Getting policy implementation right is critically important. Failure can cause financial waste, political frustration and disruption for ordinary citizens, as demonstrated in a series of policy failures under governments of all parties. But while the literature on failure is considerable, there is a gap around practical accounts of how to make implementation effective in the distinctive context of government.

Through four in-depth case studies of policies in areas of social justice, the Institute for Government has identified eleven lessons for how ministers and officials can give their policies the best chance of getting delivered. These lessons, and particular challenges around implementing policies with a social justice focus, are brought together in the report Doing them justice.

Lessons

The lessons from our case studies include:

  • Be clear about the problem: High-level policy goals need to be matched with analysis of what problem government is trying to tackle and used to make good judgements on where to focus attention.
  • Work with the wider system: Policies are never implemented onto a blank canvas; they must compete for resources and attention with other national policies and local priorities – and can draw upon some of the assets that often already exist.
  • Stay close to implementers: Bringing others into policymaking is important, but once implementation begins central government also needs to keep strong links with where change is happening to understand how policies are working in the real world.
  • Stay focused: Continuity is an essential ingredient of effective implementation. All of our case studies involved implementing over a period of many years and these long time-spans introduce significant risk to achieving policy goals.
  • Use ministers to drive progress: While politics can add many complications to implementation, ministers play a crucial role in setting milestones and using regular stocktakes to keep up momentum.

Case studies

The four case studies - based on desk research, interviews and ‘reunion’ roundtables with key players – cover the following policies:

  • The London and City Challenges: a school improvement programme that ran in the capital ran from 2003 to 2011 and later in Greater Manchester and the Black Country.
  • Automatic enrolment into pensions: the policy to boost private savings for pensions through requiring all UK employers automatically to enrol their staff into a workplace pension, staging from 2012 – 2017.
  • The 2001 Fuel Poverty Strategy: the way in which the government went about implementing the 2001 commitment to end fuel poverty by 2016, focused on improving energy efficiency for vulnerable households.
  • Sure Start Children’s Centres: the expansion of a targeted local programme to enhance the life chances of disadvantaged children through early education, health services, family support and childcare to universal rollout of 3,500 Centres offering integrated services for families with young children. 

Previous work

This builds on the Institute for Government’s previous research on policymaking, which set out a number of fundamentals to guide the development of good policy, and stressed the need to have strong linkages between policy development and policy implementation. The major case study, Making the Games on delivery of London 2012 began the work on implementation, highlighting strong project management, corporate skills and political co-operation (among others) as important success factors. The report and case studies that make up Doing them justice significantly broadens these lessons and their evidence base.

Project contacts

Director of Research