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The Process of Policy Implementation

Public Policy,

Many factors comprise and influence the process of public policy implementation of public policies. Academic researchers have analyzed the process through varying definitions of implementation, descriptions of implementation styles and structures, the roles of implementing actors, and ways of evaluation of public policy implementation. Currently experienced problems and previously established and implemented policies together act as a catalyst to new policy process and implementation, which transforms those policy inputs into outputs (Kiviniemi, 1986; Maryntz, 1979). Scholars view policy implementation as a processdecisions and actions that put a legislative decision into effect (Kiviniemi, 1986; Lester et al., 1987). Thus, the policy implementation process can be seen as a social action designed to effect a change-a marginal solution to an observed problem-in the government (Kiviniemi, 1986).

New public policies often take a long time to become an established routine (Kiviniemi, 1986). The time perspective varies from one policy to another, and there are no firm general criteria to determine “when a policy is ‘ripe’ with regard to its processes of implementation” (Kiviniemi, 1986, p. 254). In addition, it is difficult to precisely evaluate the success or failure of a public policy, as shown demonstrated by the fact that evaluations made by different interest groups seldom coincide” (Kiviniemi, 1986, p. 255).

Implementation is generally hierarchical, with influences flowing downward through the hierarchical levels via a chain of delegation to the service delivery level (Robichau & Lynn, 2009). The rational-comprehensive or classical model of policy implementation is an ideal in which democratically elected officials make unambiguous policy choices which are then turned over to a hierarchically structured agency for implementation (Fox , 1987). The top of the hierarchy passes down specific instructions to the line personnel, who carry them out without discretion (Fox , 1987). This model is an ideal, not an achievable expectation, but can be useful in providing a “backdrop ideal against which real world policy implementation is often measured” (Fox , 1987, p. 129).

Robichau and Lynn (2009) argue that because most public policy theories fail to conceptualize the distinct differences between policy outputs and policy outcomes, they “slight the administrative processes that constitute implementation” (p. 21). Thus, they view implementation as “the missing link in the study of public policy” (Robichau & Lynn, 2009, p. 22). Early studies of implementation basically detailed accounts of how a single policy was implemented, with a focus on describing the barriers to effective policy administration and implementation. Second generation studies, however, focused more on explaining why implementation succeeded or failed” (Lester, Bowman, Goggin, & O’Toole, 1987, p. 201). All studies have their limitations and shortcomings. For example, most studies concentrate on implementation processes at a certain moment, focusing on individual offers and their practices, rule applications, or styles of implementation, without analyzing these as a part of a longer historical development (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Most studies do not include a comparison of implementation in a variety of situations, simply because policy implementations studies demand significant time and energy (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). In addition, most of these studies 95). The institutional context of the implementation process is often rather neglected” (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001, p. 95). “Comparison of implementation styles between different periods is almost nonexistent.” (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001, p. 95-96.)

Terpestra and Havinga (2001) apply two perspectives in studies of policy mplementation: a focus on strategic action and a focus on an institutional analysis. The focus on strategic action primarily considers how individual implementation agents actively use rules and resources in their daily work to implement policy (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). The focus on institutional analysis primarily pays attention to the institutions in which the implementation process is organized (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Terpestra and Havinga note that the first approach is “strong on action and outcome of the practices that make up that system (Giddens, 1979; Terpestra & Havinga, 2001).

Because most policy sectors are interdependent to some degree, the agencies in charge of implementation must also work within horizontal relations of cooperation (Mayntz, 1979). Implementation structures vary dynamically, with changing groups of implementers, opponents, and outsiders that cross the institutional boundaries of both public agencies and of the public and private sectors (Kiviniemi, 1986). Within even a single policy field, there are often horizontal interdependencies which can influence the effectiveness of the implementation plan (Mayntz, 1979). The more people involved in implementing a program, the greater the risk of delay, which could result in at least partial failure if a policy operates under time restrictions” (Mayntz, 1979).

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There are several accepted policy implementation styles. Traditional policy implementation is based on tradition and traditional authority, with a limited number of formal rules which are often not very detailed in character (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Controlling implementation often occurs in a personal relation between implementing officer and supervisor, and officers must show their loyalty to authority and the dominant morality (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Lower-level implementation officers have little autonomy and important decisions are passed down from the top of the hierarchical organization (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). The traditional implementation style is associated paternalism and “authoritarian and moralizing patronization” and brings with it a strong risk of arbitrariness (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001, p. 104). Traditional implementation generally occurs in small, strongly hierarchical organizations within local communities (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001).

The bureaucratic style of policy implementation aims for impartial, uniform application of rules, and implementing officers are expected to be impartial, neutral, loyal to law and legislation, and to give equal treatment to every citizen (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Bureaucratic policy implementation came into being in part as a response to problems caused by traditional implementation (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Compared to the traditional style, bureaucratic implementation is predictable, more uniform and controllable, and offers more protection against unwanted government intervention (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). However, with this style comes the risk of increased rigidity, red tape, bureaucratic delay, and less ability to help implemented policy fit the situation of individual citizens or companies (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001).

In the professional style of implementation, expertise and professional education of officers are more important than in the bureaucratic style (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Implementation must still be accomplished in a legal framework, of course, but professional officials differ in how they work within the legal framework, especially compared with officials working in a bureaucratic style (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). In the professional style, rules are a framework or guideline, and the value of the rules are weighed in relation to the policy objectives or likely outcomes (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). If deemed necessary, professionals may deviate from the formal rules or create new rules in their place (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Unlike the bureaucratic style, the professional style does not view application of formal rules as the main task, and instead views achievement of goals as more important (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001).

