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Top-Down Theory of Implementation

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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > T, U, V > Top-Down Theory of Implementation

Top-Down Theory of Implementation

An approach to implementation in which policy is designed by those closer to the top of the political hierarchy, and is implemented according to strategies devised in advance.

(Pierson, 2005)


Street-level bureaucrats are expected to implement policy as outlined by higher-level officials, moving from stage to stage according to a given plan. In order to be effective, top-down implementation strategies must be based on sound theory and policy design. If the guiding principles behind the implementation approach are misaligned, the policy may be pulled off track quite easily.

The approach has been criticized for involving too many stages in the policy chain, thus creating numerous opportunities for things to go wrong or for strategies to be pulled off track.


Paul Pierson, "The Study of Policy Development," The Journal of Policy History, 17, 1, 2005, pp. 34-51
Peter deLeon and Linda deLeon, "What Ever Happened to Policy Implementation? An Alternative Approach" (2002)

Approved for glossaryposting by Ben Eisen on February 27, 2011

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© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance