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Definition of policy

9. Obviously we must not get bogged down in mere semantics; on the other hand the word "policy", which appears in the title of this paper and of the ALPAN network, is a very elastic term and we need some working definition of it from which we can all start together even if we choose to amend it thereafter. In the following paragraphs I explore slightly our concept of "policy" as demonstrated by our use of the word in the English language. I appreciate that the French equivalent of the term may have slightly different connotations.

10. A "policy" is very much like a decision or a set of decisions, and we "make", "implement" or "carry out" a policy just as we do with decisions. Like a decision a policy is not itself a statement, nor is it only a set of actions, although, as with decisions, we can infer what a person's or organisation's policy is either from the statement he makes about it, or, if he makes no statement or we don't believe his statement from the way he acts. But, equally, we can claim that a statement or set of actions is misleading and does not faithfully reflect the "true" policy.

11. In some other ways a policy is not like a decision. The term policy usually implies some long-term purpose in a broad subject field (e.g. land tenure), not a series of ad-hoc judgements in unrelated fields. Sometimes, however, we conceive of policy not so much as actively purpose oriented but rather as a fairly cohesive set of responses to a problem that has arisen. In the sphere of government development activities, governments have policies, plans, programmes and projects, each of these in succession being a little more short-term, more specific in place and timing than the previous and each successively more executive rather than legislative.

12. In the light of these considerations we can provisionally define a policy as a set of decisions which are oriented towards a long-term purpose or to a particular problem. Such decisions by governments are often embodied in legislation and usually apply to a country as a whole rather than to one part of it.


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