Policy, planning and legislation: An introduction

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Term: 2014
Published: February 6, 2014
Revised: February 19, 2014

Fact sheet

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Fact sheet: Policy, planning and legislation: An introduction Prof Darrell Abernethy All Rights Reserved

In the sphere of animal or public health, policies are necessary to delineate governmental responses to potential or actual threats. Here are some examples where policy-making is required:

  • ensuring that animal diseases do not threaten food security either directly (e.g. through loss of animal productivity) or indirectly (e.g. through control measures preventing free movement of animal commodities and products);
  • educing the risk of zoonoses and food-borne pathogens in animal products and their effect on human health;
  • ensuring access to markets for livestock commodities and products;
  • mitigating potentially negative effects of livestock production or agricultural practices on biodiversity conservation, in particular, wildlife; and
  • promoting animal welfare.

In the context of transboundary animal diseases (TADs), international policy is vital because rapid cross-border spread is a feature of these infections and the actions of individual countries may impact on other countries in the Region or further afield. International policy related to TADs management is therefore a prime area of activity of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the relevant division of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN). At the regional level, regional economic communities (RECs) such as SADC (Southern African Development Community) try their best to coordinate regional animal health policy.

Policy making can be a messy process as it is done in the real world and there are no formal rules to govern how policy is determined. There may not be time for measured thinking, or resources may be inadequate for proper implementation. Stakeholders with different and even conflicting interests may try to influence government policy in a direction favourable to them. Powerful private organisations with significant financial resources may lobby hard and sway policy makers to their side while public opinion, often affected by the media, will have a strong impact on influencing political leaders. Sometimes government departments have to make decisions in the absence of clear information, resources may be insufficient to implement the desired policies or the legislation may be too weak to properly underpin the proposed actions. In most cases, the effectiveness of the outcome is only seen on hindsight and amendment of the policies may be politically or financially difficult.

Are there any principles which might guide policymakers or help one identify the characteristics of “good” v “bad” policy? Hallworth and Butler cite seven fundamentals of good policy making (http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publication...):

  • Clarity on goals
  • Open and evidence-based idea generation
  • Rigorous policy design
  • Responsive external engagement
  • Thorough appraisal
  • Clarity on the role of central government and accountabilities
  • Establishment of effective mechanisms for feedback and evaluation.

Another key element of policy making is that of roles and responsibilities. In some parts of the world there is a trend towards decentralisation and greater involvement of the private sector. This reduces the burden on government resources or the taxpayer and, in some cases, leads to greater efficiency. Consider the example of compensation for animals compulsorily slaughtered when disclosed with a controlled disease. At first this may seem a simple issue: farmers should be compensated for animals they are forced to slaughter. But on reflection, it is more complex. Firstly, one must ask if government should pay for diseased animals that, by law, cannot be marketed (because of movement controls). There are very few cases in the non-livestock private sector where government funds resolution of problems – if a building catches fire or a company causes an environmental spill, society doesn’t expect government to pay for the organisations’ losses. Secondly, should the industry share in the cost, or pay altogether, for example, through levies on milk production or carcases processed? Thirdly, no matter who pays, the level of compensation must be decided: too low and farmers will not cooperate or worse, may try to sell their animals rather than surrender them; too high and farmers may actually benefit from having infection in their herds, with negative consequences for any disease control programme (so-called moral hazard). Fourthly, the logistics of payment and enforcement must be taken into account. Compensation is only a small part of animal health or agricultural programmes so one can appreciate the great complexity for initiating and implementing policies across the entire sector!

In a perfect world, policy makers create policy in an environment of perfect knowledge, where they can assess the evidence, which all points in one direction (towards increasing truth), carefully weigh up the alternatives and then implement a perfect strategy. This utopian dream never happens. Indeed the exact opposite is usually the case: policies are often needed because there is imperfect knowledge and/or conflicting evidence, and government (or civil society) must address the issues confronting them.

This module introduces the key principles in policy making and evaluation and uses several case studies to illustrate key points. The module includes the following sections:

  • Essentials of “effective” policy creation: understanding the what, who and how.
  • Evidence-based or evidence-informed? The role of science and uncertainty in policy.
  • Policy analysis: The process of policy making and implementation.
  • Public policy or private strategy? The role of government versus the private sector in animal health.
  • Case studies:  Control of transboundary animal diseases and animal identification/traceability.

 

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