The discipline of public policy has struggled to come to terms with how we may conceive of ‘policy failure’. It tends to assume either that failure is self-evident or that it can be assessed by means of examining the gap between government goals and outcomes. Often, there are multiple caveats that seem too difficult to address – particularly the role of perceptions, which in turn are often dependent on whether or not the policy is supported. This ground-breaking article builds on and refines existing literature. It turns on its head the multiple methodological challenges surrounding what constitutes policy failure (such as competing goals and variance over time) and suggests that such seemingly impenetrable challenges actually help illuminate our understanding.
In doing so, it argues that once we conceive of studying policy failure as ‘art and craft’, we are better placed to navigate the messy realpolitik of types and degrees of failure, as well as ambiguities and tensions between them. The groundwork for doing so is based on a working definition of failure, namely that a policy fails, even if it is successful in some minimal respects, if it does not fundamentally achieve the goals that proponents set out to achieve, and opposition is great and/or support is virtually non-existent.
McConnell, A. 2015.What is policy failure? A primer to help navigate the maze. Public Policy and Administration