Public Policy and Governance: Theory and Practice

  • Muhamad Azahar AbasEmail author
Living reference work entry



Public policy is a long-standing decision made by governments or public authorities to address the public concerns or initiate ideas or solutions to public problems. Governance is the process of governing a city, an organization, or system where the decision-making process is involved by which the decisions are implemented or not implemented.


In the last few decades, public policy has become more crucial, and the governments keep trying to improve the existing public policy to suit current situation. For example, does the current public education policy give an impact to every level of society? Is the current development and welfare program good or poor or does not give an impact toward poverty eradication? Are the existing environmental initiatives sufficient or too much on environmental protection? These questions are always being discussed to address the public policy issues in every level of authority.

The society nowadays is more mobile because of the development in transportation and communication. In fact, the current society is more aggressive on the public issues and knowledgeable because they have good accessibility on the information. Every ethnic groups and political parties are trying to arise the public issues so that can benefit to their group. Accordingly, most of the public policy is often fluctuating as reflected in the current situation. Hussin (2008) has discussed that every ethnics and groups has an endeavor to fight for their public right which results in movements that contravene the doctrine of cultural diversity.

The discussion above shows that public policy becomes very crucial nowadays in the context of scientific perspective and practical perspective. In-depth understanding on the causes and effects of public policy to society is very important for strategic improvement in the context of scientific perspective. In the context of practical perspective, participation of society in the process of public policy which is formulation and implementation is imperative. Therefore, the process of public policy needs cooperation and involvement of multiple stakeholders that require a good governance.

The concept of governance is not new and it was used since the Persian Empire which is more than 2000 years ago. However, the modern perspective on governance is becoming more complex because of rapid change in the role of government and the process of governance which accelerates the phenomena of globalization (Farazmand 2004). Hence, it is very crucial to explore and study the current characteristics, values, and utilities of governance concept in the context of public policy administration.

In the following pages, the approach of public policy implementation and good governance theory are discussed to comprehend the relationship between both concepts. A general overview of good governance practices and poor governance has also been reviewed below. At the last section, the explanation of good governance practice for effective public policy implementation is given with the situational analysis of solid waste management (SWM) policy.

Public Policy Implementation: Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approach

According to Matland (1995), public policy implementation is assumed to occur at two levels which are at macro implementation where the centrally located actors devise a government program and micro implementation where local level actors react to these plans and develop their own plans and implement them.

The top-down approach assumed that implementation begins with public policy objectives and implementation will follow in a linear fashion as product of a rational public administration model and which assumes distinct public policy formulation and implementation. The top-down approach lays emphasis on the actors who design the public policy and the factors which can be manipulated from the top or federal government (Schofield 2001). However, top-down approach emphasizes on the rational design of the public policy which can give benefit to all.

The top-down models see the starting point of implementation as identifies the central actors as most influential in producing the desired effects of the decision (Orquin et al. 2013). The characteristics of top-down approach of public policy have a minimum number of actors involved and limit the extent of change in content and implementation done through agencies which is responsible for public policy goals. The weakness of top-down approach of public policy is it fails to consider the significance of past actions in the same policy area. Besides that, it treats implementation as an administrative process and ignores the expertise of local implementers but sees them as impediments to implementation.

Bottom-up models developed from the main criticism of top-down models which ignored the behavioral aspect of implementation and the key role of local implementers (Schofield 2001). It is focusing on the motives and actions of actors involved in public policy implementation. Moreover, it assumes that formulation and implementation are an integrated process (Matland 1995). The bottom-up approach is emphasizing the target groups and service deliverers (Cerna 2013). Bottom-up public policy models are more practical as compared to the top-down public policy models because it’s considered public policy from the eye of target groups and service deliverers.

The criticism of the bottom-up public policy models is that it lays too much emphasis on the autonomy of local implementers, whereas public policy control needs to be done by actors whose power to formulate policies is derived by virtue of them being elected representatives. Further it is possible to influence the goals and strategies of the local actors by determining their institutional structure, resources made available to them, and their access to the actual implementation arena (Schofield 2001).

A combination of the top-down and bottom-up approaches occur when interest groups and stakeholders are build an unit of analysis like advocacy coalitions group who share the same set of beliefs and goals (Paudel 2009). To achieve a meaningful public policy formulation and implementation, it is appropriate that a specific public policy is used as the unit of analysis instead of a broad public policy area. Both top-down and bottom-up approaches can be used to prepare the implementation plan for public policy. However, it is dependent on the context and scope of public policy itself because the implementation plan developed should fit with the main objective of public policy.

Good Governance Theory

The analysis revolves on the theory of good governance, and it will first and foremost be defined here to create a basic knowledge of the concept. The theories of development have been changing from dealing with economic growth to concerning poverty reduction and human welfare. This is because political and social aspects were not taken into consideration together with the economic aspects. In modernization theory, development is concerned about the process of transforming traditional societies into rich and modern societies. Therefore, the theories and approaches emphasized on democracy, equality, redistribution, gender, participation, and empowerment have emerged (Degnbol-Martinussen 2004).

