Accountability, Effectiveness, and Independence — Striking the Proper Balance

Tracking the Implementation of Voluntary Sector-Government Policy Agreements: Is the Voluntary and Community Sector in the Frame?

The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 8, Issue 4, August 2006

By Peter R. Elson1

Central governments have repeatedly entered into bilateral policy agreements (as distinct from regulatory or legislative measures) with a collective of voluntary sector representatives. This practice started with the signing of a Compact in England and the rest of the UK in 1998, and has continued with the signing of the Voluntary Sector Accord in Canada in 2001, and similar agreements in Eastern Europe.

There has been particular interest in tracking the implementation of bilateral policy agreements between the voluntary sector and the government, especially within and between Canada and the UK. To date, much of this analysis has been process-oriented, profiling trends and highlighting issues facing key stakeholders. By contrast, this article analyzes these policy agreements in the context of a broader Policy Implementation Framework (PIF), initially developed by Paul Sabatier and Daniel Mazmanian in the early 1980s. The application of the PIF to the policy agreements between the voluntary sector and the government reveals significant differences in how these policy agreements are being implemented in Canada and England. The article assesses the impact of material, structural and contextual variables on policy implementation, and examines the viability of using this model to assess similar agreements.


Both Canada, in 2001, and England, in 1998, have entered into bilateral policy agreements at the national level between the voluntary sector and the government (Government of Canada, 2001; Straw & Stowe, 1998) . The Canadian Accord, like the UK Compact, is a framework agreement that outlines a shared vision, values, general principles, and a mutual commitment to building a positive relationship and pursuing common purposes. The Accord is designed to strengthen the relationship between the two sectors by (1) encouraging better partnering practices; (2) fostering consistent treatment of voluntary organizations across government; and (3) promoting a better understanding within each sector of the constraints, operations, and practices of the other. The policy agreements in both countries are seen as “intention setters” that define the intended state of relations between the two sectors (K. L. Brock, 2004; Morison, 2000).

A number of policy researchers have analyzed Accord/Compact developments in Canada and England (K.L. Brock, 2004; Carrington, 2002; Craig, Taylor, Carleton, & Garbutt, 2005; Good, 2003; Morison, 2000; S. D. Phillips, 2004b) . Much of this analysis has been process-focused, drawing on the seminal work of John Kingdon. It has been insightful in drawing out the dynamics of issues, policies, and politics of voluntary sector relations with the respective national governments (Kingdon, 1995).

This paper takes a different tack. I utilize a Policy Implementation Framework (PIF), which takes account not of process but of material, structural, and contextual variables (Sabatier, 1986).

Why This Framework?

Policy implementation has been viewed as a “top down” process, driven by policy implementers; a “bottom-up” process, which positions street level bureaucrats as key policy implementers; and an advocacy coalition process, which captures the dynamics of competing interests (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1989a) . Each of these models, however, is predicated on a number of conditions. The optimal model thus depends on the particular conditions.

The PIF model has been shown to be superior to a more “bottom-up” or “advocacy coalition” approach under the following circumstances: (1) when there is a dominant piece of legislation or policy structuring the situation to be analyzed; (2) when research funds are limited; (3) when the focus is on the extent of structure or constraint in the overall policy system, and mean responses are desired; and (4) when the policy process operates with at least moderate clarity and consistency (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1989b) . All of these conditions are exemplified by the Accord/Compact agreements.

Paul Sabatier and Daniel Mazmanian developed their “top-down” theoretical framework for analyzing policy implementation in the early 1980s. The framework applies a number of statutory and non-statutory variables to five identified stages in the policy implementation process (see Figure 1) (Sabatier & Mazmanian, 1980) . This approach to analyzing policy implementation is grounded in policy theory, such as veto points and causal theory (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1989b; Pressman & Wildavsky, 1973) .

The PIF addresses particular policy implementation issues: (1) the extent to which implementing officials and target groups act consistently with the objectives and procedures outlined in the policy decision; (2) the extent to which policy objectives are attained; (3) the principal factors affecting policy outcomes and impacts; and (4) the policy’s reformulation, if any. In addition, the PIF conceptual framework provides a broader socioeconomic context in which policy implementation issues can be addressed.

