November 7, 2011

Pressman and Wildavsky: POLICY IMPLEMENTATION

Presented by J. B. Nangpuhan II (MPA student) for the class of Dr. J. K. Seo, Professor of Public Administration at Chonnam National University, South Korea under public policy, presented fall semester-2011.

In the 1970s, some scholars of public policy like Jeffrey L. Pressman and Aaron B. Wildavsky emerged. Their pioneering study on ‘IMPLEMENTATION’ of policies became one of the major footprints in studying public policy. Pressman and Wildavsky based most of their theories on their study about Economic Development Agency (EDA) projects in Oakland-California funded by the U.S. federal government in 1965.
Pressman and Wildavsky defined ‘implementation’ as “to carry out, accomplish, fulfill, produce, complete”. This definition embodies the role of public servants in the government bureaucracy to give efficient and equitable service to the people.
In this report, the theories of Pressman and Wildavsky on policy implementation are very important. Since they are considered the pioneers to the emerging field of implementation, their concepts should be given utmost consideration. The suggestions of Pressman and Wildavsky will help develop efficient decision makers and policy makers. The most vital thing in this report is to remember that implementation must NOT be excluded during the process of making policies.

The main objective of the EDA project was to help stimulate the economy of devastated Oakland by creating public work projects that would create jobs for the unemployed African-American people. The EDA had four major projects in Oakland: an airport hanger ($10,650,000), a marine terminal ($10,125,000), a port industrial park ($2,100,000), and an access road to the coliseum ($414,000).[1] However, other projects were added later during the planning and implementation process. Eugene C. Foley, assistant secretary of commerce, spearheaded the EDA-Oakland project. In Foley’s perspective, similar projects had been successful in rural areas and he wanted the same success for the Oakland project.
Pressman and Wildavsky found out that everything looked positive during the early years of the project. The policy was formulated, all participants were agreed on the overall goals, the specific public projects undertaken, and the employment plan was set in place. Financial allocations for these projects were also arranged. Implementation of the project was only a matter of technical details.
However, the project started to fail when EDA began to experience delays during the implementation process. Deals that had been made with outside companies were being compromised by new cost estimates. EDA was beginning to find out the difference between working in a rural area versus an urban one. As the delays began to pile up, there were also management changes. Eugene Foley (the head of the project) resigned in 1966. Along with the changed of management was a deteriorating enthusiasm to continue the project. Most of the funding was exhausted to partner agencies. But the goal of providing jobs to African-Americans was compromised because only few jobs were actually offered. Eventually, the project was declared a complete failure in the 1970s.

1.       Multiple Goals and Decision Paths
Implementation of the EDA policy would be difficult from the beginning. Pressman and Wildavsky noted that while there was one goal, to reduce unemployment, the solution actually involved the implementation of two separate decision paths: a) financing the construction of the public works project, and b) developing a hiring plan to ensure firms would actually involve the targeted workers.
Achieving the overall policy goal, then, required the completion of both decision paths. Unfortunately, increasing the number of decision paths increases the number of decision makers. Decision makers in one path may not necessarily care about the outcome of the other path.
For example, officials involved in developing the employment and training plans for the EDA projects did not place high priority on the timely completion of the public works; they were only concerned that employment plans comply with the appropriate regulations. 
2.       Correlating the Number of Decisions to Program Success
In the analysis of Pressman and Wildavsky for the EDA project, they assumed that each decision point[2] had a high probability of being approved. However, adding more decisions would lead to failure. That is, as the number of decisions seeking approval for a program to be implemented increases, the chance for overall program success dramatically decreases.
3.       Intensity of Participant
Pressman and Wildavsky also found out that disagreements to come up with a decision consumed much time and resources for renegotiation by participants of each agency. The result of such bargaining leads to delay in implementing the policy.
The table below illustrates the assumption of Pressman and Wildavsky that “the use of resources is a direct function of intensity of preference”.
Table 1. Intensity of participants to a certain decision