The World Bank first introduced the term “good governance” in 1989 and throughout the 1990. After that, it is becoming a much-used term in the development aid agenda. In fact, this good governance concept has been promoted by many international agencies like the United Nations (UN), International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and most Western government. The poor governance was claimed to be the reason for the poor development, which opened for the promotion of political development and the good governance agenda.

In the last decades, good governance becomes one of the most pressing requirements for the underdeveloped and developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America as a condition for international assistance and funding (Farazmand 2004). Therefore, the concept of good governance has been criticized by a number of leaders from underdeveloped and developing countries. They believe that the notion of good governance is an imperialistic and modern colonizing concept that shrinks the size of public administration and expands the private business sector through privatization. They also feel that this good governance concept paving the way of globalization capitalist corporation in searching high profit by dominating the business in developing and underdeveloped countries.

However, governance can be defined in various ways and secondly good is rather subjective. In fact, everyone wants good governance, but what is meant by the concept requires further elaboration. The implementation of good governance first and foremost depends on how governance is defined because it determines the area of operation. The understanding of governance changes from being a matter relating only to government to including something additional within politics, being public policies, institutions, a system of economic relationships, or nongovernmental bodies (Smith 2007).

Governance perceived as government focuses on the management of the public sector and the legal and administrative capacity, whereas governance including politics focuses on:

The way power and authority are exercised; the management of a country’s affairs; the relationships between rulers and ruled; how conflict is resolved; how interests are articulated and rights exercised; and so on. (Smith 2007)

The Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) operates with the broad approach to governance in its strategy for good governance, thus including elements within politics. The main focus is placed on the public sector in ensuring good governance, but DANIDA recognizes the importance of civil society groups and other non-state actors in holding the public sector accountable and in advocating needs and priorities (DANIDA 2007). Hence, DANIDA has defined governance as government plus nongovernmental bodies. The exact definition of good governance employed is the following:

The transparent and accountable management of human, natural, economic and financial resources for the purpose of equitable and sustainable development, in the context of a political and institutional environment that upholds human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law. (DANIDA 2007)

Moreover, good governance theory is reflecting the interest of the social science community in a shifting pattern in styles of governing (Stoker 1998). Since 1980, the theory of governance has been used to describe the change in political process of Western society (Toikka 2011). In fact, governance was traditionally defined as government. Government is referring to the formal institutions of the states and their monopoly of legitimate coercive power. Government is characterized by its ability to make decision and its capacity to enforce them. In particular government is understood referring to the formal and institutional processes which operate at the level of the nation state to maintain public order and facilitate collective action (Stoker 1998).

The contemporary theories on governance make a fundamental distinction between governance and government. However, the concept of governance has covered more broad issues when compared with the government concept. The different concepts of both theories have grab the attention of plenty scholars to study the reason of the shift of governing styles. In fact, governments have the formal authority to act which have powers to enforce compliance with their activities, rules, and policies. Therefore, stakeholders do not have the accessibility to interfere with the policy developed. In contrast, the governance concept has emphasized the partnership with all stakeholders in order to empower them and give them equal access to development and decision processes. Hence, the power of decision-making and development is not limited to formal authorities and institutions.

What is meant by good is thus that governance is transparent, accountable, ensuring equity and sustainable development and respecting human rights, and democratic principles. This illustrates the complexity of good governance concept in policy implementation. However, the main objective of good governance is to enhance public policy administration in wide perspectives.

Good Governance Practice

Good governance theory is frequently used to understand the good governance practices. Rose and Miller (1992) have highlighted that good governance practice is one of the techniques to deploy or translate the good governance theory. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), there are five main principles to practice good governance which includes legitimacy and voices, direction, performance, accountability, and fairness (Table 1). However, these good governance practices suggested by UNDP are a guideline to enhance the organization performance in the context of management and services. The good governance practices have been discussed broadly in improving the organization performance. Good governance practices are significant to explore to address the issue of poor governance in public policy implementation.
Table 1

Good governance practices based on principles (Graham et al. 2003)

Main principles

Good governance practices

Legitimacy and voices

Participation: All gender should have a voice in decision-making, either directly or through legitimate intermediate institutions that represent their intention. Such broad participation is built on freedom of association and speech, as well as capacities to participate constructively

Consensus oriented: It mediates differing interests to reach a broad consensus on what is in the best interest of the group and, where possible, on policies and procedures


Strategic vision: Leaders and the public have a broad and long-term perspective on good governance and human development, along with a sense of what is needed for such development. There is also an understanding of the historical, cultural, and social complexities in which that perspective is grounded


Responsiveness: Institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders

Effectiveness and efficiency: Processes and institutions produce results that meet needs while making the best use of resources