The timeframe for appropriately applying the PIF has been set at between twenty and thirty-five years, to allow for slow starts and the reemergence of issues after a hiatus. Because the voluntary sector-government agreements in Canada and England have been in place for only five and eight years, respectively, this paper addresses the suitability of the framework for long-term analysis, rather than offering any definitive answer as to the success of policy implementation in the two countries. However, the context in which such a policy is launched establishes some implementation success factors, and these will be identified.

The Policy Implementation Framework (PIF)

According to Mazmanian and Sabatier, the crucial role of implementation analysis is to identify the variables that affect the achievement of the policy objectives throughout the process. These variables can be divided into three broad categories: (1) the material variables associated with the problem(s) being addressed, (2) the structural dimensions that influence the implementation process, and (3) the net effect of a variety of contextual variables to support the policy. Mazmanian and Sabatier in turn apply these three independent variables to five stages of policy implementation.

Figure 1


Modified from Mazmanian and Sabatier (1983). Implementation and Public Policy. Used with permission of the author.

Material Variables

Material variables reflect the core intent of the policy. On the one hand, small and well-defined policy changes are easier to support, politically, and have a greater chance of success (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983). On the other hand, significant and complex changes require less-focused regulations and allow implementing officials much greater discretion.

Policy implementation is influenced by the need for hierarchical integration and the variations in bureaucratic commitment to policy objectives (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983). The diverse behavior in hierarchical organizations poses considerable challenges (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983), all the more so when combined with two additional factors, the horizontal governance across multiple government departments, and the inherent diversity of the voluntary sector (S. D. Phillips, 2004b).

Structural Variables

Seven structural variables influence policy implementation: (1) clear and consistent objectives, (2) incorporation of an adequate causal theory, (3) hierarchical integration within and among implementing institutions, (4) decision rules of implementing agencies, (5) recruitment of implementing agencies, (6) access by outsiders, and (7) the initial allocation of financial resources (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) .

Hierarchical integration within and among implementing institutions (e.g., federal or central government departments or agencies) is determined by two factors: the number of veto/clearance points involved in implementing the policy objectives, and the extent to which those who support the policy objectives have both incentives and sanctions to advance compliance. Veto/clearance points are defined as occasions when an intermediary has the capacity (though not necessarily the authority) to impede progress (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1981, , 1983) . This is a critical variable, as it reflects both institutional support and the commitment and leadership of implementing officials. The effects of horizontal governance, and those of conflicting priorities with existing or emerging mandates across multiple government departments, have been addressed by several researchers on both on both sides of the Atlantic (K.L. Brock, 2004; Craig et al., 2005; S. D. Phillips, 2004b) .

Successfully implementing the policy also requires that external stakeholders have formal opportunities to influence implementation, and that independent entities undertake evaluation studies. If the policy is formalized in statute, then legal challenges are available. Otherwise, much depends on the commitment and skill of implementing officials, and the organized support of external stakeholders and legislators to keep the implementation process moving forward (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1989a) .

Contextual Variables

Legislators support policy implementation by controlling the nature and extent of oversight, the availability of financial resources, and the introduction of new and possibly conflicting policies (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) .

Another key variable is leaders recruited for the implementing agencies. These leaders must possess substantial managerial and political skill and must be committed to the policy goals. As policy “fixers,” they must ensure that the policy is implemented to the fullest extent possible – a responsibility beyond what we might normally expect in light of their positions and resources.

Beyond the material and structural aspect of policy implementation, a policy needs a periodic political boost to maintain its visibility and relevance in a changing socioeconomic climate. Policy objectives should not be undermined by the emergence of conflicting public policies (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) . Further, a decline in the resources or the commitment of external stakeholders can enfeeble implementation (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) . Intermediary organizations need the membership, resources, and expertise to position themselves as strong, legitimate, essential, and continuing participants in the policy implementation process.

Five Stages of Policy Implementation

Sabatier and Mazmanian list five stages of policy implementation: (1) the policy outputs, or decisions, of departments; (2) the compliance of internal and external target groups with those decisions; (3) the actual impact of the decisions; (4) the perceived impact of the decisions and (5) the political system’s revision of the original policy (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) . (See Figure 1.) The first three steps address policy output, and the last two address the political system’s relationship to the policy. Although policy implementation is much more complex than this model depicts, these stages do reflect general tendencies in “top down” policy implementation.

