Why do policies fail Essay Example
Why do policies fail Essay Example

Why do policies fail Essay Example

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  • Pages: 12 (3038 words)
  • Published: December 13, 2017
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In this essay I intend to analyse the policy process and in doing so identify some of the reasons and causes of policy failure. I will be using social security policy to illustrate concepts and draw from personal experience of working within a policy environment (Welfare to Work Policy) by way of example and pinpoint areas where social policy could be considered weak and prone to failure. To do this I will discuss the policy process including those responsible for policy, how it is influenced and implemented, and draw on examples of policy failure and how that failure is defined.

It is important to understand what is meant as a policy for the purpose of this assignment. Policies are likely to be a course of action taken by a government which might require new legislation, the involvement and influence of various actors, political and otherwise, from the decision making pr


ocess through to policy implementation. Alternatively 'a rationale, or manifestation of a considered judgement' (Parsons 1999).When analysing either the success or failure of policy it is important to understand who has responsibility for policy, the power to influence policy, and how policy issues are bought to the fore of a government's agenda.

By understanding these issues we begin to understand how policies develop and how at various stages they become prone to failure. From the initial formation of a policy through to ultimate implementation, the policy process passes through various channels of complex networks, institutional constraints, and implementation issues.These channels will have inevitable affect on outcomes, and subsequently shape the end result of that policy. The process of negotiation and increasingly consultation throughout the policy process is itsel

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important, and this process could affect the outcomes. Sabatier argued that it "involves numerous agencies and interest groups at all levels of government" and that "policy making should not be considered a 'black box' in which decisions are made at one end and the policy produces clear effect at the other" (Spicker 1995).

For some the process can be seen as divided up into a series of stages from initiation, and agenda setting, to information processing and decision-making, through to implementation and policy outcomes. However, this could give the impression that policy making is a smooth process when in reality it could be seen as one of 'muddling through' as described by Lindblom who proposed a model that took account of power and interaction between phases and stages (Parsons 1999). A starting point for identifying policy failure, an area of much debate is the issue of power.Harold Lasswell argued that those with power to influence policy would require a degree of "participation in the decision making process".

However, Bachrach and Baratz recognised that it was not just about the ability to make or influence concrete decisions but that it was important to recognise that institutions and organisations have the power to suppress decisions and individuals so that some issues are organised onto the agenda where as others are organised out (Bachrach and Baratz 1962).They argued that there is "a more important area of what might be called 'nondecision-making'. Limiting the scope of actual decision-making to 'safe' issues by manipulating the dominant community values, myths, and political institutions and procedures. They argued strongly "that to pass over this is to neglect one whole 'face' of power" (Bachrach &

Baratz 1963).

With the effect of letting problems go unchallenged and failing to introduce the appropriate policies. Distribution of power and resources is important when considering the interaction between individuals within the process.A policy network or community can be seen to develop in which there are common goals or views shared by key players in the policy process. Membership of a network community might shift or evolve over time depending on the policy issue, Rhodes (1999) saw an active policy network 'constantly communicating criticisms of policy' and generating ideas for new policy initiatives so as to improve policy or alternatively prevent failure. Those involved in a policy issue network may not only have financial power (Treasury officials) but be knowledge and information rich.

For example pressure groups who bring their own power and influence to policy issues such as the significant contribution from Age Concern who amongst others have contributed to the design of The Pension Service Local Service initiatives. Assessment of the policy process requires an understanding the relative influence of a range of actors, at various levels. Before the 1970's there was a general lack of concern for what happened to policies between what was considered the post-policy making process and the stage at which policies hit the street.Hill (1997a) described 'A clear demarcation line between policy and administration, and the assumption that policy passed from the hands of the policy maker, to the administrator whose job it was to carry out the policy formulated by the decision makers.

' The area of interplay between policy formation and implementation was increasingly seen as a reason for policy failure. This area until then had been neglected and

was termed the 'missing link' in the policy process.Pressman and Wildavsky discussed this 'implementation deficit' and argued that successful implementation depended on the links between different organisations and departments at the local level. The degree of co-operation between agencies required to make links had to be close to 100 per cent if a situation is not to occur in which a number of small deficits cumulatively create a large shortfall, this being the 'implementation deficit' (Hill 1997). In response theories of 'Effective implementation' were developed to minimise the implementation deficit.

