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Role of social movement in public policy


There have been many social movements in the history of India that have drastically changed the societies in which they occurred. There have been many social movements those who were not much successful and have failed as well. These movements have assorted in wide range in their ideologies; some movements have been revolutionary in their agenda, some have recommended reforms to the ongoing system, and others still have been struggling for a change and have worked to oppose the laws and changes in society which seems difficult for the public to accept. Social movements have diversified in scope as well. Social movements are universal and found in all societies in both past and present. Their nature, scope and prevalence vary with time. With the early period of political emergence, social movements shaped the state, its functions, responsibilities as well as made the state accountable. They also played an important role in administering and issuance of power in various parts of the society. In modern times they have played a very important role in challenging the government and the authority, foreign rules and authoritarian regimes. May it be French and Russian revolutions or Indian freedom movement or various peasant movements, it still throws a heartfelt and intense impact on our life. From the movement in Germany to Hindutva movement in India or Tamilian movement in Sri Lanka have not only influenced political system but also encourage the people to come forward and demand for their rights. Their legacies influence us all in various ways which remains for a long time.

Social Movement

Social movement, a roughly organized but undergo campaign in support of a social goal and aim, typically either to implement or to prevent the change that take’s place in society’s structure or values. Although social movements have different size, they're all essentially collective. That is, they result from the more or less unforced and unsolicited coming together of individuals whose relationships aren't defined by rules and procedures but who merely share a standard outlook of a society.

Social movements are wide association or union of people who are connected because of their shared interest in the social change. Social movements can be done for a particular social change, but they can also organize to oppose a social change that is being done by another organization. These movements not necessarily have to be formally conducted in order to be considered social movements. Different association can work individually for common causes and still be considered a social movement.

Three important elements of a social movement:

They are:

(1) collective action;

(2) social change and

(3) common purpose.

Stages of Social Movements

There are four stages during a social movement. The four stages of movement evolution are emergence, coalescence or amalgamation, bureaucratization, and decline. The last stage, the decline stage may result from several different causes, like suppression, conversion, success, failure, and mainstream.

One of the untimely scholars to evaluate and gauge on movement processes was Herbert Blumer, who identified and evaluated four stages of social movements’ lifecycles. The four stages he mentioned were: “social ferment,” “popular excitement,” “formalization,” and “institutionalization” . Since his early work, scholars have clarified and renamed these four stages but the primary themes have remained relatively constant.

Public Policies

Public policies are termed as the decisions of government, and are actually the outcome of activities which the government takes place in implementation of certain goals and objectives. It can also be implied that public policy formulation and implementation involve a well-planned pattern or course of action or activity. It needs a in depth closely bonded relationship and interaction between the significant governmental institutions like the political executive, legislature, bureaucracy, and judiciary.

The essential element of public policy is goal and aim. Public Policies are always goal oriented. Public policies are constructed and implemented in order to achieve the certain objectives which the government has in view for the future to attain the ultimate benefit of the masses in public. These policies clearly show the programs of the government. Public policy is the nothing but the results of the government’s communal activities. Public policy is what the government actually decides or chooses to do after looking at the public situation. It is a specific relationship of the government units to the political environment in a provided administrative system. It can be known by different of names like law, ordinances, court decisions, executive orders, decisions etc. Public policy is positive in the sense that it depicts the concern of the government and involves its action to a meticulous issue on which the policy is made and implemented. It has the sanction of judiciary and higher authority behind it.

Stages in making of a public policy

A short and brief highlight on the five stages of public policy will elucidate the actual procedure of India’s public policy. The primary stage of policy making is setting up an agenda. A fix goal and aim are set which is kept in view to be achieved in future, at the end. The next stage is policy formulation in public policy process. Through this procedure the demands of the system are changed into policies. The third stage i.e., the policy interpretation stage, the formulated public policy is further simplified and explained in order to create it totally understandable and acceptable. The after that stage in public policy process is policy implementation. In this stage government try to execute the formulated policy. In order to do that sometimes the government through mass-media try to create the public aware of the formulated policies. Government attempt to implement and execute the made policies in the society. After this comes the last stage of policy evaluation, when the policies are orderly executed in the central, state and local stages. To evaluate and know the impact of policies over the public , it's very essential to stay an eye fixed on the implementation process. To ascertain that expenditure doesn't exceed and to ascertain that policies are it is positively affecting those for whom they're being done. For this proper monitoring of policy evaluation at the end has got to be done. Proper and appropriate administrative and adjudicative functions are necessary to keep an entire control in more than the general public policies. Between all the stages it also involves a stage which is not considered a main but has an at most importance in the policy making process. It is budgeting. Budgeting and having an eye on the expenditure is also an essential work to do.

