Rostrum’s Law Review | ISSN: 2321-3787

Analyzing Policy Implementation vis-a-vis Governance: Reflections with Special Reference to India

Policy implementation is a very crucial stage in the cycle of public policy which is very much significant for the success of governance. The nature of governance influences the policy making process and at the same time, it is the public policy which determines the fate of governance. In this regard, the significance particularly of policy implementation in governance can be seen in two ways. Firstly, poor policy implementation was one of the factors which were responsible for the failure of the state in development performance in the post-World War II period, which triggered for the need of alternative policy frameworks and the consequent need for the redefinition of the role of the state, and this need for the redefinition of the state ultimately led to the emergence of the concept of ‘governance’ which was popularised much later, after having first used by the World Bank in 1989[1]. Secondly, it is the successful implementation of public policy which can ensure effective transformation of ‘government’ to governance, and today, the people are not contained in only governance. They want good governance, and whether it will be good governance or bad governance, largely depends on the effectiveness of public policy which again depends on the successful implementation of policies. A policy however well-formulated may be, cannot bring the desired outcome until and unless it is implemented effectively, as very rightly pointed out that the “policy failures were seen as failures of implementation” (Mathur, 2013).[2]  In this regard, understanding policy implementation and the challenges before it, is very pertinent at the backdrop of governance India where there are so many demands as well as a multitude of challenges in the society. The present work emphasize that for the success of governance, much focus is needed particularly on the implementation aspect to understand, analyze and address the challenges in implementation of public policies.

Conceptual Framework

Public policy is simply the policy formulated and implemented by the public institutions to serve the interests of the public. In other words, it is the policy, i.e, decision or plan of action adopted by the government. Though there is no universal or unanimous definition of public policy, different scholars have attempted different definitions. According to Thomas Dye, “Public policy is whatever governments choose to do or not to do”[3]. But in present context of governance, various no-governmental institutions also play a greater role in public policy process. It is influenced by the market and the civil society. In the 21st century, it is more appropriate to say that public policy today is developed by governmental bodies and officials, being directly or indirectly influenced by the non-governmental actors and agencies.[4] In reaction to the increasing complexities in the society, public policy assumes greater importance as it is concerned with the public and their problems. This public policy process consists of a number of steps of which policy implementation is a crucial one, where policy implementation refers to the transformation of decision into action. Implementation has been defined “the execution and delivery of public policies by organizations or arrangements among organizations”[5]. Implementation of policy usually takes place after the formulation of policy, though formulation and implementation are not totally isolated from each other. Even the concern for implementation starts during the formulation stage. Implementation includes the actions and operations which are directed to fulfil the objectives set forth in the policy decision. Initially this implementation aspect did not get any separate and adequate attention in policy analysis as it remained concerned mainly with the policy-making issues. But in the 1970s, the need to focus attention on policy implementation was started to be felt as many policies failed to achieve the desired outcome. It was realised that implementation of policy has to be taken as seriously as formulation of that policy, because, policy decision once formulated does not automatically turn into action, or the policy may fail to be implemented the way it has been envisioned by the policy-makers if adequate attention is not paid to implementation aspect.

If one goes by just the simple meaning and definition of policy implementation, it may appear as a simple policy action. But actually, it involves a lot of things. Men and materials which work for implementation matter a lot in the process. Implementation is “a process of interaction between the setting of goals and actions geared to achieving them” ( Pressman and Wildavsky, 1984)[6]. The process of implementation refers to ‘a sequence of events’ ‘to be carried out by a variety of actors and agencies’ while coordinating to ensure the availability of resources required (Barrett and Fudge, 1981).[7] Generally, formulation is thought to be concerned with ‘deciding’ while implementation with ‘doing’. But implementation also involves deciding while doing on the ground. Thus, decision making is a job of also the policy implementers. Making good decisions in the face of unanticipated events is a challenge to them. In such situation, they need to take on board the various stakeholders. In such scenario, three mechanisms may come into play. The first one is Exception Principle which means that in case of difficult decisions which are not routine, and carry major implications for the entire policy implementation, it is advisable that they are reserved for the senior staffs at the higher level of the organisation. The second mechanism is Delegation of Authority which emphasises the need to delegate a certain amount of authority to the staffs at every level so that the personnel assigned with responsibilities can perform their tasks effectively. The third one is Consensus Building which is very important to garner support for a decision or action. It can also improve the efficiency and effectiveness of implementation as it encourages participation from all concerned.

