This concept is quite vital as it impacts the very formation of public policies, and their subsequent implementation. Herein, there lies conflict as to which of the two – public interest and/or public policy – supersedes the other. Scholars the world over chew bones of contention regarding not only the basic definition, but also as to whether there can ever be a streamlining of both private and public interests to ensure a cohesive co-existence for all.
A universally-accepted ideology is that the notion of public interest should encompass substantive ideals, against which diverse arrays of policy proposals should be judged, for instance, the achievement of an improved social welfare. Conversely, there exists a perspective that public interest is a process, embodied in the emergent concept of pluralism, which subscribes to the assumptions that ‘groups’ are vital so as to foster public interest. It postulates that citizens are free to organize their interests and that bargaining and competition between diverging groups will facilitate the arrival at the desired ‘public interest’.
A shortcoming of this interest group approach is that not only does it adversely affect bureaucratic systems by neglecting the plight of the weak in society, but also, it may give a platform for unrepresentative organizations that may purport to represent members’ preferences, or even those that are illegal in nature. A general concession is that interest groups politics tend to work towards furthering interests of a chosen few in the communal setting.
However, the crucial question that begs is what exactly constitutes public interest on a particular issue, such that each group – until then – will assert its existence as being the furtherance of the same. Consequently, there arises the need for a mediator, in the form of a public administrator, playing a legislative function among the afore-mentioned interest groups. These personnel should be bound by professional, personal and political values, all of which lead to different attitudinal mindsets that determine required services needed to achieve public interest.
(Gortner, 1991:150-178) These personnel make decisions as to how given guidelines will be interpreted in varying scenarios. However, their chief role is determining what actually constitutes public interest, selecting between alternatives and acting accordingly. The values attributable to the administrators are usually conflicting in nature, and a way of balancing the same is developing representative bureaucracy, or rather one that effectively contains a mix of the various backgrounds in economic, social and ethnic ideals.
Gortner, Harold. Ethics for Public Managers. London :Greenwood Press,1991: 150-204