Policy implementation in the era of accelerating projectification: Synthesizing Matland’s conflict–ambiguity model and research on temporary organizations

DOI10.1177/0952076717702957
Published date01 October 2018
Date01 October 2018
Public Policy and Administration
2018, Vol. 33(4) 447–465
!The Author(s) 2017
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DOI: 10.1177/0952076717702957
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Article
Policy implementation
in the era of accelerating
projectification:
Synthesizing Matland’s
conflict–ambiguity
model and research on
temporary organizations
Christian Jensen, Staffan Johansson
and Mikael Lo
¨fstro
¨m
University of Gothenburg, Sweden; University of Bora
˚s, Sweden
Abstract
It has become increasingly common to use the project as a form of organization when
implementing public policies. Previous research has identified political, administrative
and organizational motives behind this trend towards more project-based organizations
within the public administration. The problem is that project-based organization carries
inherent problems and special challenges when these projects are supposed to be
implemented in permanent agencies and organizations. The purpose of this paper is
to identify problems and challenges that public administrations face when ‘the project
organization’ is used as a structural form of organization in implementing different kinds
of public policies. The article takes its starting point in the policy implementation
research and especially in Matland’s conflict-ambiguity model. This research tradition
is complemented by a review of research on temporary organizations, which draws
attention to some inherent and significant characteristics of project organizations, that
is the concepts of entity, relationship and time. Our analysis shows that the use of
project organization puts special demands on the players involved, and if these are not
taken into account, there is a high risk that projects designed to bring about social
change will not produce the effects that policymakers and citizens expect.
Corresponding author:
Staffan Johansson, University of Gothenburg, PO Box 720, Gothenburg 405 30, Sweden.
Email: staffan.johansson@gu.se
Keywords
Administrative theory, implementation, policymaking, public management, public sector
reform
Introduction and purpose
It has become increasingly common to use the project as a form of organization
when implementing new public policies in the human services and in other policy
areas as well. The European Union [E.U] is a key player behind this development in
Europe, with its structural funds providing billions of euros for temporary projects
(Arnaboldi et al., 2004; Godenhjelm et al., 2015; Sjo
¨blom et al., 2013; Turner et al.,
2010). However, the same trend can also be found at national, regional, and local
levels in many countries (Marsden et al., 2012). Previous research has identified
political, administrative and organizational motives behind the trend towards
increased ‘projectification’ within public human services (Jensen et al., 2013).
Projectification is defined here as an increased use of the organizational form
‘project’ in discourse and practice in different societal and organizational settings
(Midler, 1995). Despite these strong driving forces and motives, it is not obvious
that policymakers had the clear intention to create project organizations when
these policies were formed and decided. Nevertheless, many public policies seem
to logically create project organizations when these policies are supposed to be
implemented.
A problem with this ‘projectification’ of public policy implementation is that
the use of project organizations carries some inherent complications that are not
sufficiently understood, either by policymakers or by current research on policy
implementation. We agree with Hupe (2014), who argues that the problems related
to the implementation of public policy are as urgent and pressing as ever, although
the concept of implementation seems to have been given less priority on the
political and the academic agendas. The reason behind this omission may be
that contemporary societal challenges are not primarily addressed as implementa-
tion problems, but rather as complex governance problems that demand the cre-
ation of arenas, regulations, and incentives for coordinated action among relevant
actors (Hupe, 2014). Nevertheless, the establishment of temporary structural funds
and accompanying projectification can be perceived as one such example of a new
form of governance in contemporary society. We claim that there is an urgent need
to integrate the body of research on policy implementation with research on project
organizations used in handling implementation issues to update our current state of
knowledge in the area of policy implementation as well as in the areas of public and
project management (PM).
The purpose of this paper is to identify problems and challenges that public
administrations face when ‘the project organization’ is used as a structural form of
organization in implementing different kinds of public policies. The analysis is
structured according to Matland’s (1995) conflict–ambiguity model, which appears
448 Public Policy and Administration 33(4)

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