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Opinions of Saturday, 27 January 2007

Columnist: Asigri, D. Z.

A need to know about ‘policy’

A need to know about ‘policy’…an interested reader‘s request!

Following the publication of my recent feature article on the emerging ‘myths’ in our Polytechnics and Universities, I received an e-mail from an interested reader in Accra one early morning wanting to know what I meant by the term ‘policy makers’. Rather than merely replying to this e-mail directly, I think it is prudent share this idea with readers of feature articles generally than developing some vague feelings of impending doom by withdrawing into my own shell.

It is true to say that personally, I do not have any wide knowledge about the idea of policy in which to demonstrate but I hope that somebody somewhere, would be supportive in one way or the other. But with a bit of thought, let us see how far I can go here!

However, I am afraid that I cannot do justice to this article by being too far detached from the use of the literature at this point in time as some readers would have wished- my apologies for this please.

With the shifting political nature of our country today it is worth for instance, that teachers and health care professionals need to recognise and to understand the ways in which policies are developed, interpreted, decoded and responsive to social and cultural needs.

Government policies as far as I understand it, are less about operating procedures and more about the aims and objectives of Government actions, particularly about the ways in which those actions are intended to change society. In my view however, more education and health policies need rapid initiation either by the present and or the next Government and there is a challenge to ensure that both policies are relevant and achievable.

“In political thought and analysis, we will still have not cut off the head of a king” (Foucault 1986:88-9)

Politics and policy - making are joint forces in any educational or health system which is very often used by politicians to demonstrate the weaknesses of their opponents’ track record and the success of their changes-for example, road re-construction, provision of bore holes in some villages, and re-roofing of schools and hospitals, for change (either by the NPP or NDC government).

Developing policy goes through some stages the first involves interested parties engaged in seeking to shape the policy. Indeed, Foucault recognises the sort of political nature that prevails within the ‘policy process’ and the obstacles which needs to be unblocked to allow free access (if they can). As you can see, right from the word go, many issues or problems are contested. Some officials tend to control the ‘gate’ during the policy process. It is not the Minister f the day’s Government, but stake holders, industrialists and many others.

The process of the policy development is not laid to rest until it becomes matured enough to produce something good. At this stage therefore, the influence represents particular interest, dogma and ideologies as well as a text which will enable politicians to convince the public which is written in simple plain English and expressed in ways that will attract public good. In other words, the text will be written and re-written.

Lastly, the policy cycle is however faced with multiple problems. The interesting thing to remember here is that, policies do not tell one what to do, they create circumstances in which the range of options available in deciding what to do is so narrowed or changed or particular goals or outcomes are set.

Take for example, changes made to bar Polytechnics from ‘deluding’ themselves as Universities, as seen in my attempt to discuss the issue in a recent feature article. It can be argued that this is acceptable in theory but the reality for the Polytechnic’s educator in relation to the current policy if only it has been critiqued, one would ask as to whether it adequately and explicitly directed them in what to do? It appears to me that the policy (if at all there is one), was a ‘top down’ approach (only a guess) to policy implementation. In other words, the ‘king’ said it all and you must obey!

I me to point out that that Educators within in any educational or health care setting come from different philosophical backgrounds, which may influence one’s interpretation of the purported policy. Therefore, each educator involved would have his/her professional and personal interest to considers as she/he struggles to bring about the changes required.

The point is that, policy writers cannot control the meaning of their text. Readers will pull out particular aspects and interpret it according to their interests, knowledge and background. Educators can look at the policy text from their perspective and because they were not involved in the development they may be unable to bring about any collective change to support the implementation of the policy in which the government would have wished.

We have to understand that the policy process is complex but it is also necessarily provisional and fallible and therefore prone to be ‘written’ and ‘re-written’ throughout the process of production. From the outset however, while each policy is expected to create new conditions these new conditions might also include unintended consequences.

Further, in an organisation the size of our Education and Health service, interpreting policy into practice is bound to face some difficulties because any changes recommended by central government rests in different power base within the system.

One thing to be aware of is that it is too easy to regard policy as given - a set of decisions made somewhere on high, handed down to those carrying out the teaching process or those providing care to patients.

By: Asigri, Daniel Z.
Senior Lecturer
Practitioner Researcher
Middlesex University

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