The Study of Macro and Micro Implementation of Social Policy

by Paul Berman

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Implementation analysis lacks a conceptual framework for conducting research on what goes wrong with social policy and how to improve policy performance. This essay offers some building blocks for a framework. It assumes that implementation problems stem mostly from the interaction of a policy with its institutional setting. Federal policy takes place in a loosely coupled setting in which many actors interact to determine who gets what and policy is transmuted by successive levels of implementing organizations. The net result is that a policy's outcome rests with local deliverers, not federal administrators. Within the local system, the process of micro-implementation consists of the mutual adaptation between local policy (adopted in response to federal policy) and local organizational characteristics. This complex adaptive process inevitably creates uncertainty in how policy will be implemented; the uncertainty cannot be eliminated without removing the local flexibility necessary to make policy work.

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