Application of the PIF to the Accord with Comparisons to the Compact

Accord/Compact-like agreements have been signed by national governments in a number of countries, and by regional and local jurisdictions within countries (Bullain & Toftisova, 2005; S. D. Phillips, 2005a; Toftisova, 2005) . All of these agreements have been based, to a significant degree, on the original UK Compact (S.D. Phillips, 2001) . Such an agreement makes a government responsible for developing better practices in its dealings with the voluntary sector. The agreement embodies shared visions and principles, along with a commitment on the part of each side to fulfill particular responsibilities (S. D. Phillips, 2002) . Both the Accord and the Compact acknowledge the independence and diversity of the voluntary and community sector. In addition, these agreements typically embody themes of accountability, governance, and representation, which can provide the foundation for more detailed codes of good practice (Elson, 2004) .

Material Variables in the Accord

Target group

In the case of the Canadian Accord, the target group can be defined as relevant bureaucrats in the federal/national bureaucracy and their affiliated agencies, plus – at least potentially – all registered charities and nonprofits. In Canada, about 80,000 charities fall under federal jurisdiction (M.H. Hall, de Witt, Lasby, & McIver, 2004) . To put this number in perspective, small organizations with revenues less than $250,000 a year make up 80 per cent of voluntary sector organizations in Canada.

Diversity of target group behavior

Before the launch of the Accord, relationships between the federal government and voluntary organizations varied widely. This framework suggests that these initial trajectories have often continued. Although systematic implementation data are sketchy, there is reason to believe that the departments that have been most successful in initial policy implementation are the ones that already had constructive working relationships with voluntary organizations. In the 2003 voluntary sector report on the implementation of the Canadian Accord, the majority of respondents reported a good relationship with the federal government, yet over half reported little or no change in that relationship (K.L. Brock, 2004) . In addition, an internal government survey reveals that more socially oriented departments (e.g., Heritage Canada, Social Development Canada, and Health Canada) were ahead of others in implementing the Accord.2

Structural Variables in the Accord/Compact

Clear and consistent objectives?

The Accord in Canada is very general and lacks any specific departmental commitments. Trade-offs between policy options were not confronted during negotiations, and the parties did not develop an operational framework for choosing among alternative program initiatives before signing the Accord (Good, 2003) .

Two Codes of Good Practice (Funding and Policy Dialogue) were developed subsequent to the Accord to put some of the Accord principles into practice in both government and voluntary sector organizations. The Canadian Code of Good Practice on Funding, for example, specifies that the government will “use multi-year funding agreements and develop and implement mechanisms to facilitate their use” and “manage funds effectively to eliminate problems caused by the distribution of a concentrated amount of funding to organizations at the end of the fiscal year” (VSI, 2002, 13) . Yet even the Codes of Good Practice often leave considerable room for interpretation.

Valid causal theory?

How well understood are the policy statements outlined in the Accord? The Accord itself grew out of broad-based but disconnected voluntary sector representation and a short-lived “feel-good” political agenda on the part of the Liberal government (Johnston, 2000, , 2005; S. Phillips, 2003) . In particular, the government wanted to avoid contentious areas (e.g., advocacy, financing) and achieve a concrete “deliverable” – the Accord – by the end of the International Year of Volunteers in 2001 (K. L. Brock, 2004; S. Phillips, 2003; S. D. Phillips, 2004a) .

A valid causal theory also requires that officials responsible for implementing the program have the authority necessary to succeed – or, put differently, that they have jurisdiction over a sufficient number of the critical linkages needed to achieve the policy objectives (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) . In Canada, three of the most significant voluntary sector initiatives are divided between different departments, and six different layers of responsibility lie between the lead ministers and the horizontal requirements directed to deputy ministers (K.L. Brock, 2004) . Without a central coordinating body with authority to direct other departments, the result is myriad veto/clearance points.

Hierarchical integration in departments?

The degree of hierarchical integration depends on, first, the number of veto/clearance points in the attainment of policy objectives; and, second, the extent to which supporters of those objectives can forestall potential vetoes through inducements and sanctions.

One positive example has been the Canadian Revenue Agency, responsible for charity registration and regulation. The Canada Revenue Agency has enhanced its transparency; increased its consultations with the sector; clarified its advocacy regulations; and initiated a Charities Advisory Committee, although the latter has recently been suspended by the recently elected minority Conservative government (Carter, 2006; CCRA, 2005; Johnston, 2005) .

However, consistent vertical and horizontal implementation remains an ongoing challenge for both the sector and the government (Compact, 2005a ; Eakin, 2005; Voluntary Sector Forum, 2005) . For example, only in March 2006, following a very public clash, did the federal government post the position of a “fairness advisor” to intervene in contract disputes (Service Canada, 2006) . By contrast, the English Compact strategically provided for a mediation process to resolve differences, a mechanism that has been exercised on a number of occasions (Straw & Stowe, 1998) .

Decision rules of implementing agencies?

In Canada, a series of Auditor General’s reports highlighted weaknesses in federal funding of the private sector, which in turn cast a shadow over all agreements, including those with voluntary sector organizations. The result has been significant increases in accountability and reporting requirements, greater micromanagement, and a general reluctance of government departments to take any risks (Eakin, 2005; S. D. Phillips & Levasseur, 2005; Scott, 2003) . These practices violate the spirit of the Accord and the terms outlined in the Codes of Good Practice for Funding, which together explicitly acknowledge the independence of the voluntary sector and call for multiyear and flexible funding agreements (Government of Canada, 2001 ; VSI, 2002) .

Officials’ commitment to policy objectives?

No matter how well a policy structures the formal decision-making process, the objectives cannot be attained without the support of officials in the implementing agencies (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) . Any new program requires implementers who can and will develop necessary regulations and enforce them in the face of resistance from bureaucrats or others.

The Accord fundamentally addresses horizontal governance, so “champions” have been appointed or designated to assume the lead for implementing the Accord in different departments. These champions’ status and authority, and thus their impact, vary considerably. Often an assistant deputy minister, a champion liaises with the lead department, Social Development Canada, and “spreads the word” at the departmental level (K.L. Brock, 2004) . Though it is still early in the implementation process, champions thus far appear to have produced more promotional sizzle than regulatory substance.

Phillips points out that an issue remains politically salient when ministers and deputy ministers are involved in the decision-making process. Without such decision points, they are likely to disengage, leaving middle managers with few incentives to stay atop issues that are not central to their mandate (S. D. Phillips, 2004b) . At the same time, the voluntary sector needs to do much within its own ranks to raise importance of this policy, by collectively taking steps to address implementation issues (Johnston, 2005) .

Formal access by outsiders and independent evaluation?

Policy implementation will be affected by the extent to which target group representatives are able to participate through formal decision-making forums and independent evaluation studies (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) .

In Canada, most individual organizations must struggle on their own to address or absorb any policy discrepancies, while in the UK a dispute resolution process was built in to the Compact agreement (Eakin, 2005; Goar, 2005; S. D. Phillips, 2003; Scott, 2003; Service Canada, 2006) . The Accord as well as the Compact’s policy status (as distinct from having formal legal status) limits the availability of any legal venues. So developing and maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship assumes particular importance for both parties, politically as well as practically.

Formal evaluation studies by relatively independent observers can help to achieve policy objectives (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) . In Canada, there has been no call to date for a systematic or independent implementation data-collection process (Government of Canada, 2003; Government of Canada, 2004; Voluntary Sector Forum, 2003; Voluntary Sector Forum, 2004) .

Adequate financial resources to achieve launch?

Money is critical. Without it, staff can’t be hired, regulations remain undeveloped, programs are not administered, and compliance goes unmonitored. In general, a threshold of funding is required in order to launch the program; funds allocated above this threshold can be proportionally related to the ultimate achievement of policy objectives (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) . Inadequate funding can doom a policy program before it gets started. Because funding must be reviewed periodically by the legislature, funding represents an important indicator of legislative and executive support for the program. In Canada, though an initial $95 million was allocated to voluntary sector initiatives over a five-year period, far less than $1 million was allocated to support implementation of the Accord within the sector, and no new funds were announced in the 2005 budget (Christie, 2005) .

