Question 1: Is policy implementation technical or political?
Policy implementation is a complex process from both theoretical and practical perspectives. The complexity of the process emanates from the interplay of administrative, political, and financial issues that require adequate lobbying, motivation, professional, technical, and administrative support. Policies are necessary to address diverse public challenges Policymaking is critical since it is the means through which policymakers recognize public problems, investigate alternative solutions, and adopt or implement the policy that they consider to be the most effective in solving the problem. Besides, policy implementation is a deliberate, institutionally-mandated change that gears towards changing or improving a public situation (Sandfort & Moulton, 2015). Policy implementation comprises an assessment of the political and social acceptability of the change and the sensibility of various stakeholders, including members of public, politicians, interest groups, the media, and experts or professionals. In addition, for effective implementation of policies, political commitment must be cultivated (Liu, Tang, Zhan, & Lo, 2018). Although policy implementation assumes a technical perspective involving various individuals and institutions, it is largely a political process.
Policy implementation is an institutionally sanctioned process that involves various stakeholders. The process occurs across multiple government levels, and it is affected by different institutional and political factors. Consequently, although some technical considerations are made in the process, it involves significant political actions. Public policy-making is a bureaucratic process that begins with the legislative process of formulating the law (Tummers & Bekkers, 2014). The executive signs the bill, which is passed over to other different administrative agencies to implement or adopt it. Although governmental agencies are the primary implementers of policies, the process involves many other institutions and factors. Some of the political agents that affect the success of the implementation process include legislatures, political executives, and the judiciary (Sandfort & Moulton, 2015). For example, although health care organizations are the primary implementers of the Affordable Care Act, politics play a critical role, including the government and insurance companies that are responsible for reimbursement under the policy (Tummers & Bekkers, 2014). Therefore, policy implementation involves a complex political process with the participation of various stakeholders.
Typically, policy-making and implementation involve various political concerns that affect the whole process from the formulation stage to the adoption phase. Therefore, various political players affect the flow of the process and determine whether the implementation process is effective (Fischer & Miller, 2017). Successful implementation of policies should have adequate political support to be successful. Three elements are inherent in the concept of policy implementation. One of the features is the temporal order in which the implementation process occurs (Hill & Varone, 2014). The second aspect is the causal logic issue. Policies do not transpire in a vacuum but are based on public issues that require a solution. For instance, the Affordable Care Act was motivated by the need to support universal health care and address the problem of inadequate access to care based on the number of under-insured population. The third aspect relates to the form of authority involved in the policy process (Sandfort & Moulton, 2015). The elements are not technical, but political issues that surround policy implementation.
Essentially, the policy implementation process is a political process. Major politics and political powers surround policy decision-making activities. Although policy implementation is an administrative activity, the process cannot be divorced from political events that are involved from the identification of the public issue to the formulation and implementation of the policy (Noordegraaf, Annema, & van Wee, 2014). The politics of the country or state within which the policy is formulated affects the entire process, including implementation (Sandfort & Moulton, 2015). For example, an ideal bureaucracy is efficient in the implementation of a policy. The officials in the bureaucratic process are appointed through a political process. However, these individuals should have the technical knowledge and the skills to implement a policy successfully. Notably, the components of the bureaucracy are defined by positions that comprise the bureaucratic structure and not the individuals involved in the process (Fischer & Miller, 2017). Therefore, although the process involves some technical aspects, it is a political process that is affected by the environment within which the process occurs.
Although other people apart from those holding political positions or organizational interests play a critical role in the policy implementation process, politics are still involved. People interested in enhancing the process should understand the different levels within the complex political system (Sandfort & Moulton, 2015). People with different titles, such as board members, executive directors, program directors, contract managers, funders, teachers, volunteers, and volunteers, participate in the political process. They bring together their different interests and viewpoints that affect success. They are involved in the implementation and affect it in one way or another. Policy making is surrounded by diverse interests that compete for the attention of the policy-makers (Noordegraaf, Annema, & van Wee, 2014). For example, health care organizations might compete with insurance companies for the attention of the government in formulating health policies.
Politics affect the implementation of public policies. Political scientists have studied the different political factors that determine the success or failure of policy implementation. Although they have not presented a comprehensive theoretical approach, perspective, or framework for understanding the elements, they agree that various contextual and political forces influence the process (Noordegraaf, Annema, & van Wee, 2014). For example, the success of the implementation procedure is influenced by intergovernmental communications in the process. The implementation process cannot be separated from the formulation activities because policies go through a cycle from problem identification to the adoption of the solution (Sandfort & Moulton, 2015). Therefore, although they might play a different role in each step of the cycle, political actors remain active throughout the process. Therefore, policy implementers should understand the flow of information and messages between them and the government actors.
Policymaking involves different perspectives that should be accommodated in the implementation. If all interests are not addressed, they can instigate conflicts among interest groups that feel excluded (Noordegraaf, Annema, & van Wee, 2014). They can also engender disputes between government institutions that engage in the policy cycle. The conflicts can become worse if stakeholders feel that their interests are threatened. Some cases can result in a significant stalemate on the policy process. Therefore, the problem is not based on technical aspects of the policy, but the political features that play a role in the implementation process (Hill & Varone, 2014). Informal and formal negotiation among stakeholders provides the means to resolve political conflicts that might negatively affect the success of the implementation process. The process also allows the various conflicts of interests to be addressed to make the political process effective.
Question 2: Why is it believed that policy implementation is as much a matter of negotiation and communication as it is a matter of command? When considering this question, remember the organization of the American government and how power is shared within that organization.