Actors of Policy Making process:

  • Role of the Executive in the Policy-making Process: The executive consists of the president, the prime minister, the governor, ministers, exceptional advisers, notable assistants, top political aides and the administrators. The main power of the executive is to execute public policies and to oversee, coordinate and run ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that are involved in the implementation of policies.

  • Role of Legislators in Policymaking: Legislators are known as the members of parliaments. As specified before, the legislators are the primary policymakers. They own direct constitutional authority to start and initiate policies. As elected law makers, they represent their people from different constituencies. Consequently, they’re anticipated to collect and accumulate the views, interests, demands and issues of their constituents, harmonize them and convert them into policy goals for the legislature. Such policy goals and aims are subjected to the whole legislative processes of reading, debating and scrutiny. Policies formulated from such proposals are then forwarded to the presidents for his assent. Formulated policies build policy programmers and needs actions which the executive will then implement and evaluate. Legislators do not create and develop policy goals from their people only. They also draft policies from their fellow legislators and the executive.

  • Role of the Judiciary in Policymaking: The judiciary consists of the judges and the courts. Their main responsibilities are the interpretation of the constitution and the laws, as well as settlements of conflicts between individuals, interest groups, different governmental institutions and the other levels of government. It is informative to know that the judiciary is not constitutionally empowered to initiate or start and formulate policies. However, through the explanation of the constitution and laws, it contributes remarkably to the policy making process. There are four main instruments that the judiciary engage to react to policies. Instruments such as judicial review, statutory interpretation of cases brought before the judges, formulation of economic policies and judicial activism.

  • Role of Administrators in Policymaking: As discussed earlier, administrators are known as supplementary policy makers. They get their authority and powers from primary policy makers before they take any action. They are certainly dependent on the primary policy makers. Administrators work directly under the supervision of executive of the government as they are implementers of public policy. The role of administrators in the policy process has become so important and vital, and this has gone beyond the mere implementation of policies.

  • Role of Bureaucracy in Policy Making: Policy making is frequently a non-linear process. It is gradual and put through to influences exerted by broad number of actors. Though it is based on policy learning inputs, always it may not emerge from it. In reality, however, bureaucracy is involved in depth with the proper elocution and shaping of policies, as the policy process necessitate the identification of policy problems and agenda of policy. Civil servants have to conduct in a new inclination to the rules by which the conduct of public affairs has to be managed every day. Civil servants have much to contribute to the shaping and not just implementation of the policy. The role of bureaucracy in policy making is somewhat informative, well organized, suggestive and many a time it is analytical.

  • Unofficial Policymakers: They do not occupy formal place or positions or political offices in the system of policy making. They are not a part of government but they obtain their importance and policy-making roles from government and the official policymakers. They are involved, mainly, in harnessing their interests and demands, harmonizing and coordinating them and influencing the official policymakers to factor these interests and demands into the policy making process. These unofficial policy makers comprise interest groups, political parties and individual citizens.

Relation between social movements and public policies

When we talk about the relationship of public policy and social movement, they maintain a two-way relationship between them. Public policies may tend to create social movements. Similarly, social movements may lead to the emergence of new public policies. But generally social movements emerge as a result of changes made in public policies. The reason is that social groups, be of the opinion that they will be adversely affected by the changes made in public policies, may get together and mobilize in order to express their demands and hence this may lead to the emergence of a new social movement. The latter comes into alive when public policies are remolded in line with the demands voiced by social movements. In the field of public policy, while the influences of social movements are considered relatively extrinsic and prohibitive factors, in the history of social movement, these influences are regarded as outcomes of the social movement process.