In England, new investments in voluntary sector capacity are an ongoing part of a ten-year strategic plan, including the most recent ₤70 million addition to an initial ₤80 million allocated to build sectoral capacity at a national and local level (HomeOffice, 2005) . These investments are also leveraged by the mainstream role of voluntary organizations as exemplified by their growing role in service delivery, the 2002 cross-cutting review, and the active and rigorous scrutiny the Compact has received from academic researchers and dedicated media.

Comparative Policy Implementation Status

To answer the question of where the Compact and the Accord are in the context of this framework, published research and implementation reports were analyzed and two senior representatives of the voluntary sector in Canada and England with an intimate knowledge of the Accord/Compact were interviewed. Notwithstanding the variance in time-frames between the two agreements, the following factors were assessed: clarity and consistency of policy objectives; the adequacy and validity of causal theory and jurisdiction; a supportive implementation process (assignment to sympathetic agencies, adequate hierarchical integration, supportive decision rules, and sufficient financial resources); commitment and skill of implementing officials; continuing backing from supporters and legislators; and changes in supportive conditions.

For the majority of variables (seven of ten) profiled in Table I (see below), Canada’s policy implementation status was rated low-moderate (notable obstacles to effective implementation, though with some factors conducive to implementation). Of the remaining three variables, supportive decision rules and formal access by supporters were rated low; and clear and consistent objectives was given a moderate rating.

In England (national level only), eight of ten variables were given a moderate or a moderate to high (strong asset in effective implementation of policy objectives); and the remaining two, assignment to sympathetic agencies and supportive conditions not undermined, received a high rating.

Table I

(yrs 1-2)
(yrs 1-5)
1. Clear and consistent objectives
2. Adequate causal theory
low – moderate
moderate – high
3. Implementation process enhances compliance
a) assignment to sympathetic agencies
low – moderate
b) adequate hierarchical integration
c) supportive decision rules
low- moderate
d) sufficient financial resources
low – moderate
moderate – high
e) formal access by supporters
moderate – high
4. Committed and skillfull implementing officials
low – moderate
5. Support of interest groups and legislators
low – moderate
moderate – high
6. Supportive conditions not undermined
low – moderate
Overall Rating of Implementing Effectiveness (to date)
adequate / substantial
HIGH = A strong assett in effective implementation of policy objectives
MODERATE = Conducive to effective implementation, although some problems
LOW = Notable obstacle to effective implementation
NEUTRAL = Factor played little or no role implementation effort

At this point Canada’s trajectory reflects a modest initial effort with a less than medium degree of policy conformity. Only time will tell if the current support will gradually erode, improve, or undergo a hiatus and be resurrected later if conditions change. The actual policies outlined in the Accord and the Codes are conducive to their implementation, but a lack of authority, direction, and priority in relation to existing policies has clearly slowed policy implementation.

In England, the political and policy dynamics combined to provide a strong initial launch of the Compact. It has subsequently received a number of “boosts” to keep the Compact timely, relevant and on the forefront of the governments’ political and policy agenda. The voluntary sector has risen to the occasion through the work of the NCVO as a voice for the sector; policy researchers have scrutinized developments on an on-going basis; and substantive support has been received from the media.

Comparative Political Contexts

A policy may establish the basic structure under which the politics of implementation take place, but it is also driven by (a) the need for constant or periodic infusion of political support to override competing agendas, and (b) the constituencies on whose support the policy depends (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983) .

Attitudes and Resources of Constituency Groups

Changes in the resources and attitudes of constituency groups also play a role in the achievement of policy objectives. In Canada, the voluntary sector fell over the Accord finish line operationally exhausted and politically impoverished, resulting in a significant turnover of leadership within the voluntary sector, a situation from which it is just now starting to emerge (S. D. Phillips, 2004b) .3

In addition, the federal system of government in Canada means that the operations of many voluntary organizations are not touched by the federal government in any meaningful way beyond the requirements for charitable registration. Such organizations see the Accord as peripheral to their core interests, which are more likely to be funded by provincial or territorial governments.

In England, the NCVO clearly has held, and continues to hold, the voice for the voluntary sector, and has been a lead participant in many sectoral policy issues (NCVO, 2004) . The NCVO is well resourced by the government and its members to provide both technical support to organizations and a strong policy and research voice for the sector (NCVO, 2005a) . The NCVO has played a leading role in supporting the implementation of the Compact, educating the sector, and advocating for its implementation both nationally and locally (NCVO, 2004) .

