In this Issues Paper, the authors examine what light current literature can shed on the processes of policy implementation, what is known about this topic and where gaps remain. The authors found a burgeoning literature, but within this literature the concept of implementation is a rather contentious affair with contributions from a range of different academic disciplines and replete with many examples of what happens when implementation goes wrong.
The boundaries of this concept are unclear and while the literature offers a number of descriptive accounts of implementation, it does not necessarily tell us all that much about the actual concept and its practice. Despite contributions from a number of countries and policy areas, many unanswered questions remain about policy implementation. The authors do find, however, some useful new contributions and opportunities to explore within this evidence base.
This paper maps the literature revealing a number of overarching themes: that an understanding of how implementation decisions are made, by who, and why, can help to explain the outcomes of implementation processes; that certain elements of implementation are under-researched or overlooked when attempting to understand implementation and that bringing a focus on these elements could help understand processes and outcomes, and that determining what has worked, and why, in ways that can be effectively compared between policies can inform effective implementation design.