Direction of Preference
Intensity of Participant
Minimal delay, no bargaining
Minor delay, no bargaining
Maximal delay, bargaining over essentials
Moderate delay, bargaining over peripherals
4.       Bargaining
The implementation of the EDA project took several delays. One reason is due to disagreements on the best decisions on which to implement. Each participant wanted to implement the most appropriate program that is favorable to their own agency. In turn, bargaining consumed time and resources causing delays on implementation.
5.       Going Outside the Bureaucracy
When implementing a new program, there is a tendency to conjure a new organization which create new guidelines, hire different people, and establish new rules to conduct work. Pressman and Wildavsky noted that the creation of EDA Oakland Task Force as separate organization created another problem in the policy implementation.
Based on the analysis to the EDA project, Pressman and Wildavsky prescribed the following important points:
1.       Implementation should not be divorced from policy and must not be conceived as a process that takes place after, and independent of, the design of policy.”
2.       Designers of policy must consider direct means for achieving their ends.” The EDA experiment was plagued with implementation via intermediaries, and the multiplicity of decision points and clearances resulted in a “complexity of joint actions” that paralyzed the implementation process. Hence, a second way of joining policy more closely with implementation would be to pay as much attention to the creation of organizational machinery for executing a program.”
3.       Consider carefully the theory that underlies your actions. “Behind the seemingly endless number of roadblocks in the path of the EDA employment program in Oakland, the deficiencies in concept were observed. The economic theory was faulty because it aimed at the wrong target – subsidizing the capital of business enterprises rather than their wage bill.”
4.       Continuity of leadership is important to successful implementation. The abrupt disappearance of key actors (such as Eugene C. Foley, the man who started the EDA Oakland project) wreaked havoc on the program.
5.       Simplicity in policies is much to be desired. Simplicity can be ignored only at the peril of breakdown. If policy analysts carry bumper sticker, they should read, “Be Simple! Be Direct! or PAYMENT ON PERFORMANCE.”
Pressman and Wildavsky’s 40 years old discussion still applies to a wide array of current policies. Although they did not attempt to construct an explicit theoretical model of the implementation process, their observations provided clear indications of some of the key elements that should be consciously applied by public administrators. They accepted the concept that the policy process was basically unidirectional (in which policies were first designed or formulated by leaders and then carried out through intermediary implementers). But their analysis broke with the “classical” dichotomy between politics and administration by stressing the close relationship between policy design and implementation. In this respect, Pressman and Wildavsky seemed they wanted to change the “classical” theory by calling for integration, rather than the separation, of policy formations and policy implementation.
In a separate reading to the article of Shannon (2005) who also reviewed the work of Pressman and Wildavsky, he proposed that to increase the probability of successful implementation, administrators should: a) restrict the number of participants, b) reduce the number of decisions required to carry out the policy, and c) be aware of the intensity whether or not a participant wants the policy to move forward. All these considerations will affect the outcome of the implementation process.
Robert T. Nakamura, Frank Smallwood. 1980. The Politics of Policy Implementation. 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, USA: St. Martin’s Press, Inc. 13-14
Daniel A. Mazmanian, Paul A. Sabatier. 1981. Effective Policy Implementation. United States of America: D.C. Heath and Company. 4
Charles Cole, III. Book Review: Pressman, J. & Wildavsky, A. (1984). Implementation: How Great Expectations in Washington are Dashed in Oakland: or, Why It’s Amazing that Federal Programs Work at All, This Being a Saga of the Economic Development Administration as Told by Two Sympathetic Observers Who Seek to Build Morals on a Foundation of Ruined Hopes. University of California Press. Available at <>. Accessed on November 1, 2011.
Jim Shannon. 2005. Book Review: Implementation. Available at <>. Accessed on November 1, 2011.
Heather Dash: Implementation of Policies to Reduce Discrimination in Housing. Available at <>. Accessed on November 1, 2011.

[1] Pressman and Wildavsky. 1984. Implementation. 30.
[2] Decision point is also called clearance point. It means the point in space and time where the commander or staff anticipates making a decision concerning a specific course of action. It is usually associated with a specific target.


Anonymous said...

What they wanted to explain when they said " The cards in this world are stacked against things happening"

Ajay Narayan said...

thank u :) this was a comprehensive article :) God bless u.

Anonymous said...

Too bad the government killed pressman and his mother and father... "Suicides"