A policy is a deliberate action to solve a public problem. It is a system of principles for guiding decisions and achieving rational results to address challenges affecting the public. It is a statement of intention and is adopted as a protocol or procedure. Government bodies play an important role in the formulation and implementation of policies (Tummers & Bekkers, 2014). It comprises critical decision-making, involving several individuals and agencies who work together to achieve the shared mission. Notably, the stakeholders and interest groups have diverse and sometimes conflicting interests that should be addressed for successful implementation. Therefore, the stakeholders should negotiate and communicate about different matters relating to the policy process (Hill & Varone, 2014). Although command plays a role in adopting some aspects of the policy to make timely decisions, the agents should communicate and negotiate to address emerging issues and resolve conflicts of interest.
The policy process is a cycle that moves from the identification of the problem, consideration of options to solve the problem, and implementation of the solution. Furthermore, the process involves various parties, both in the government and from the community affected by the public problem (Hill & Varone, 2014). Therefore, the information should flow effectively throughout the policy process. Different policy agents might be involved in the diverse phases of the policy process, but they should share information throughout to achieve efficiency (Hill & Varone, 2014). Intergovernmental communication is critical in the policy implementation process. Local implementers require information from the federal level. The parties should work together to prevent any form of information breakdown at any point in the policy cycle (Hill & Varone, 2014). For example, possible conflicts between the stakeholders can cause delays or complete breakdown of the implementation process.
The interplay of various governments and administrative agencies in the policy implementation process requires effective collaboration and partnership. Sandfort and Moulton (2015) introduce the concept of networking when working through the policy process. Policy implementation involves a network of players that should network and collaborate to ensure a successful process. Researchers propose the network perspective to explain the multi-actor and multi-sector governance. They also suggest a new role in the policy process, which requires the network or collaborative manager to improve communication in the policy process. It is critical that an agency is responsible for bringing together different interests and sharing important information to achieve success (Hill & Varone, 2014). The management role implements the guidelines for interactions because the process involves many actors at different government and administrative levels. They define common goals and objectives and collaborate to achieve them. Adequate communication is the most effective way of realizing the mission of the policy process.
From the ideal perspective of policy implementation, involved parties and agencies are expected to follow instructions. Implementation is considered and identified as a separate phase in the policy cycle. Inputs are expected to determine output. However, the whole process should have some form of connection to achieve a synergy. At the same time, hierarchical relationships assess the exercise of authority. However, from a more practical perspective, implementation is considered a practice and a multilevel phenomenon where various players come together to solve a problem (Sandfort & Moulton, 2015). Various factors and social mechanism determine the results of the process. There are several sources of authority in the policy process. The command and the networking views of policy implementation determine the success of the process. They involve adequate communication and networking skills to ensure that all players work together to achieve success.
Policy-making operates at different levels of government, but they should share information to work on a particular policy. For example, the legislature works on the fundamental parts of the policy that moves on to other levels of government through the implementation process. Administrative agencies are also involved in the implementation process (Hill & Varone, 2014). Therefore, all the agencies should communicate and collaborate to create and implement effective solutions. Legislatures, executive, and the judiciary are active participants and collaborators in the policy implementation activity. The executive (president or other chief executives) signs the law that is later enacted by the legislature (Sandfort & Moulton, 2015). The signed law is passed on to the administrative agencies for implementation. The agencies are expected to adopt the policy in their jurisdiction. Communication occurs in the form of guidelines and protocols passed on to the implementers.
The policy process involves the various levels of the government. The legislature is the main body involved in the formulation of policy. However, the legislature should work closely with the other branches of government. They draft particular laws with details about the implementation. The assembly should develop not only the law but also communicate the expectations about implementation to other players involved in the process (Tummers & Bekkers, 2014). The administrative agencies engage in the formulation process to understand how to implement a policy.
Political executives also engage in the policy process and have an essential input in all activities involved. Presidents, governors, and other chief executives collaborate to work in a complicated process. In some cases, they encounter competing interests and have to address political factors that influence the implementation activity. The executive influences administrative agencies through the application of various tools, such as executive orders, to set policy or the engagement of different executive heads who introduce their beliefs, values, and resources to their action and decision (Hill & Varone, 2014). Although the president and governors direct the actions of their subordinates, they have to communicate effectively to address conflict of interests that might cause failure.
The judiciary can play a role in the policy implementation process. Furthermore, they can influence the process through policy interpretation. Policies include statutes as well as administrative rules and regulation that might be misunderstood or misinterpreted by the governmental agencies that implement the policies. Hence, the courts might also participate in the process by taking over the management of programs in the cases of violation of substantive and due process rights (Hill & Varone, 2014). Therefore, the courts should review health policies that affect the rights of the patients.
The policy process involves various players at different levels who work together to achieve successful implementation. Power relations differ in the process because some levels, such as the executive have superior authority than other administrative agencies. The dominant players give commands and instructions in policy implementation. However, such control is not always effective because players should collaborate to achieve successful implementation. Therefore, they must communicate effectively by sharing information for networking. Hence, the involvement of different levels of governance can generate balanced solutions to policy challenges that include the points of view of diverse stakeholders.
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Hill, M., & Varone, F. (2014). The public policy process. New York: Routledge.
Liu, N., Tang, S., Zhan, X., & Lo, C. W. (2018). Political Commitment, Policy Ambiguity, and Corporate Environmental Practices. Policy Studies Journal, 46(1), 190–214. doi:10.1111/psj.12130
Noordegraaf, D. V., Annema, J. A., & van Wee, B. (2014). Policy implementation lessons from six road pricing cases. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 59, 172-191.
Sandfort, J. & Moulton, S. (2015). Effective implementation in practice: Integrating public policy and management. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Tummers, L., & Bekkers, V. (2014). Policy implementation, street-level bureaucracy, and the importance of discretion. Public Management Review, 16(4), 527-547.