The Top-Down Theory Of Policy Implementation Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 20 March 2017

The Top-Down Theory Of Policy Implementation

There are three well-defined theories on the implementation of policies.  One of these is the top-down school of thought, led by Van Meter and Van Horn (1975), Nakamura and Smallwood (1980) and Mazmanian and Sabatier (1983), which describes the act of putting policies into action as a hierarchical operation of a centrally-defined policy plan.  Unlike the bottom-up theory of policy implementation (Hjern and Hull, 1982) which is motivated by daily problem-solving tactics, the top-down theory focuses on the capacity of the decision makers to generate clear and definite policy goals and management strategies during policy implementation.

The theory is based on the premise that a motion has been formulated by a decision-making body or central council.  The tenet of this theory is that there is a direct correlation between a policy and an actual outcome, and in turn, take no consideration of the effect of implementers on the actual delivery of the policy.  This rigid approach perceives the theory in a simple straightforward formula wherein the policy is the input itself and the implementation as the actual output.

  In addition, the employment of a chain of command in the top-down theory creates an impression that this school of thought is a “governing elite phenomenon.”  Thus, the idea of implementation actually means that bureaucratic measures are to be launched to guarantee that the policies will be perfectly carried out.  Such setting will require a reliable amount of resources, since the theory acts on a command-level basis.  Several agencies will be necessary for the monitoring and implementation of policies, making sure that the goals per level are accomplished to the exact detail and expectation.

There are a number of variables that influence policy implementation using the top-down approach—1) the policy objectives should be clear and consistent, 2) the program is based on a legitimate causal theory, 3) the implementing personnel or officials are committed to the objectives of the program, and 4) the implementation program is properly configured.

The theory seems to be strong and reliable, but knowing the principle behind the top-down theory, this will entail a huge network of personnel that will individually work out their assignments at their respective control level.  The precise functioning of such hierarchical structure is therefore very difficult to actually execute unless the program heads or leaders are extremely driven to see the ultimate results of their policy implementation.

Another shortcoming of the top-down theory involves the characteristic that the policy goals can not be changed.  This setting requires that a policy and its goals can only be modified after a consensus is reached by the governing body.  However, before a consensus is achieved, several evaluations and reassessments are necessary, in order to convince the majority of the governing body that a change is necessary and justifiable.  Therefore, a successful strategy for policy implementation should involve a meticulous, cautious and rigorous program design that will withstand problems relating to the implementation of a policy through a sequence of authority.


Hjern, B. and Hull, C. (1982). Implementation Research as Empirical Constitutionalism. Eur. J. Polit. Res.  10(2):105-116.

Mazmanian, D. and Sabatier, P. (1983):  Implementation and Public Policy. Glenview: Scott.

Nakamura, R. and Smallwood, F (1980): The Politics of Policy Implementation. New York: St.Martin’s Press.

Van Meter, D., and Van Horn, C. (1975):  The Policy Implementation Process. A Conceptual Framework. Administration and Society  6:445-488.

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