In 1984 Hogwood and Gunn set out ten preconditions seen as necessary for perfect implementation. The list sets out to minimise problems caused by the 'implementation deficit' and is clearly a 'top-down' model of implementation for use by those at the top of the process or in other words the policy makers. The 'top-down' approach to implementation has been described as a process that starts with a policy decision made by central government officials. Then followed by a rational set of sequences with the setting of clearly defined goals, leading to the eventual policy implementation.A major criticism of the top-down framework model is that it is unrealistic and does not take into account the actions and role of other actors and at various levels of the implementation process. Michael Lipsky urged that " students of public policy take account of the interaction of bureaucrats with their clients at a 'street-level'" and to be aware that "Street-level bureaucrats respond to work related pressures` in ways that however understandable or well intentioned, may have invidious effects on citizens impressions of government responsiveness and equity of performance" (Hill 1997a).


interaction was not only present but of significant value and importance to those developing the New Deal for Lone Parents (NDLP) policy. The relationship and knowledge of an NDLP Adviser was treated as crucial to the success of the policy and as a result advisers and implementation managers were consulted and directly involved in the policy development process. As policy developed there were marked improvements on targets as the program moved more lone parents into work (DWP 2002c). This example goes some way in illustrating an alternative approach to implementation, that is the 'bottom-up' approach.The 'bottom-up' approach starts by identifying the network of actors involved in the service delivery. They are asked about their goals, strategies, activities, and contacts.

This approach then uses their contacts as a vehicle to establish who will be the relevant regional and national actors involved. This provides a mechanism for moving from street-level to the 'top' policy makers in both public and private sectors . Successful examples are area-based initiatives such as the Urban Regeneration Programmes of the 1990's and the more recent Local Strategic Partnerships.Local Government together with local and national partners who are given flexibility in the way national policies are carried out locally for a number of services such as health, housing, welfare and quality of life issues. However, there are criticisms of this approach. It could be argued that those 'street-level' implementers have too much discretion and power to almost make up policies 'on the hoof'.

If implementers were to develop or shape policy that does not have the desired outcome then how would they be held accountable for them?This would appear difficult as ultimately the government as

an elected body are accountable for performance, quality of service and consistency, not necessarily the 'street level' actor. However policy operates in the real world. A hybrid of the two approaches could be seen as a way of plugging the 'implementation gap'. There are examples of policies where the present government has attempted to bridge the gap by offering street level actors a freer hand to offer individual clients services which suit and are of benefit to the client rather than trying to fit a client into a 'one size fit's all' group for treatment.An example of such a concept can be seen in Employment and Action Zones.

Employment Zones include private sector participation in the public service delivery of tackling unemployment in deprived areas. These programmes allow Local Authorities a degree of discretion in how they use their budget so as to promote social inclusion and economic growth in their particular area. As empirical knowledge and research of successful policies grow access to this information becomes critical when creating new policies.Lack of information could result in error or incorrect assumptions being built into processes resulting in unchecked areas of weakness.

The influence of research is varied and Paul Sabatier argued that quite often policy information is typically used to "buttress one's position" and that "only rarely does a specific piece of research strongly influence a major policy decision". It is usually the case that information is used as a process of 'enlightenment', where the "findings accumulated over a period of time gradually alter decision-makers perceptions of the effects of major policy programs" (Sabatier 1991).The government's ONE pilot scheme is an example of this theory. Viewed by

opposition MP's (notably David Willetts MP the Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) as a policy failure, they have been criticised of not achieving original objectives.

The pilots tested a 'work first' approach to claiming benefit as part of the government's welfare to work agenda. The primary aim of the policy was to increase the work focus of clients such as lone parents and the incapacitated, and by doing so move them either into work or at least closer to the labour market.To achieve this new legislation was required making regular attendance and participation in work focused interviews a conditionality of claiming benefit. Cost benefit analysis (a measure of added value) and quantitative research showed ONE to be a costly failure, more importantly it had not achieved it's main objective to put more benefit recipients in touch with the labour market (or at least closer to the labour market) through the intervention of a Personal Adviser. Evaluation research showed "One of the functions of Personal Advisers is to refer clients to jobs or other work-related activities... owever, very few clients were referred to such activities in the pilot areas and referral rates were no higher than in the control areas". (DWP Report 156). Although this policy could be accused of having failed to achieve objectives, key decision-making officials subsequently chose to build upon lessons learned in ONE and introduced a near identical policy, in the design of Jobcentre Plus.

Intended to operate on a national scale, Jobcentre Plus policy has been rooted in ONE policy rationale.However, cultural lessons were learned from the ONE pilot which had operated out of two separate government departments and

agencies and tested a method of bringing together benefit payment with a job matching service. ONE policy saw a shift in attitudes by staff. Staff employed in ONE advocated the importance of taking a holistic view of the needs of their clients (DWP 2002b). Machinery of government changes altered the environment in which welfare to work policy operated so that Jobcentre Plus is delivering in one organisation both benefit payment and job information.

