Multilevel Policy Analysis
How about these people? And these people?
Sitting here? How did what’s here…make it all the way
here? The answer lies in the implementation of public policy – leveraging particular technologies to achieve results for a target population. One relevant policy for exploring how and
what food shows up in school cafeterias is The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed
into law December of 2010 by President Barack Obama.
Who is the target population of this law? Students at public schools.
What was the desired result of this law? To reduce child obesity rates and child hunger in the
U.S. What technology was utilized? The existing national school meal programs Conventionally, results of this policy would
be attributed only to the governmental actors in their design of the Act. But multi-level analysis reveals a more complex system of actors responsible for any policy results, successful or not.
Let’s take a closer look. In conducting a multi-level analysis, there
are three levels at which to consider implementation activities and outcomes: The policy-field
level, the organizational level, and the frontlines level. Starting at the frontlines, who works closest with our target population? The food service personnel. Their experiences and preferences, and given the desires of this law, their understanding of student habits and what they actually do in the lunchroom. Frontline conditions are shaped by the organizational level. Here it’s determined how the ideas recommended or mandated at the policy level are really
going to work. At this level, organizations can act as either authorizers or service providers.
In this policy field, the United States Department of Agriculture serves as an authorizing agency.
Its division of Nutrition and Food Service sets the nutritional standards and training
for the school meal program while reimbursing participating schools for their free-and-reduced
lunch programs. The school district serves as a service organization.
They make food-purchasing decisions and obviously were doing so long before the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The way food service managers fulfill the new mandates varies by the resources that already exist, or the other programs they operate. All these responsibilities were imagined and
resourced at the policy field level. It’s important to recognize that no level
of this policy system acts in isolation. The terminology, decisions, and structures of
one level influence the others. For example, the voiced support of First Lady Michelle
Obama around healthy eating influences the priority school districts place on this issue.
And data from school districts informed the design of the federal policy.
In conclusion, what is the value of conducting a multi-level implementation analysis? It’s
a way to think about policy decisions beyond politics. It considers not just the soundness
of a policy as it is laid out on paper, but the entire system that impacts the outcomes of that policy. For resources on other policy and management
topics, check out the Hubert Project at www.hubertproject.org.