What is ‘policy’? Where is it coming from? Who is formulating it and how? What are the characteristics of existing policies? These questions concern the nature of (public) policy processes in any context. This article addresses these questions for the Pacific islands. It draws on empirical evidence from a research to show the nature of the policy processes in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Samoa and key regional intergovernmental organisations. Policy processes have remained heavily top-down, shaped significantly by political and external interests; society has been the neglected element. In essence, the genesis of public policy has been insufficiently rooted in the context, problems and needs of societies to which policies have been directed. While existing 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. The implications of these findings for both theory and practice are discussed.