Therefore, it could be argued that as a result of ONE, policy has been developed learning from failure and building on wider lessons learned. When considering likely reasons for policy failure, it would appear reasonable to also analyse those successful policies and seek to draw lessons from such exemplars. The national introduction of NDLP could be considered such a policy. NDLP started as a prototype model introduced in pilot areas. It tested a voluntary programme of help for lone parents wanting to find work.

The pilots were successful and overall had a considerable affect on the numbers of lone parents moving into either full or part-time work. Success of NDLP has seen gradual improvement by learning from evaluation that has fed directly into the development of policy. NDLP policy was developed across two main government departments but drew from vast areas of expertise. Pressure groups such as Gingerbread and NCOPF (National Council of One Parent Families) influenced policy decisions being consulted on a regular basis and involved heavily with the development of leaflets and information booklets.The involvement of staff at operational level was also present in the policy development process. Experienced Personal Advisers seen as crucial actors at the 'street level' worked directly with

lone parents and were routinely consulted and asked about areas of policy that they considered could be improved.

The d iscretionary power of public servants is also relevant when considering policy failure. The official's ability to exercise discretional power is important when analysing the final delivery of policy and how success has been achieved or how policy has been shaped at 'street-level'.Many public officials are given such discretionary powers and have been described by Davis (Parsons 1999) as being the point 'wherever the effective limits on his power leave him free to make a choice among possible courses of action and inaction'. Regulations, laws and procedures all contain an interpretative, discretionary element, mainly because policy cannot provide for every single eventuality, so there must be acceptance that discretion must exist so that 'unfair, and unintentional decisions are not reached because the law has not provided for it' (Hill 1997b).Such discretion is operated within the Government's Adviser Discretion Fund and more notable the Social Fund policy.

Social Fund policy is reliant on discretion and the ability of street-level actors to de-code policy procedure in the manner in which it was intended. Social Fund officers have the discretion to award payments to clients as well as to decline them. It is virtually impossible to know with certainty whether or not decisions reached are correct as elements of personal deliberation or even prejudice could be present in these decisions.However, it should be crucial that users of a service like the Social Fund receive quality advice from public servants as these policies are intended to respond to the needs of individuals (Rowe 1999). The Social Fund has been criticised by local

representative groups who have expressed concern over the attribution of payments questioning whether or not they are indeed being paid to the most vulnerable, as was the policy intent, or those able to purely 'make a case' (Rowe 1999). If this is the case then the Social Fund has failed to achieve the precise thing it was designed to address and that is to help those in crisis.

The Advisers Discretionary Fund (ADF) is also discretionary and not openly advertised or paid as an entitlement. Advisers use ADF as a tool to help clients into work or to make a difference to job search activities. Access to the fund can only be considered when an adviser deems it necessary or relevant. However, could this be considered an inappropriate devolution of power to a 'street level' bureaucrat? Anecdotal evidence suggests that advisers find the ADF an extremely useful way of helping move people into work.However, the Government and key policy influencers under the vehicle 'Modernising Government' (Cabinet 1999) programme see local level discretion increasing.

Other influential actors hold this view and in their third report the Work and Pensions Select Committee welcomed the extension of more devolved discretion to street-level actors and private sector partners working alongside the agencies. They recommended, "more discretion be devolved to front line staff and to its recipients of funding" (DWP 2002). HowverH Performance or evaluation evidence is not the only measure of failed policy.Increasingly the media have highlighted and defined policy failures.

Often set in the context of a headline worthy story of government policies that are said to have failed individuals. An example is the criticism that Working Families Tax Credit Policy

(WFTC) failed to encourage people off benefits altogether, only to cause yet another 'poverty trap'. Frank Field commented of the Chancellors New Tax Credit proposals that "large increases in work-related benefits had encouraged people to take low-paying jobs, robbing them of the incentive to work longer hours or improve their skills to get a higher-paying job" (Guardian 2002).However, could we consider this failed policy before it has been given an opportunity to succeed or 'bed-in'? WFTC has already proved popular amongst lone parents and pressure groups such as Gingerbread remain supportive of WFTC and the New Tax Credit system. Or more simply, was the goal to get people into work or into high paying jobs? In conclusion, defining policy failure is difficult.

The policy process has been described as being made up of various actors, stages, or networks, however the studying this process it becomes possible to pin point areas of weakness that might lead to failure.But stages are not always clear-cut as Lindblom argued 'Deliberate, orderly steps ... are not an accurate portrayal of how the policy process actually works. Policy-making is, instead, a complexly inter-active process without beginning or end' (Parsons 1999) and probably better described as something of a 'process of muddling through'.

But 'street-level' actors have much to offer the policy process as discretion and policy 'buy-in' prove to become more prevalent. We can see that in the real world of policy development, policy failure is more likely to occur when key actors are not involved in the formulation of policy.

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