The Challenge of Adapting Form to Function
Edited by William M. Lafferty
Chapter 2: Implementation Theory and the Challenge of Sustainable Development: The Transformative Role of Learning
Laurence J. O’Toole, Jr* INTRODUCTION The study of policy implementation has gone through cycles of intense activity during the past few decades. Recently, the topic has receded somewhat from prominence, and several analysts have sought explanation and, in some cases, rejuvenation (deLeon 1999a, 1999b; Lester and Goggin 1998; Meier 1999; Schneider 1999; Winter 1999). While important gaps and shortfalls remain in the effort to develop solid theory to explain implementation action across the range of relevant contexts and cases, considerable progress has been made. Furthermore, much current scholarly effort directed at issues of ‘governance’ – and other themes – is directly relevant to the core question undergirding implementation research: how to explain what goes right, and wrong, between the apparent commitment on the part of a government to do something (or stop doing something) and the impact of that decision in the practical world. A recent assessment of the state of implementation research reached cautiously optimistic conclusions (O’Toole 2000). Still, a number of gaps and challenges remain. The present investigation builds both on that earlier, moderately encouraging, analysis and also on a critical probing of some of the lacunae identified. In particular, the implementation challenge posed by the goal of sustainable development provides an effective way of doing so. Sustainable development itself is a salient objective of great importance, and considering it through the lens of implementation theory accomplishes two purposes. First, some helpful insights about sustainable development itself can be adduced; and, second, challenges and directions for the fuller development of...
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