Accountability: Decision-makers in government, the private sector, and civil society organizations are accountable to the public, as well as to institutional stakeholders. This accountability differs depending on the organizations and whether the decision is internal or external

Transparency: Built on the free flow of information. Processes, institutions, and information are directly accessible to those concerned with them, and enough information is provided to understand and monitor them


Equity: All gender has opportunities

Rule of law: Legal frameworks should be fair and enforced impartially, particularly the laws on human rights

Poor Governance

The contrast for good governance is poor or bad governance. According to Coker and George (2014), poor governance is inability of organization to manage the resources effectively and solve the conflict among staffs or stakeholders in decision-making. In the context of government, poor governance becomes more pronounced when a state or government fails to meet the needs of the society even though it makes use of the best of all the resources at their disposal. Moreover, Owoye and Bissessar (2012) discussed poor governance as a contagious symptom of institutional and leadership failures. In summary, poor governance can be described as a flaw of organization to manage its resources in solving conflict and make a good decision. In fact, poor governance is something opposite to the practices of good governance.

Previous studies have discussed the main factor of poor governance is unaccountability (George 2013). Specifically, unaccountability indicates no strategic plan or no evidence that existing strategic plan has any impact to the organization. This example shows objectives and goals of organization are vague which would lead toward failure. Moreover, unaccountability also describes no evidence of proper monitoring in financial control and no planning to provide financial sustainability and reputational gain. This example exhibits unstable financial which would disturb operation work of organization.

Besides that, previous studies also highlighted that lack of openness and transparency is also one of the causes of poor governance (Adesola 2012). Lack of openness and transparency shows no annual report on organization performance. Besides that, all the information and decisions made by the governing body are not available to the staffs and relevant stakeholders. So, it is difficult for the staffs and stakeholders to access the information. In fact, decision made by the governing body should be disseminated effectively to the staffs and stakeholders who are responsible in operation work, so that what has been decided by the governing body is understandable by the staffs and stakeholder.

Good Governance Practice for Effective Public Policy Implementation: A Situational Analysis of Solid Waste Management Policy

Public policy is a tool used to control the activities of civilian to attain its ultimate goal which is public good. In the context of solid waste management, the policy was developed to reduce the impact of unsustainable waste management to human as well as to environment. In fact, to achieve effective solid waste management, policy implementation is not an easy task, but it is not impossible to be attained. In the context of developing countries, politics inevitably play a large role in solid waste management systems. The structure, functioning, and governance of solid waste management systems are affected by the relationship between central and local governments. The role of citizens in policy-making processes and policy implementation is less concerned. The effective policy implementation should involve the citizens. Hence, it is crucial to strike the right balance within the institutional and citizen perspective for effective solid waste management policy implementation.

Good governance practice is requiring the participation and collaboration of all relevant parties, including government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), community groups, and the private sector. Good governance allows low-income groups to influence policy and resource allocation, and therefore it is essential for equitable, effective, and efficient solid waste management policy implementation. Indeed, the efficiency, along with the effectiveness of SWM is one of the requirements in assessing good governance index. Low-income countries tend to lack appropriate governance institutions and structures typically found in high-income countries, such as public policy research institutions, freedom of information laws, judicial autonomy, auditor general, and police academies (Bhuiyan 2010). This lack of democratic structures and competent, representative local government creates barriers to proper solid waste management policy implementation.

Moreover, effective solid waste management policy implementation requires firmly established institutions to avoid controversies, ineffectiveness, and inaction, making solid waste management systems politically unstable. Even when regulatory and legislative frameworks exist, governments with weak institutional structures are easily overwhelmed by increasing demands for solid waste management as urban populations explode.

Institutional aspects also include the current and future legislation and the extent to which it is enforced. A straightforward, transparent, unambiguous legal and regulatory framework, including functioning inspection and enforcement procedures at the national, provincial, and local levels, is essential to the proper functioning of a solid waste management policy. According to Wilson (2007), there seems to be general consensus that weak institutions are a major issue in emerging and developing countries such as in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Russia. Institutional strengthening and capacity building are one of the major drivers in good governance practices. Hence, good governance practice in public policy implementation is very significant in developing countries.


The process of public policy which consists of policy formulation and implementation significantly requires good governance practice intervention. This level of governance action entails the guiding formulation with decision-making on public tasks. Besides that, public policy implementation refers to that part of governance that involves activities in relation to public tasks implied by the directional decisions of those tasks. However, the practice of governance in public policy implementation is depending upon policy delivery activity at stake. Given the multiple characters of the contexts in which practitioner of public administration is acting, we have acknowledged that the application of the governance practice will vary from situation to situation. Therefore, the study of public policy and governance is very significant nowadays. In fact, we need to appreciate the opportunities that are available in public policy process because there are a lot of opportunities for improvement.



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Earth ScienceUniversiti Malaysia KelantanJeliMalaysia