Implementation vs. Policy Design

… a core concept in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107

Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below) describes the distinction between implementation and policy design.

Pal writes (p. 186):

“Implementation and policy design are conceptually distinct, though they overlap in practice. Think of design as the blueprint for the policy and implementation as its execution. Looked at in this way, the relationship between the two aspects of the policy process raises an interesting question: is it possible for badly designed policies to be well implemented, and good policy designs to be badly implemented? Box 5.1 illustrates a rough set of relationships that can exist between implementation and design. A well-designed policy with good implementation is almost a definition of success: a good idea well executed.

“There is another degree of success, however, which might be thought of as implementation failure – a good idea that suffers from inadequate execution. It must be said that this explanation of failure is the refuge of many a policy designer. The idea was fine, but the follow-through was responsible for less than spectacular results. More on this in a moment. One point to keep in mind is that there is still hope: since the design is sound, failure is a matter of organization, personnel, or resources. It is also possible to have design failure – the policy is badly designed in terms of problem definition or instruments or goals, but is executed reasonably well. Total failure – and total misery – occur when both design and implementation are seriously flawed. To be realistic, most policies will have shortcomings in design and in implementation; what we are considering here is very weak design combined unhappily with very weak implementation.”

Pal concludes (p. 187) that:

“The design phase is about determining the problem, the goals, and the most appropriate instruments for a solution. Even if all of that goes well, and the conceptualization of the policy problem is broadly correct, the follow-through can fail. Knowing this, of course, the smart designer builds considerations about implementation into the policy design from the beginning; however, this too can raise problems if we presume that there should be both some degree of flexibility in the way policies are implemented as well as input from below.”

See also: Policy Design; Implementation Theory.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Implementation and Delivery (core topic) in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107


Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, Nelson Education, Toronto. See Beyond Policy Analysis – Book Highlights.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 12 April 2017.

Image: Ron Karr’s Impact Blog, at, accessed 5 April 2017.