Skip to Content

Home » Research Projects » Analysing delivery chains in the Home Office

Lost in translation?

Why policy makers struggle to see their policies implemented

Policy makers can make policies, but it is far harder to ensure that these policies are implemented and achieve the desired results. Policies are not delivered by policy
makers but by those working face to face with the public such as police officers. Clearly a gap exists between policies being made and those policies being successfully implemented. Why is this?

Researchers will trace the chain of steps which occur between devising a policy and delivering it ‘on the ground’. They will follow policies along this chain of decision-making in three contrasting policy areas: the process of providing work permits; reducing street crime; and the issuing of passports. They will then examine some of the new incentives and mechanisms (such as targets and performance indicators) which have been introduced by government to ensure that policies are delivered successfully and consider how well they are working.

What the research means for policy makers and the wider community

Research methods

Researchers will interview policy makers within the Home Office and hold focus groups with those responsible for delivering those policies ‘on the ground’, for example, police officers. As policies pass through a number of hands before they can be implemented, researchers will interview all those involved in the process of translating policies into action. For example, police authorities, chief constables and senior police officers as well as Home Office policy makers and police officers ‘on the beat’.

Further Information: Project Posters

Updated Project Poster 2009

Below is a summary of this project’s provisional findings. It was originally presented as a dissemination poster, which is available here as a pdf document. All figures can be found at the bottom of this poster summary as thumbnails, which one should click to view full-size images. Alternatively, where figures are reffered to in the text, click the linked text for a full-size version.




The link between policies made at the centre and delivery of services on the ground is one of the perennial problems of public service management, and of central concern in an age of ‘delivery’. Failure to deliver policy on the ground has long been blamed on selective implementation by street-level bureaucrats with too much scope for discretion. Yet, many governments also advocate the detachment of delivery agencies from policy-makers and more local autonomy. Do such developments effectively nullify government’s potential to deliver, or can new incentives and partnership arrangements ensure that local actors successfully deliver central policies?


We aimed to:

» map delivery chains for selected crime and security practices in England;

» identify the management mechanisms actually used to diffuse policy through the delivery chain, distinguishing command, partnerships and incentive relationships among the players;

» assess how far the rhetoric of a shift away from command had been realised and if so, what effect such a shift had on the way that street-level bureaucrats delivered services;

» explore whether there was a single mechanism, or combination of mechanisms, most likely to result in effective policy delivery.

What We Did

» We selected three case studies within the Home Office; one immigration policy involving the allocation of work permits, and two crime reduction policies, the street crime initiative (SCI) and anti-social behaviour (ASB) policy. This allowed us to compare different management mechanisms and map the delivery chains involved in each case study (Figures 1 and 2 show the maps of street crime initiative and anti- social behaviour policy respectively).

» To discover the mix of management mechanisms involved, we conducted 63 interviews with people at all stages of each of those delivery chains, from policy-makers in Whitehall to police officers ‘on the beat’.

Provisional Findings

» Elements of all three management mechanisms were found in both the cases illustrated, even though at first sight the SCI was a case of incentive-driven management through PSA targets and ASB was partnership-driven using ‘trailblazer’ areas.

» When central targets were successfully delivered, local autonomy disappeared and street-level bureaucrats were exposed to command and control from the centre.

» While command appeared to be the most successful mechanism for ensuring short-term delivery, it seemed an unreliable way of achieving long- term delivery since it depended on an unsustainably high level of top-level political attention.


Click on the figures to enlarge

smithfig1.jpg smithfig2.jpg

Other Project Outputs and Related Webpages

Project page on the ESRC Society Today website

April 2005: Institutional Reform for Political Control: Analysing the British Labour Government’s Approach to the Pathologies of Governance posted on the Structure and Organisation of Government website.

Research Team

Martin Smith

Martin Smith

Martin Smith is Professor and Head of Department in the Department of Politics, University of Sheffield. His research interests include: the changing nature of the state and the ways in which it is developing new mechanisms for regulating society; the nature and development of the Labour Party since 1994; and public sector reform. From July 2005 he will be co-editor of Political Studies and Political Studies Review.

Tel: 0114 222 1667

David Richards

David Richards

David Richards is Reader in Politics at the University of Sheffield. He is currently researching changes in the Civil Service under New Labour. His main research interests are in British politics, Australian politics, public policy, governance, globalisation and state theory. He is currently researching the changing role of the British State.

Tel: 0114 222 1666

Andrew Geddes

Andrew Geddes

Andrew Geddes is a Professor of Politics at the University of Sheffield. He is currently conducting research into the political economy of migration, immigration and foreign policy, UK asylum politics and policy, EU immigration and asylum policy, and immigration politics in southern Europe. He has provided advice on European and EU migration policy to the UK Home Office, the UK Department for International Development and the US State Department.

Tel: 0114 222 1703