Democratic Policy Implementation in an Ambiguous World

By Luke Fowler

Subjects: Public Policy, Public Administration, Politics, Law, Environmental Politics
Hardcover : 9781438493596, 248 pages, July 2023
Paperback : 9781438493589, 248 pages, January 2024

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Policy-in-Theory Is Not Policy-in-Practice

1. Adding Structure to Anarchy

2. Administrators, Citizens, and Democratic Governance

3. Decision-Making under Ambiguous Circumstances

4. Organizations, Managers, and Entrepreneurs

5. Functionality and Formalization

6. From Ideas to Actions and Actions to Outcomes

7. So, What?


Explains the complexities of policy implementation and why attempts to translate new laws into effective and enduring policy sometimes succeed and sometimes fail.


The hard part of government is not passing new laws but implementing those laws. Implementation is where high-minded ideas are pushed and prodded into the chaos that is the real world. Often, this leads to unintended consequences as ideas are transformed into actions. For better or worse, policy implementation occurs within organized anarchies marred by ambiguity where who pays attention to what and when is the most important determinant of outcomes. While the new law serves as a cue, implementers must figure out how to make it functional in the best way possible and how to institutionalize it to establish new norms that endure. In unpacking an argument of how and why patterns of policy implementation manifest as they do, Luke Fowler takes the reader through a journey of how policymakers, organizations, and entrepreneurs shape the way implementers understand policies and translate them into action under ambiguous circumstances. The result is a complex picture of why some policies work in practice and others do not.

Luke Fowler is Associate Professor of Public Administration and Faculty Director of the School of Public Service at Boise State University. He is the author of Environmental Federalism: Old Legacies and New Challenges.


"An excellent addition for collections on American politics, public policy, and administration." — CHOICE

"By imaginatively applying the multiple streams framework to a wide range of issues, Fowler draws much-needed attention to the nexus of (and sometimes tradeoff between) effective implementation and democratic governance." — Nikolaos Zahariadis, editor of Handbook on Public Policy Agenda Setting