| Delmar Blasco, secretary general, Ramsar Convention Bureau
A stand-alone, unique wetland policy draws considerable attention to wetland issues.... Articulation of clear goals and objectives for these ecosystems identify clear responsibilities of the government and an expectation that the government will actually deliver on these commitments. What is a wetland policy'
It is important to be clear on what “policy” is, and perhaps more importantly, what it is not. Policy has been defined as “a collection of principles which indicate intended and acceptable activity or direction for an organization or government.” ...
Certainly, any policy must be viewed as a statement of the considerations which will guide both rational decisions and actions. It is within this definition of policy that the following guidelines for developing and implementing national wetland policies under the convention on wetlands are proposed.
The term “national wetland policy” has been used elsewhere in the same sense as “national wetland plan” or “national wetland strategy”. It is impossible to clearly separate all such terms... In this document “policy” generally refers to a clearly published statement by a national or sub-national government, often with measurable goals, timelines and commitments plus budgets for action. In some cases, a “plan” or “strategy” falls short of this benchmark, articulating a vision of where the government wishes to go with a listing of potential activities and partnerships that may require further definition of the specific timelines, budgets and measurable commitments. All national wetland policies, plans and strategies are recognized as vitally important; there is no attempt here to diminish the effort to achieve them in practice and no attempt is made to signify which terms or particular definitions are the most appropriate.
...There remains a lack of precise use and standard definition of the terms wetland “policy”, “plan” and “strategy”. In attempting to survey the global picture regarding national wetland policies, the authors indeed have noted that many agencies and governments have used these words interchangeably.
A policy is perhaps most commonly thought of as a document, and it is certainly convenient to package it in a usable form like this. It may also be helpful to think of policy-making as a process, involving consensus-building, encapsulation of ideas and commitments, implementation, accountability and review. Policy might be seen as the highest level in a hierarchy. It is a mechanism for an administration to capture the public will or mandate on an issue, and refine it with its own vision. How a national legislature or government then deals with this may go beyond policy by means of legislation. An implementing agency may also deal with a policy by means of strategies and programmes of action.
Policies derive their effectiveness and legitimacy from many sources. Some policies are approved by either a government as a whole or by an individual minister. One must bear in mind that political approval of a policy does not guarantee its “on the ground” success. In many cases, the process used to develop the policy is its greatest source of strength, particularly when dealing with broad issues and multiple stakeholder interests.
The policy will reflect attitudes, express desired principles, state intentions (e.g. often phrased in the form of goals/ objectives/ aims), show what choices have been made about strategic directions, make commitments, provide a focus for consensus, express concerns and provide advice, and make roles and responsibilities clear.