Stimulated by the perceived need for stronger control of the implementation processes, particularly rising costs and inefficiency in the public sector, the managerial style of implementation gained ground in the 1980s and 1990s (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Operating in a more business-like manner, the managerial style is characterized by strict regulation of implementation processes and limited autonomy of street-level bureaucrats (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Far-reaching forms of regulation are primarily realized by creating quantitative measures, but unfortunately the strong emphasis on quantitative indicators can result in street-level workers concentrating on activities that are easy to control to the detriment of other important tasks (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). This may contribute to “a displacement of policy goals, and meeting the quantitative target may become a goal in itself” (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001, p. 106).

The rules that implementation officers apply are derived from the structure of the policy implementation system. This structure constrains officers in their implementation task, but also enables and offers opportunities, and these structural properties are the central dimension of what Giddens calls the “duality of structure” (Giddens, 1979; Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Structure and actions of implementation officers are connected through these structural properties; they draw upon these structural properties, while simultaneously making them manifest” (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001, p. 98).

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The heart of the implementation process is the relationship between governmental actors and non-governmental actors (Kiviniemi, 1986). Policy implementation research shows that governmental actors are generally regarded as subjects and the non-governmental actors as objects (Kiviniemi, 1986). Both groups are inherently capable because they do not simply react to their circumstances; they have the power to intervene in their environment (Kiviniemi, 1986). There is nearly always some autonomy of discretion (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). In addition, implementing professionals act purposefully and “draw on taken-for-granted, routine-based, everyday stocks of knowledge” (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001, p. 97). Street-level bureaucrats know how to deal with a variety of clients, although they may not immediately be aware of which informal rules and typifications they applying in their interactions (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). The implementing actors often use discursive, reflexive knowledge that is only “mobilized at the moment they have to account for their actions,” using their knowledge of legal concepts, formal rules, and policy categories (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001, p. 97).

The implementing officer maintains at least three types of relationships in the implementation process (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). He or she maintains relations with political or bureaucratic superiors due ot the nature of being the last link in the policy chain (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). These street-level bureaucrats generally have several ways to resist pressure from superiors in spite of the hierarchical nature of the implementation relationships (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Politicians and managers often rely on the lower-level bureaucrats who control the access to relevant resources, information, and the client(s) (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). In addition, officials frequently must work with horizontal implementation networks of organizations, which are highly dependent on the distribution of resources and the extent of any interdependence between the organizations involved in implementing a particular process (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Lastly, implementation officials maintain relations with the policy-target-the policy clients-who often have a degree of power to obstruct the daily work routines of officers (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). In each of these relationships “the most important (counter-)power of the implementation officer is the maintenance and strategic use of autonomy” (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001, p. 100).

Because they are human, the implementing officers may bring weaknesses to the process. The practices of implementing officers can be influenced by their motivation, and in addition to the bureaucratic-neutral motives, they may have political or personal motives as well (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). The knowledge of street-level implementation also be limited (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001). Because they often work under circumstances they have not chosen and cannot control, their knowledge of these circumstances may be only partial.

Many people and agencies are involved in the implementation process, which makes the evaluation of implementation even more complex. Implementation evaluation primarily considers “the timely and satisfactory performance of…necessary tasks related to carrying out the intent of the law” (Lester et al., 1987, p. 210). Evaluation of success and failure of implementation process considers the extent to which program goals have been met and how much measurable change in the larger problem was addressed (Lester et al., 1987).

Policies can fail for many reasons, including being based on mistaken assumptions about the tendencies and motivations of the target group and wrong theories about the nature of the problem or of the objective nature of the problem (Maryntz, 1979). More recently, it has become “widely recognized that the success or failure of a policy often depends on the behavior of the administrative organizations charged with its implementation” (Maryntz, 1979, p. 634). Mayntz (1979) categorizes policies based on content. Regulatory policies aim to regulate specific behaviors, incentive policies offer financial aid to encourage certain behaviors, and service policies offer financial transfers to those meeting specific criteria. During the process of policy implementation, each policy type has its own discrepancies between policy goals and real outcome that may occur (Mayntz, 1979). The failure of regulatory policy failure can result in the violation of established rules and norms, the failure of incentive policy can be seen in goal displacement, and the failure of service policy can result in “unintended and undesirable selectivities”-those other than the target group utilizing the service most (Mayntz, 1979, p. 638). Thus, effective policy implementation is the combined result of program features, agency behavior, and target group reactions” (Mayntz, 1979).

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The reality of implementation is “action as a continuous process of interaction with a changing and changeable policy situation and intentions” (Kiviniemi, 1986, p. 258). It is a complex structure of interactions in which “the outside world necessarily interferes with implementation, because governmental action is designed to impinge upon it, and where implementing actors are inherently difficult to control” (Kiviniemi, 1986, p. 258). The struggle about political ends and means of policy implementation is continuous (Terpestra & Havinga, 2001).

New public policies often take a long time to become an established routine (Kiviniemi, 1986). The time perspective varies from one policy to another, and there are no firm general criteria to determine “when a policy is ‘ripe’ with regard to its processes of implementation” (Kiviniemi, 1986, p. 254). In addition, it is difficult to precisely evaluate the success or failure of a public policy, as shown demonstrated by the fact that evaluations made by different interest groups seldom coincide” (Kiviniemi, 1986, p. 255). Some scholars surmise that implementation in any given year may simply be the result of implementations in that and prior years, and also note that agencies with greater internal resources have a greater capacity to engage in successful implementation (Shull & Garland, 1995). Many factors influence and comprise the implementation of public policies, and researchers have analyzed the process through varying definitions of implementation, descriptions of implementation styles, descriptions of the roles of implementing actors, and ways of evaluation of public policy implementation.


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