The public policy – action relationship
The public policy – action relationship

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The public policy – action relationship

1 Models of implementation

1.1 Policy delivery

The question of policy delivery seems to be growing in importance. So, for example, the Blair governments in the UK were, from the outset, preoccupied with ‘delivery, delivery, delivery’ as ministers and prime minister grew increasingly frustrated with what was often viewed as the intransigence of public service professionals. The constant cycle of change, in which new policies and initiatives were introduced in rapid succession, producing what critics described as ‘policy overload’ or ‘initiativitis’, can be understood in part as a result of prime ministerial and ministerial frustration. This also produced an explosion of new regulatory mechanisms – targets, standards, audit requirements, inspections and new performance regimes – in an attempt to ensure that organisations conformed to the policy requirements of government. But, as you will see, this was only the latest in a long series of attempts by central governments in the UK and elsewhere to enforce their policies. This course focuses on the relationship between ‘structure’ and ‘agency’. The questions pursued here can be summarised as follows:

  • How do people (public service professionals, managers, front-line staff, as well as those working in voluntary and non-profit organisations) act (or exert their agency) in the context of the funding and policy constraints (the structures) that govern their work?

  • How do they negotiate the dilemmas that they are faced with as different policies interact, or as new policies conflict with professional, organisational or community-based values?

  • How do they work in partnership with others to deliver complex policy outcomes at the same time as trying to meet the performance requirements placed on their ‘own’ organisations?

  • How do they manage the interface between different conceptions of ‘what works’ – especially where their own professional view of good practice conflicts with a policy based on a different evidential base?

This section introduces four different models of change and assesses their relevance to understanding the policy process. Exploring these models involves addressing their relevance to particular policy trends – the focus on ‘joined-up government’ and partnership, the emphasis on ‘what counts is what works’ in policy making and delivery, the shift towards involving the public itself in the policy process, and so on. Note that such models are both explanatory (they help illuminate reality by highlighting particular features of the policy process and suggesting their benefits or flaws) and normative (they carry implicit assumptions and prescriptions about how the process should work). Disentangling these different ways of working with models is not always easy, and you will return to this discussion at the end of the course. Finally this section also explores the importance of new governance forms that, it is argued, create a need for new ways to conceptualise the policy process.


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