1 What is policy?
Policy is usually understood as ‘a course of action’ (The Chambers Dictionary, 1998) in relation to:
- a.an individual and the general rules of conduct a person chooses to live by
- b.a family group and the habits, traditions and rules through which it tries to structure and control the behaviour of individuals within it
- c.an organisation and how it sets out its goals, strategies and values
- d.a nation state and the way it describes its priorities for government and its expectations for its population.
Whenever policy is articulated, it tells you a lot about priorities in terms of what really matters to the government at this time, as well as importantly what, and who, doesn’t matter.
Policy both constructs and reflects a view of young people: what they are like; what their interests and concerns are; how best to intervene in their lives to help them become adult citizens. This section looks at this relationship between policy towards young people and knowledge about young people, and at how each influences the other.
As discussed earlier, the term ‘youth’ was a valuable political ideological tool that identified a social problem and provided a focus for reports, legislation and sanction. However, the term has become linked with negative aspects of young people, such as criminal and violence, so that when these issues are raised it is frequently young people that come to mind rather than the adults who are the perpetrators of most crime and violence.
Activity 2: What do we mean by policy?
Identify a policy statement at each of the following four levels.
- Nation state
For example, at an individual level, it might be a plan to cycle to work at least once a week. At an organisational level, it might be to ensure that all staff are provided with private health insurance.
Having identified two policy plans, write a few sentences which describe the priority being addressed, the values which underpin the policy, and the expectations of those who made the policy.
This activity is intended to help you think about the nature of policy as a means of framing rules of conduct or priorities for action which govern the way people live and work. These are grounded in beliefs, values and expectations which might not always be obvious.
So a person who is determined to cycle to work more often might be acting on an intention to reduce their carbon footprint, or improve their health and sense of wellbeing, or both. Prioritising this intention might be caused by the growing evidence for climate change, or an uncomfortable conversation with the doctor about the importance of weight loss. In either case, his beliefs are influenced by the people around him, by what is being said or written about pollution or health. These influences help to shape his expectations that, through cycling, he can contribute to a cleaner planet or a healthier person.
The organisation that decides to consult with young people before making spending decisions might be acting on the belief that only by involving young people in real decisions can they feel a sense of belonging to or ownership of the services being provided. The organisation might also be motivated by the fact that its funding is directly linked to the existence of mechanisms for consulting young people.
The quality of the consultation process will probably be strongly influenced by the extent to which this is a matter of principle which runs right through the organisation’s processes and procedures, or a pragmatic and tokenistic response to funding requirements. In either case, implementation of the policy will involve making difficult decisions about who will be consulted, how often, and how conflicts of interest will be resolved.
Policy is analysed in an attempt to expose those priorities, values, expectations and potential conflicts which lie behind policy statements.
The key questions to ask are as follows.
- What is the motivation behind this policy?
- What is it trying to achieve?