The basic aim of any government’s concern is supply of economic infrastructure and goods and services, intention to resolve of conflict situations, protecting the natural resources, stabilization of economy, promoting the human welfare and social justice. These get converted into public policies which are made, implemented and evaluated by the legislature and the executive. A social movement’s ability is to change or transform any policy in line with its demands depends on many internal or external factors related to the given social movement. Internal factors basically comprise of demands raised by the social movement, its strategies, schemes and form of organization. The vital external factor is the feasible reaction of public or private actors prepared to maintain current policy to the given social movement and also the “counter-struggle” they will make. Therefore, in the analysis of the impact of a social movement on a public policy, it is of great importance to inspect the reaction of actors that want to maintain the given policy in the same form, which the social movement challenge and aspires to change. Moreover, there are some other external factors that should also be considered.

Effects of social movements in Public Policies

  • Advantages

Article 19(1) of our Indian constitution grants every citizen the right to freedom speech and expression which includes right to assemble and protest without arms.

The right to protest, publicly makes government answerable and accountable. If so, one is left untold at the way in which the current government sidesteps issues, he can wilfully obstruct any attempt to discuss over the matter. It has become a habit of government to take decisions secretively, impose them on an unprepared people and then, when questioned, challenged, to campaign in order to retrospectively justify its non-transparent midnight decisions. Hence the right to protest gives a bright chance to amend and change some of those political mistakes by putting light on the defects on the policies. The protests bring on points which needs to be rectified by raising the voices and putting it forward to the policy makers. Sometimes it helps to reform the policies and leads to making of a new policy. And often when the government becomes busy with other works and overlooks some of the aspects, the agitated people always has their own way out by hoarding lawful protests.

Protests and social movements have become more visible and familiar during the last few decades. The amount of literature pointing on the links between movements and policy has significantly increased. Nevertheless, scholars do think that there is a lack of advancements, careful analysis and attention to develop the countries regarding these links.

Making of policy is always a matter of importance and public welfare and hence, it is important for the people to accept it and understand its motive of formation. But at the same time, policies are also made to feed the democratic needs of a country for example, better economic stability, better foreign communication etc. and so, for the common good of the country, sometimes a few groups of people may face some discomfort but it is expected from them to understand the cause of the policy and react accordingly. But at the same time, on the other hand, the govt sometime fails to understand the needs of the majority and focuses too much on other aspects leading to a larger group unpleased crowd resulting into chaos and movements.

Simultaneously, there are demands of the public which rises as a repercussion to recent events which agitates people and make them ask for immediate solutions taking them down to streets asking for quick implementation.

  • Disadvantages

As its already mentioned, that protests do hold a lot of importance in the policy making procedure of a country, it also carries some negativities along with it.

There is a unlawful protests including the riots and chaos. Now We see that the mass movements often include a lot of media involvement and political supervision. This however is good for some demands, but also is a distraction from the more important issues that are needed to tackled. All the eyes and ears of the media and govt becomes so busy with an ongoing agitation that other important aspect gets subsided.

Stating about other sides, the unlawful protests i.e., the riots has been of no good since forever. Maybe riots ultimately results in the fulfilment of demands but is always accompanied with a loss of resources be it humans or materials. People become aggressive and turn on to destroy public buses or trains, or even blow-up police stations and no of killed people are endless. Not only sometimes a protestant loses his life but also simple common man, who has nothing to do with the riot, loses his life to this violent unlawful event.

Apart from that, not only illegal riots but legal protests can also lead to misguidance of the governmental decision making. So, there are different groups of people in this society and a policy implemented and act differently to different organizations of people. Hence it may not be the case that majority of people are protesting but somehow the demands of the minority mat get granted, which is ultimately a misguidance of public opinion.


In this article, we put forward that the use of public policy approaches in with social movement approaches are helpful in understanding the role of social movements in the formation, execution and change of public policies. We particularly believe that social movement approaches will be a guiding light for the “policy process” especially in respect of matters emphasized in public, and social movement approaches will give important clues about how and to what extent social movements can influence the policy process. Public policy attempts to inspect how and by which actors a public policy is formulated in the light of which factors, and how it is implemented. Social movement seeks to understand how social movements emerge by the influence of public policies and demands of public in certain policies. In what way they affect the policy process and its consequences in our society in the present. However, be it advantages or disadvantages, there always remains an impact of protests and public’s reaction to policies in the process of their making. Again, as policies are ultimately for public’s welfare, hence, they have a right to voice their agreement and disagreement about the same and have a platform to uphold their demands. Thus, the combined use of both sources will be helpful in understanding how social movements influence the public policy process and will help to bring better policies in the society.

By Abhipsa Baral

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