During the implementation stage, a number of problems may arise. If there is any conflict while implementing a policy, it is the concern and then the responsibility of the implementing authority to resolve that. The implementing authority also needs to keep in mind the deviations, if any, from the action planned, and the subsequent adjustments. Identifying the crucial areas in implementation also needed to be done by the implementers. Completing an action in proper sequence and in time is an important task of the implementing authority. For all these, it is better to have a policy-implementing network which can help in the entire process, and also a proper manpower plan is necessary to be put in place. When it has to be ensured that each and every activity in the implementation process is done properly, it is highly required that personnel have to be allocated to all the tasks. Based on their expertise and experience, the personnel must be assigned with roles and responsibilities and they must work as a team towards achieving the goals.


When it is clear that implementation is an important aspect of public policy for the success of governance, it convinces about the significance of the implementation studies. There are different models and approaches which help to understand the nature of implementation. One of such models is the Top-down model which considers policy formulation and policy implementation as two distinct activities. Policies are set at the higher level of the organisation and then passed down the lower level. This approach is based on the principle of command and control in a hierarchical way where the government and public authorities at the top are considered as more important in the policy process. Successful implementation depends upon the linkages between different organisations and department at the local level, and an effective implementation requires a top-down system of control and communications and the resources to do the job (Pressman and Wildavsky, 1984).[8] In analysing the implementation process, there is a need to classify policies in terms of  the implementation difficulties, and the implementation will be the most successful if the change is marginal and consensus is high (Meter and Horn, 1975).[9] The top-down model is justified on the ground that those who make policies are the people’s representatives democratically elected and so they have the right to prescribe whatever they think good for the public Hogwood and Gunn(Hogwood and Gunn, 1984).[10] However, this top-down model is criticised on the ground that it neglects the fact that the interaction of the implementers with their clients when the former come in direct contact with the latter frequently means a lot in the implementation process. In that sense, this approach neglects the importance of the actors at the lower level, and without having direct engagement to the ground realities, prescription from above can hardly work. On the contrary, according to the bottom-up model, implementation is an interactive process in which individuals starting from policy makers of the higher echelons of the administrative system to the workers at the lowest rank play their respective roles. This approach stresses that the implementation process involves policy-making also by those who put the policy into practice. The front-line staffs – the ‘street-level bureaucrats’ have significant role in shaping and reshaping the implementation process (Lipsky, 1980).[11] While working in direct contact with the beneficiaries of the policies, these street-level bureaucrats face challenges and invent ways to cope with them. They have to decide on spot as they implement policies first hand. They are to have discretion to negotiate with the target groups. The staffs at the subordinate level have to decide what to implement and what not. They decide how they can apply the policy. Thus, it is not always from top that the direction does come. Direction is also planned at the bottom, or direction coming from the head-quarter may not be copied exactly at the field, because the head-quarter may not know the nitty-gritty of the issues as minutely as the field-level workers know. In today’s context of governance, the bottom-up approach appears to be more suitable when participation of people is highly encouraged. Secondly, it is also argued that policy implementation through bottom-up model is more effective and efficient as it is based on participation, negotiation and consensus. The 73rd and the 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts in India which advocate that the local issues can best be addressed by the local people who are directly affected by those issues, also endorses the suitability of the bottom-up approach. Still this approach is also criticized on the ground that it overemphasizes the ability of the street-level bureaucrats to frustrate the goals fixed by the policy-makers at the top.[12] The policy-action model developed by Lewis and Flynn highlights the importance of interaction occurring between the implementers and the world outside their organisation, as according to this model, the outside world and institutional context influence the implementation process.[13] Thus, the different models developed by different scholars attempt to analyse the implementation process differently- various facets of implementation for the better understanding of the related issues and problems.