The issue of sectoral representation is one of the dividing lines in the policy landscape in Canada and England. In England representatives of umbrella organizations are viewed as holding the collective voice for the whole sector, providing legitimacy and responsibility to their deliberations, and they are recognized as such by the central government. In Canada, by contrast, the federal government officially recognized individuals as being merely “representative” of the voluntary sector, without the legitimacy to speak for or represent a broader constituency (S. Phillips, 2003) . This lack of voice and legitimacy, in Phillips’s view, is a major weakness in voluntary sector-government relations (S. D. Phillips, 2005b) . In addition, the federal government has allocated no sustainable resource base for the sector to organize and represent itself.

Support from Legislators

There is also a significant difference in the policy context in which the voluntary sectors operate in Canada and England. A series of dedicated and enthusiastic ministers for the voluntary sector in England have served to maintain a strong political profile for the sector (Etherington, 2005) . NCVO’s Parliamentary Team coordinates on-going relations with, and deputations to, both houses of parliament. In addition, a “secondment” scheme provides the opportunity for an MP to be “seconded” or temporarily transferred to a voluntary organization for a limited time. This secondment, which provides the MP with an intimate and inside view of the voluntary organization, is followed by appropriate recognition from the program patron, the Speaker of the House (NCVO, 2005b) .

A line department of the federal government in Canada, Social Development Canada, has been given the lead for horizontal implementation, which itself has major policy priorities unrelated to, and disconnected from, the voluntary sector; and no hierarchical relationship to other departments with leading roles with respect to the voluntary sector (SDC, 2005a) .

The concerns of the voluntary sector at large are largely invisible to federal MPs, and rarely are deputations or targeted events orchestrated outside standing committee hearings. In spite of the fact that Canada’s voluntary sector, as a percentage of its active work force, is the second largest in the world (after the Netherlands), the federal government has no minister dedicated to the voluntary sector (M.H. Hall, Barr, Easwaramoorthy, Sokolowski, & Salamon, 2005) . A further challenge facing the status of the Accord is that though former liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien signed the Accord, it neither had all party support nor was introduced in the House of Commons, and thus subsequent governments – even Liberal ones – may wish to distance themselves from it (K. L. Brock, 2004) . According to Phillips, the fact that the Accord does not need to be tabled with a committee or Parliament was a fundamental mistake that greatly weakens its implementation (S. D. Phillips, 2005b)

In England, the Home Office’s Active Community Directorate, under the auspices of the Home Secretary, coordinates Government departments’ work on the Compact and promotes its scope across Government, including Government Offices for the Regions, Executive Agencies, and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs). The Compact Advocacy Program and direct reporting to Parliament provide England with two important indicators of transparency and compliance. In addition, the NCVO and others on the Compact Working Group play a key watchdog role and monitor Compact compliance.

Policy Outputs

Policies will go a long way toward implementation under the following conditions: the Codes, in this context, are consistent with the policy agreement; the target groups comply with the codes; there is no serious “subversion” of the policy outputs; and there is a clear causal link between the desired changes and the policy objectives.

One of the most visible byproducts of these agreements to date, from a policy perspective, is the development of a number of agreed-upon codes of good practice. Two such codes have been developed in Canada, one pertaining to Policy Dialogue, the other to Funding (Voluntary Sector Initiative: VSI, 2005) . In England, five codes of good practice have been developed, addressing issues related to Black and Minority Ethnic Groups, Community Groups, Consultation and Policy Appraisal, Funding & Procurement, and Volunteering (Compact Working Group, 2005) .

The Funding/Policy-related Codes are clearly consistent with the spirit and intent of the Accord/Compact agreements, and there also is a clear link between the Codes and the desired changes and policy objectives. While there appears to be no serious “subversion” of policy outputs, the challenge of horizontal policy implementation and competing policy demands cannot be underestimated, particularly when a relationship with the voluntary sector is critically important to some departments and virtually nonexistent in others (S. D. Phillips, 2004b) .

Actual Impact?

Because the Accord/Compact is a policy framework, and not a statutory piece of legislation that would get translated into numerous regulations, conformity of decisions with policy objectives depends on the ability of constituency groups (e.g., Voluntary Sector Forum/NCVO) and legislators/senior managers who support the policy to actively intervene in the implementation process.

