Why do public policies fail? Categorizing the challenges

written by Matt Andrews

Governments—and other public policy organizations—undertake many different tasks, implementing a diverse set of policies and projects. Many of these policies and projects are not considered successful. My recent blog post noted that failure occurs more often than anyone would likely consider optimal.

There are many reasons for policy failure, and my own research on this topic is well underway: I have been analyzing a sample of fifty case studies of policy failures to identify reasons for failure and will be discussing findings in a working paper coming soon.  As I work, I am always trying to learn from the thoughts and analysis of others, and to find good teaching materials to use in engaging executives on the topic (materials that are easy to read, and offer pragmatic views that have some evidentiary backing in the broader literature).

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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.

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