Policy into practice : a study of public policy implementation and the role of learning
Public policy becomes managerial practice through a process of implementation. There is an established literature within Implementation Studies which explains the variables and some of the processes involved in implementation, but less attention has been focused upon how public service managers convert new policy initiatives into practice. The research proposes that managers and their organisations have to go through a process of learning in order to achieve the implementation of public policy. Data was collected over a five year period from four case studies of capital investment appraisal in the British National Health Service. Further data was collected from taped interviews by key actors within the case studies. The findings suggest that managers do learn to implement policy and four factors are important in this learning process. These are; (i) the nature of bureaucratic responsibility; (ii) the motivation of actors towards learning; (iii) the passage of time which allows for the development of competence and (iv) the use of project team structures. The research has demonstrated that the conversion of policy into practice occurs through the operationalisation of solutions to policy problems via job tasks. As such it suggests that in understanding how policy is implemented, technical learning is more important than cultural learning, in this context. In conclusion, a "Model of Learned Implementation" is presented, together with a discussion of some of the implications of the research. These are the possible use of more pilot projects for new policy initiatives and the more systematic diffusion of knowledge about implementation solutions.