The degree of professional collegiality that dominates government-social sector relations in Canada tends to slow down implementation, as incremental consensus takes over deliberations (K.L. Brock, 2004; S. D. Phillips, 2004b; Tuohy, 1999) . For example a two-year task force has been created with government and sector representatives to bring federal policies and practices in line with the Code of Good Practice on Funding (SDC, 2005b) . There are specific cases where improvements have taken place, and there is now a growing abundance of resource information for voluntary sector organizations, but only selected anecdotal evidence indicates any institutional shift (Government of Canada, 2003; Government of Canada, 2004; Voluntary Sector Forum, 2003; Voluntary Sector Forum, 2004; Patten & Sarkar, 2003; Patten & Scotti, 2004) . Further movement will depend as much on the desire of the federal government to sustain the terms of their relationship with the voluntary sector, as it will on the capacity of the voluntary sector to clearly and consistently hold the federal government accountable (Johnston, 2005) .

The mainstreaming of the voluntary sector in England was a key means for Blair to deliver on his “Third Way” themes of liberalized public service delivery and civil renewal (Elson, 2004; Giddens, 1998; Kendall, 2000; S. D. Phillips, 2002) . This close relationship between the voluntary sector and core government policies has been a critical factor in the development and maintenance of a strong policy and political relationship. Reflecting the degree of support for the Compact and voluntary sector; a cross-cutting review took place in 2002; a number of progressive policy documents have been generated by the Active Communities Unit; and after four years, almost 98 percent of the 388 local authorities either have or are negotiating local compacts (Compact, 2005b; HM Treasury, 2005) .

Politicians may be more interested in the perceived impact on the government at large, individual departments, and key constituency groups. In this context, Blair’s “Third Way” agenda is continuing to push the voluntary sector role in public service delivery while NCVO and others are also working to revive the civil renewal agenda (Etherington, 2005) . The Accord, by contrast, has had little political visibility in Canada since its signing in 2001.

The impact on individual voluntary organizations is likely to vary as widely as the capacity of the organizations themselves and the commitment of their corresponding government departments. In this context, intermediary organizations, such as NCVO in England, and the Voluntary Sector Forum and Imagine Canada – come to the fore as voices for the sector and as means to systematically monitor practices (K. L. Brock, 2004; S. D. Phillips, 2004b) .


This PIF model focuses on the “top-down” dimension of policy implementation, providing a framework to examine in considerable detail the material variables that contextualize the key policy parameters; the structural variables that influence its launch and adoption; and the contextual variables that provide, sustain, or diminish its implementation. Future use of this model will need to consider the impact of horizontality and bilateral obligations in this type of policy implementation. Regardless, the Policy Implementation Framework serves a number of purposes. It provides a means to clearly identify and analyze the leading independent variables and their impact on both the formation and implementation of policy, particularly where the focus is on the implementation of the policy rather than on policy processes. It also provides, in this particular case, a means to compare the policy implementation trajectories of two policies which, though similar in philosophy, operate in two different political contexts, and which may be extended to other contexts.

This research introduces an opportunity to start exploring the implementation of bilateral government-voluntary sector agreements in the full light of day. Without making direct causal claims, the PIF does add to our understanding of the implementation of Accord/Compact agreements and provides a new means to systematically monitor their progress over time.


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1 Peter Elson is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Adult Education and Community Development at OISE/University of Toronto, specializing in the study of voluntary sector-government relations. He can be reached at 167 Garden Avenue; Toronto, Ontario M6R 1H8; Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 12th Biennial Social Welfare Policy Conference in Fredericton, Canada, in 2005, and at the 2006 Canadian Political Science Association Conference in Toronto. The author would like to acknowledge comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper which were provided by Susan Phillips, Kathy Brock, Gary Craig, and Jack Quarter.

2 The author had direct access to an internal government survey on implementation of the Accord.

3 A planned reconfiguration of the Voluntary Sector Forum is much more inclusive than was previously the case, and the recent emergence of Imagine Canada has established a policy presence in Ottawa. However, chronic under-funding of many voluntary organizations continues to undermine their capacity to participate in, or pro-actively lead, collective sector-centered policy discussions.