Players in Policy Implementation

There are various players which participle in policy implementation directly or indirectly in different extents. These players are significant in the sense that the policies formulated are not self-executing, neither are they executed by mere statement.[14] In the traditional government process, it was the bureaucracy which was the sole direct agents for delivering services to the people. But in the present context, a number of other organisations have come to share the work of implementation when there has been the shift from government to governance.

The major role in policy implementation is played by the bureaucracy. The bureaucrats execute the policies made by the legislature and the political masters. Based on their previous knowledge and experience out of their implementation activities, the bureaucrats advise the policy-makers about the feasibility of implementation of the policies while being made. If there is any ambiguity in a policy, it is difficult to implement the policy. The bureaucrats advise the policy-makers to avoid any kind of ambiguities so that implementation process can be smooth and successful. They mobilise, organise and manage all the resources and techniques required for putting the policies into practice. For the optimum outcome of implementation, they take up cost-benefit analysis. By implementing the policies, they help the objectives of the government get fulfilled. The bureaucracy ensures that the benefits reach to the people. The demands and expectations of the citizens are met only after the policies are implemented by the permanent executives. But at the same time, bureaucracy has been criticised on many grounds. It lacks efficiency and suffers from under-performance. Instead of serving the public interest, the bureaucrats have started to serve their personal interest, and thus have failed to live up-to the rising expectations of the citizens. Instead of being people-centric, they have been mostly rule-centric and rule-loving. These can no doubt hinder effective implementation. So, at the advent of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG), there has been call for de-bureaucratisation. Many of the services which were earlier being provided by the bureaucracy are now being transferred to other actors. Earlier it was the monopoly of the bureaucracy to provide services to the people, but at present, the role of bureaucracy has been changed. Earlier bureaucracy was the sole provider of services. But today, it has become just one of the providers of public services and also acts as the regulator when other agencies take part in implementing the policies for providing services to the people. So, it should be clearly understood that in the context of governance, role of the bureaucracy has neither got diminished nor become less important, just the nature of the role has got changed.

Though not directly, but indirectly the legislative bodies play their role in the policy implementation. The permanent executives are accountable to the political executives who are ultimately accountable to the Parliament. The actions of the implementers are subject to the scrutiny by the legislative bodies like different Parliamentary Committees. Through this accountability mechanism, the legislature can influence the actions of the implementers. The administrators need discretion and delegation for implementing policies. By deciding on these administrative discretion and delegation, legislature can influence implementation. Secondly, without finance, no policy can be implemented and it is the legislature which enjoys the authority to allocate funds for policy implementation, and while allocating funds, it can attach the guidelines concerning how the policy should be implemented. Sometimes, the implementation process is likely to be affected by the legislators if they intervene in case the implementation of a policy adversely affects their supporters.  Thus, the politicians can exert their influence on implementation of policies either negatively or positively.

Again the judicial bodies have their indirect role in policy implementation. The courts and the administrative tribunals in India can also affect implementation of policies. These judicial bodies have the power to expedite or stop implementation of any policy if they think it fit, based on the judicial interpretation of the executive actions. According to the judicial interpretation, if the implementation process goes against any constitutional provision, the courts can nullify the implementation. For example, the Supreme of India in its ruling in September, 2003 restrained the government of India from implementing disinvestment policy without seeking Parliamentary approval regarding the disinvestment and privatisation of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited[15]. The administrative tribunals which are created for administrative adjudication can also intervene in the functioning of the implementing agencies if the former are approached by anyone who is affected by the action of the latter. Thus, the implementation of public policies is largely influenced by the courts in India when they take to the means of judicial review and judicial activism in response to the error committed by the legislature and the executive.

