Journal of Public Policy

Research Article

Policy Success, Policy Failure and Grey Areas In-Between


a1 School of Government and Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow


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.

Key words

  • policy success;
  • policy failure;
  • policy evaluation


c1 Address for Correspondence Professor Allan McConnell Department of Government and International Relations University of Sydney Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia e-mail: