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date: 22 February 2024

The Concept and Study of Implementationlocked

The Concept and Study of Implementationlocked

  • Peter HupePeter HupePublic Governance Institute, KU Leuven, Belgium


Used in daily speech, in its most general meaning the word “implementation” refers to what is expected to follow in order to realize a particular goal, once that goal has been formulated and decided upon. As such, a threefold set of assumptions is implied, concerning a monocausal logic, a specific temporal order, and a relationship of subordination. Once seen as part of the policy process, the concept of policy implementation invokes associations with a normative view on the designability of society, a rationalist look on the relationship between reason and power, and a technocratic perspective on the politics/administration dichotomy. When one wants to understand and explain what happens since policy intentions have been expressed, this standard view inherent to the term (policy) implementation is to be acknowledged, for it may put users of the term on the wrong track. Rather than a one-to-one hierarchical relationship between a singular policy former as the central rule-maker and a singular implementor as the exclusive rule-applier, to a certain extent the coexistence of two different, multifaceted “worlds” is at stake. Studying what happens beyond the world of policy intentions implies taking multiple factors into account. This ambition has led to a range of comprehensive theoretical approaches, developed and applied side-by-side to an ongoing stream of single-case implementation studies. While the term implementation and the standard view connected to it, particularly in research, may be misleading, the study of implementation can be conceived as governance analysis. Specifying “implementation” as operational governance then enables researchers to get a greater analytical grip on the nested configurations in which collective endeavors turn public intentions into public achievements.


  • Policy, Administration, and Bureaucracy

Updated in this version

Article heavily revised and rewritten to account for newly-published ORE of Politics articles and new developments in the field.

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