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) also play their role in the implementation of public policies. The Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and different citizens’ group help in finding out the problems in the process and come up with solutions. They create awareness among the citizens regarding policy matters. They pressurise the government to implement policies for the interest of the citizens. For example, the intervention of the organisations like the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), the Mahila Milan and the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF), influenced the policy-makers to provide the shelters to the pavement dwellers in Mumbai. For raising the issues of different sections, many such organisations today in India play a prominent role. Their partnership with the government authorities in governance is significant in the context of ensuring citizens’ participation in the implementation process. The concept of ‘Bhagidari’ which means the joint collaboration of the citizens’ group, the NGOs and the government in the implementation process, initiated by the Delhi government is a prominent example of the role of the civil society in the successful implementation. Through this ‘Bhagidari’ process, issues are discussed, solutions are suggested, solutions are implemented and the implementation is monitored, all involving the civil society.

The political parties have their vested interests- the interests of their supporters to be fulfilled. That is why, by using different means of intervention and interference through their leaders in power, and demonstration and protest, they exert pressure on the implementers so as to make the implementation in the favour of certain groups, sometimes at the cost of larger interest. Sometimes, the bureaucrats are made to distort the policy goals by manipulating and politicising the way of implementation, under the undue instructions of the political masters belonging to the concerned political parties. The selection of beneficiaries is politicised, and fair implementation is not carried out. This is not acceptable in democratic governance. ‘Sometimes, the political parties prevent the implementation of a policy which goes contrary to their ideology.’[16] But the political parties have their positive role too. In case, the officials are negligent, the politicians point out that. The political parties also act as the watchdog on the functioning of the public servants. By giving feedback and by creating awareness among the masses about the government policies and schemes, the political parties facilitate the implementation process.

When the economy is liberalised and privatisation is being encouraged, it is obvious that the function of private corporations in the delivery of public services is to increase. Services like health, education, electricity are being privatised. Now-a-days, under the privatisation philosophy, government programmes are contracted out to the private agencies[17]. Due to the environment of competition created, there has been some improvement in the delivery and quality of the services provided. In almost all the sectors including the defence one[18], the private players are invited to enhance capability and capacity of the governance process. But it should be kept in mind that in welfare governance, private players who are mainly motivated by profit –making, being guided by the principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, is not necessarily to be concerned with the welfare of under-privileged section of the society.


Implementation process, more specifically in the developing countries like India, is fraught with many problems which hinder it. To begin with, the challenges to implementation come from the very first phase of policy formulation. Poor policy design and ambiguous policy statement can never lead to effective implementation. That is why, in formulation phase itself, the pros and cons of the going-to-be implementation process have to be anticipated. Sometimes lofty policy measures are announced, being oblivious of the feasibility of the policy. Weak and improper policy analysis cannot anticipate the problems nor can it devise proper strategies to counter the challenges. Over-centralisation of policy process is one obstacle in the way of implementation. Due to this problem, the relevance of the local setting in which the policy is to be implemented is side-lined by those who determine the process, sitting at the top. Differences of opinion between the central government and the state governments over the centrally made policies put implementation at risk. Politicisation and bureaucratisation also hamper smooth implementation. Here the bureaucrats are politicised by the political executives to work for the vested interest of the latter, sometimes in the expectation of getting promotion, good posting and so on, and sometimes under immense political pressure. On the other hand, due to the complexities of rules and regulations, bureaucratic knowledge and expertise, the political executives cannot make much headway, and are compelled by the bureaucratic advice and action which goes against the popular interest. In such circumstances, the policies being ill-implemented, the goals of the policies are lost. Sometimes, the unions of the public servants are very strong to work to promote the interests and advantages of their members. In such context, it becomes difficult to take any disciplinary action against the bureaucrats even if they comprise with their implementation duty. In a country like India, it is quite common that powerful and rich section of the society manage to enjoy the lion’s share of the outcome of implementation of a policy, making implementation a failure as it cannot ensure maximum benefit to the maximum number of people. Lack of personnel as well as financial resources is a major constraint in policy implementation. Another setback in implementation is the pressure from the higher authority for speedy implementation, and if a policy is implemented in haste, it is not likely to be effective. Lack of administrative will and motivation among the public servants to serve the society is a serious concern in any administration, because even if everything is in place, implementation can never be successful even the implementers don’t feel enthusiastic and dutiful. In implementing even a single policy, a number of organisations are involved with different roles with the target of achieving an ultimate and overall goal. So naturally, coordination and cooperation among all these institutions is of utmost importance. But there is a lack of these two, creating a hurdle in implementation process. Last but not the least is the lack of involvement of the citizens in the public affairs. In India, though there have come up a number of CSOs, the masses at large have not been vocal about their problems in proper manner. This is no doubt a drawback as far as policy implementation is concerned.


