Jane Lewis is a Managing Director at the Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI), responsible for CEI’s work in the UK and Europe. CEI is an evidence intermediary with offices in London, Norway, Melbourne, Sydney and Singapore. We specialise in the application of implementation science and practice to improve policies, services and programmes in order to help people in communities facing adversity. Jane’s work centres involves assessment of and strategies for implementation and scale-up, and spans intervention and implementation evaluations, programme development, and evidence synthesis. Jane’s background was in research and evaluation and then in research dissemination and take-up before she found her way – driven by frustration at the limited impact of evidence – into the world of implementation science. Before joining CEI she was responsible for innovation, development, implementation and scale-up of Save the Children’s UK early childhood programmes.
Across policy fields, there is recurrent evidence that policies often fail to achieve their objectives, explained in part by implementation challenges. Features of government-led policy raise particular challenges, including that such policy is developed by individuals and groups distant from implementing settings; mandated or regulated; intended to be applied widely; and driven in part by political interests that may not reflect sectoral interests. Our study analyses the features of policy implementation that are associated with success and failure, looking across policy fields. We synthesise policy implementation barriers and facilitators, and the strategies used or recommended to address them in policy development and policy implementation.
We identified policy resources (e.g. guides and toolkits) that make recommendations for policy implementation. Through a systematic organisational website search, we identified and screened 113 resources and selected 10. We searched seven databases for systematic and other reviews of studies and evaluations of policy implementation and that identify associated barriers, facilitators and strategies. We screened 4043 potentially relevant texts, identified 50 as eligible, and prioritised 15 for inclusion. These covered a range of policy domains, forms of government and implementation settings.
The degree to which policies are aligned with their implementation contexts (e.g. social, institutional, political) creates potential barriers and facilitators which can be addressed in policy development or delivery or both, with mutually reinforcing and compensating mechanisms at play. Successful implementation requires justified and clear policy objectives, selection of comprehensive and tailored change strategies, stakeholder engagement, leadership, implementation planning, resource allocation, and monitoring and evaluation.
Policy effectiveness calls for approaches that embed implementation thinking in policy development, rather than viewing implementation as a discrete phase of policy execution or delivery.