The basic elements of policy

What Policy Is: A Brief Definition

Policy can briefly be described as a set of measures enacted by a government department, agency or institution taken — or refrained from — so as to remedy, enhance some desired  consequence or to conversely mitigate some undesired consequence. In modern South Africa, policy touches virtually all aspects of life. Policy often a layered phenomenon, with one policy encapsulating a further set of sub-policies meant to bring it into realisation. Further, different policies can overlap as they are different aspects of a singular intended end.

The South African Case

For example, South Africa’s economic policy is primarily concerned with remedying unemployment in the country so as to enhance economic prosperity and therefore mitigate various socioeconomic outcomes such as instances of xenophobia. In seeking to reduce unemployment (and as South Africa operates in a globalised economy), the government has to enact trade policies which are conducive to South Africa’s domestic situation, while also grappling with potential opposition from other countries. Finally, the South African government’s arrangement of various clusters, especially the International Cooperation Trade and Security (ICTS) cluster (composed of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, the National Intelligence Committee, the State Security Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Science and Technology, the National Treasury, the Department of Tourism, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the South African Police Services, the Department of Correctional Services, the Department of Public Service and Administration, the South African Revenue Service, Government Communication and Information Service, International Marketing Council, Department of Home Affairs and Stats SA), and the fact that virtually all departments within the government have an international affairs desk, is indicative of the extent to which aspirations for job creation, prosperity, scientific progress, security, environmental sustainability, and justice are intertwined and therefore require cooperation across departments and therefore synergy among policy measures (creating private sector incentives, championing economic diplomacy, participating in regional integration, and membership in international legal regimes).


At the Foreign Affairs and Policy Institute of South Africa (FAPISA), we are interested in: firstly, the nature of this domestic-foreign/public-private policy interaction; secondly, the results that have been yielded in relation to it; and, thirdly, how its points of effectiveness may be enhanced while its shortcomings corrected. Our  research, conducted from a multiplicity of perspectives befitting the complex nature of policy, assesses just such questions and seeks to provide clear answers through transparent methodologies based on the South African context as the primary site for analysis, while more than occasionally using broader settings for comparison.

See our current Research and Publications pages for practical demonstrations of how our network of leading Research Associates is going about assessing these fascinating and important issues.