Policy implementation as a crucial stage in the policy process is needed to be studied in reference to the changing context of governance, success of which depends on the successful implementation of public policies. Its importance has remained the same, only some more issues and dimensions have been added. Earlier, policy implementation was the business of mainly the bureaucrats. In the context of governance, this business involves multiple actors. With the increasing number of actors in implementation process today, along with the rising number of opportunities, the number of challenges also has increased. As the resources are limited, they have to be judiciously utilised. Corruption, the mother of all maladies, is also great concern in implementation. To ensure a fair process of implementation, a proper regulatory mechanism must be in place. Above all, a committed, devoted and upright and competent workforce is the need of the hour for effective policy implementation. Provisions should be created to protect the upright and to reward the outstanding performer. The policy implementation should be rigorously analysed to find the shortcomings and devise the techniques to ensure the success of implementation for the ultimate goal of better governance.

This manuscript is a part of the Conference organised by School of Law, Lovely Professional University and the author is N Minarul Islam Biswas, Assistant Professor in Political Science School of Law, Lovely Professional University, Punjab.


[1]K. Mathur, From Government to Governance: A Brief Survey of the Indian Experience, 2. (2008).

[2]Kuldeep Mathur, Public Policy and Politics in India: How Institutions Matter, 20, (2013).

[3]T. R. Dye, Understanding Public Policy (1978).

[4]R. Basu, Public Administration: Concept and Theories, (2004).

[5] N. Henry, Public Administration and Public Affairs, 341 (2013).

[6]J. Pressman and A. Wildavsky, Implementation, (1984).

[7] Policy and Action, (S. Barrett and C. Fudge, 1981).

[8]Supra 6.

[9] D. S. V. Meter and C. V. Horn, “The Policy Implementation Process: A Conceptual Framework”, 6 Administration and Society (1975).

[10]B. Hogwood and L. Gunn, Policy Analysis and the Real World (1984).

[11]M. Lipsky, Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services (1980).

[12]B. Chakrabarty and P. Chand, Public Policy: Concept, Theory and Practice, 58 (2016, p-58).

[13] J. Lewis and R. Flynn, “Implementation of Urban and Regional Planning Policies”, 7 Policy and Politics, (1979).

[14]P. Sahni and E. Vayunandan, Administrative Theory, 278 (2012).

[15] R. S. Kapoor, In Review: Supreme Court Decision Halts Disinvestment, The Financial Express (21/09/ 2003), available at http://www.financialexpress.com.

[16]Supra 12, at 56.

[17]M. Bhattacharya, New Horizons of Public Administration, 92 (2013).

[18] Parikar wants private players to tap DRDO’s knowledge base, The Hindu, 8 (17/01/2017).

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