Views of public policy implementation success and failure: Sharing my thoughts

written by Matt Andrews

There are many views on what constitutes success and failure in public policy implementation. I have been chewing on these a lot over the last couple of years as I try to make sense of the challenges of implementation and of knowing when implementation is going well or not.

Here are some approaches I find useful in this work.

First, a large literature on project success is relevant in this discussionbecause many public policies are implemented through project-like processes (with some studies even referring to the ‘projectization‘ of various policy domains, especially in international development). The project management literature tends to emphasize different types of ‘success’ in the implementation process (if you want to read more detail,  I advise this article on the topic by Paul Bannerman):

(i) Process or project management success: the immediate performance of a project against its main design parameters—schedule (time), budget (cost), scope, and quality.

(ii) Product success: the extent to which a project delivered promised ‘products’, and if those products were used and considered useful by intended users (or beneficiaries).

(iii) Business or Strategy (or impact) success:  whether a project solved the particular problem that warranted it in the first place, and—even more expansively—if the project better positions the community  affected to address future problems or take future opportunities and benefits.

Another large literature on policy implementation offers related but also different ideas about ‘success’. A key article in this literature (by Bovens, ’t Hart and Peters 2001, which I cite below for those with interest) refers to two key dimensions of success: Continue reading Views of public policy implementation success and failure: Sharing my thoughts

How often do public policies really fail? A question to help you escape the policy futility trap

written by Matt Andrews

Last week I blogged about the ‘public policy futility trap’ in which countries get stuck when a negative feedback loop institutionalizes itself in the public policy domain. Experiences of past policy failure erodes the confidence (of citizens and public officials) to deliver in future, which undermines the potential for positive future policy results, which in turn reinforces the view that  government cannot ‘get things done’, and on and on and on.

I think many countries are stuck in this trap, where negative feedback loops frustrate effort after effort to improve government capabilities. Initiatives designed to help governments get things done tend to fail when no one (in the citizenry or government) actually believes government can get things done.

So, how do governments get unstuck?

This is the question we plan to address—in practice —through the forthcoming Implementing Public Policy executive education course (starting in May 2019). The answer we suggest is simple: challenge the existing negative feedback loop by promoting cases of implementation success that can become the basis of new positive feedback loops—that help citizens and officials believe that more is possible tomorrow than it was yesterday.

Continue reading How often do public policies really fail? A question to help you escape the policy futility trap

Getting real about development; It is hard

Written by Matt Andrews

I’m reminded so regularly that development is about change. If it’s done well it is about change that sticks, and even more about countries becoming adaptive (able to change continuously at the right pace and in the right way).

This requires learning and building a specific type of DNA in people, organizations, and countries. And this learning is hard. Often because learning is perceived as failure, and failure is feared.

The truth is that most key development breakthroughs happen out of the lessons of things gone wrong, but in the moment of going wrong it is hard to see how valuable the failure is; it seems like all is falling apart and critics come out of every window and door they can.

Keeping one’s head in these moments is crucial, and is required to let people see failure as learning and to see that learning itself is the key to success.

I wonder how often public policy schools teach students about these moments and how to manage yourself in the face of the turmoil these moments involve. I think this may be one of the most important lessons to learn if you want to work in development and not spend all the time writing safe reports no one uses or consult from a distance, or do stuff without bringing local folks along to learn how to do it themselves.