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Public policy processes in the Pacific islands: A study of policy initiation, formulation and implementation in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Samoa and regional inter-governmental organisations

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posted on 15.11.2021, 16:21 by Roberts Aiafi, Muliagatele Ausiamanaia Potoae

This thesis examines the manner in which public policies are initiated, formulated and implemented in Pacific island countries and regional organisations, and determines the factors which are most critical for their effective implementation. It employs narrative inquiry and grounded theory approaches, supported by the computer software Nvivo, to data collection and analysis of case studies from Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, and key regional inter-governmental organisations. 128 semi-structured interviews were drawn from ten policy cases (three for each of the Pacific island countries and one from the Region’s Pacific Plan), together with a general narrative of the policy environment spread across all four contexts. A social constructionism worldview allows for the grounding of the research and its findings for both subject and context of the study. Participant voices are utilised as rich descriptions of policy processes, triangulation provided by documentary analyses and participant observation.   Motivating this inquiry was my observation of the lack of visibly significant improvements in service delivery in Samoa and other Pacific island countries. These perceptions echoed criticisms in the literature about the slow improvement of development performance across the region despite high levels of foreign aid. Yet, such assessments often lack a solid understanding about the actual processes of public policy in the Pacific islands. Prevailing theories of public policy have remained largely westernised, and lenses to development primarily ethnocentric.  Accordingly, this study’s findings shed light on the strengths and limitations of current public policy and development scholarships evident from Pacific public policy experiences. There are five key findings: First, policy processes have remained heavily top-down, shaped significantly by political and external interests, and where society has been the neglected element. In essence, the genesis of public policy has been insufficiently rooted in the context, problems and needs to which policies have been directed. This constitutes a significant democratic and development deficit that must be addressed in ongoing public policy development. Second, the use of evidence-based policy has been limited. While existing formal policies were often those transferred from elsewhere, and which do not fit well in the receiving context and culture, the practices were ad hoc, driven by various ideological or social constructions. Third, the success of policy and its implementation depends on mutually reinforcing factors of policy culture and stakeholder support, capability, implementation modality and leadership. These factors are critical for ensuring that participation, partnership, ownership, understanding and learning are built into policy processes. Fourth, the integration of these elements into ongoing public policy development of Pacific island countries and the region requires a fundamental shift of focus about the role of society, particularly the adaptive capability of indigenous systems to legitimise notions of public policy in state-society relationships. Fifth, following a meta-analysis and synthesis of the four (country) case studies, the overall findings are conceptualised into a (explanatory) model of public policy. This model is a heuristic one that could be used when thinking about adopting and designing public policies in the Pacific islands capable of effective implementation. The model could be applied to non-Pacific small island developing states.  Finally, the model provides a framework for discussing the normative implications of this study’s findings for public policy and development theory, practice and needed future research, and yielded five broad recommendations for future improvement: (1) the centrality of context; (2) societal needs incorporated into the public policy space; (3) focus on the political dimensions of further reforms; (4) international support that is more appreciative of context; and (5) needed changes to the way in which we think about development public policy.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Pacific Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Government


Hassall, Graham; Eichbaum, Chris