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Can action research evaluate and enhance policy implementation? / Anne Kelly
Swansea University Author: Anne Kelly
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This thesis aims to advance understanding of how to evaluate processes of policy implementation. It has been found that policy implementation may falter due to characteristics of interactions between parties responsible for its implementation. Yet, over simplification of interpretations of policy im...
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This thesis aims to advance understanding of how to evaluate processes of policy implementation. It has been found that policy implementation may falter due to characteristics of interactions between parties responsible for its implementation. Yet, over simplification of interpretations of policy implementation appear to have produced a limited study of the process, and little theory regarding variations m implementation practice. Indeed, some believe that policy implementation is a 'black box' characterised by a 'black hole of understanding. Interest in ways in which policy is implemented did not develop until the 1970s, when it became clear that many post war policies had not performed to plan. Until this time, policy analysis had been primarily concerned with the 'front end' of policy processes, that is, the rationality of policy decisions. Burgeoning interest in poor policy performance led to an interest in the delivery end of the policy process. This interest has giown in direct proportion to tighter fiscal situations and a need to demonstrate efficiency and effectiveness in relation to government investment. Systems frameworks are most commonly used for policy evaluation, but there is debate about their ability to provide a clear picture of outcomes, as there is no methodology for linking service outputs to outcomes of policy implementation. This is particularly the case, when policy is expected to bring about behavioural change, as in recent child and family policy m the UK. This debate has resulted in a consensus view that a more eclectic approach to policy implementation analysis should be adopted. Some conclude that policy implementation should be analysed by deconstructing the process, others, that barriers to policy implementation should be identified. There is growing support for the need of learning from the implementation process, as this reveals more about policy outcomes. Consequently, a number of policy implementation theorists suggest action research as a means of evaluation. This study tests the use of action research in evaluating the implementation of recent changes in child and family policy, as there are criticisms that the policy is poorly implemented. In Wales, policy has been devolved from the Welsh Assembly, with the express intention of it being implemented by local authorities. The policy, however, consists of a 'volte face' on the part of the government from traditional minimalist libertarian family policy, to a form of interventionist policy not previously used m the UK. 'New' policy has therefore placed heavy demands upon local authorities expected to reduce child poverty through processes of community and social development. Action research has been described as a means of understanding people and engaging them in a process of planned change, thus people can be empowered to work collaboratively and become involved in processes of democratic development. In short it is a process of combining research with social action. In the case of this study the use of action research revealed that there were many barriers to policy implementation at the micro-level of management. The use of action research assisted m identifying barriers, engaging policy implementers in a process of overcoming them, and devising a model of policy implementation which increased understanding and improved implementation of the broad thrusts of policy. Potentially, this improved the policy outcomes for children and their families and stemmed a waste of resources resulting from poor policy implementation.
Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences