests ‘politics’ and ‘ideology’ as additional aspects. Just as participants have different entries to the policy arena, they also have different power in terms of the policy making process.

Legal authority is one factor that determines the power of the actors. As ‘the legitimate authority’ government bureaucrats are granted the exclusive seats in the decision making process. Moreover this factor defines people as an ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ in terms of the policy arena (Colebatch 2002 p. 27). Legitimate authority factor can be very powerful because it limits number of actors to enter arena and leads to centralized policy making. This has lead Colebatch (2002, p.27) to question ‘how people with little standing in the world of authority can challenge the existing order and participate in the policy process’.

The second determinant is resources. It is difficult to implement policy without sufficient resources such as money and information. Matheson (2006) argues that ‘the more rights and resources that policy actors possess, the greater their level of their power’. This proportion shapes the interaction between actors and the government into a mutual benefit relationship rather than a government dominant role. Atkinson and Coleman (1992) conclude that state and business relationship is determined by the relative power of the state and business. The combination of the power will determine whether the government will collaborate with business or lead the policy process.

The third factor is experts and their technical skill in ‘epistemic community’. This determinant is powerful in shaping the policy process. For example, in the case of the Australia Higher Education Contribution Scheme in the late 1980s, the advanced academic background and support of Professor Chapman shows a powerful influence to push Department of Taxation to accept the policy proposal (Chapman 1998). The success of the proposal happened not only because of the plausibility of academic analysis but also the visibility of the proposal and how well the group of experts exercised their power in providing the broader and wider perspectives of the policy outcome. Chapman (1998) finally concludes that ‘the existence and form of HECS are testament to the potential power of basic economic ideas as direct policy inputs.’ This is supported by Colebatch (2002) who identifies that ‘policy work also often involves mobilizing authority from outside government’.

In global policy arena, the power of industrial groups or industrial countries lobbying may drive the policy outcome. The case of ‘blue fin tuna ban’ at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) during March 2010 in Qatar is an example of how power has been exercised among the groups in the broader arena. Japan with other tuna industrial countries rejected the ban and finally won the voting in the convention (ABC News 2010). Moreover, this case highlighted how the expertise and environment groups have been successfully framed and set up the policy agenda, based on the whale case, but failed in achieving their policy objective in the wider arena. The result was similar with Grande (1996 cited in Richardson 2000 p.1017) justification that identifies ‘the paradox of weakness of interest groups in international negotiations became apparent’.

Another important factor is the individual voice which also able to drive the policy changing significantly, because this group of actors is directly influenced by the policy making result. Matheson (2006) strongly argues that ‘individuals must also have the will and skill to exercise power’. In the case of salmonella food  policy Smith (1991) emphasizes how the buyers’ aspiration affected the policy process issue from the ‘policy community’ to ‘issue network’ and how powerful consumers’ voice can be in shaping the policy outcome. The ‘healthier eating’ group successfully use the ‘opportunity’ arose from the policy community conflict in the food area which Smith similarly identifies that ‘if a potential for conflict exist… the community contains a range of powerful actors’.

Power determinants keep changing and interacting dynamically one another. Above five determinants are only sort of things that will continuously shape the policy outcome.  Indeed, there are many factors that could influence the actors’ relative power. For example, Mintzberg(1983, cited in Matheson 2006, p. 24) says that power within the government organisation itself is based on a participants control over ‘(1) resource (2) technical skill and (3) body of knowledge; (4) legal prerogatives or exclusive rights and privileges to impose choices and (5) access to those who rely on the other four’.

Finally, Policy as ‘a continuous process of framing and re-framing’ (Colebatch 2002) will keep developing around government actions with the dynamic changes to the power determinants and their composition. In relation to the relative power and policy learning, Atkinson and Coleman (1992) suggest that ‘greater attention must be paid to the cognitive frameworks of all members of the policy community’.

Author: Marudut R. Napitupulu, Alumni Master Program at Australian National University 2011


About mofilink

Mofilink is a pool of perspectives, ideas and contribution for Indonesia government finances reforms.
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