Policy success, policy failure and grey areas in-between: a framework to help capture complex policy outcomes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

182 Citations (Scopus)


Policy protagonists are keen to claim that policy is successful while
opponents are more likely to frame policies as failures. The reality is that
policy outcomes are often somewhere in between these extremes. An
added difficulty is that policy has multiple dimensions, often succeeding
in some respects but not in others, according to facts and their
interpretation. This paper sets out a framework designed to capture the
bundles of outcomes that indicate how successful or unsuccessful a policy
has been. It reviews existing literature on policy evaluation and
improvement, public value, good practice, political strategy and policy
failure and success in order to identify what can be built on and gaps that
need to be filled. It conceives policy as having three realms: processes,
programs and politics. Policies may succeed and/or fail in each of these
and along a spectrum of success, resilient success, conflicted success,
precarious success and failure. It concludes by examining contradictions
between different forms of success, including what is known colloquially
as good politics but bad policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-362
Number of pages18
JournalPolicy Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • policy framework
  • public policy
  • politics

Cite this