CANCELED: Lu Liao: Bridging Policy Adoption and Policy Implementation: An Exploration of Local Governments' Sustainability Actions

Lu Liao is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of City and Regional Planning at AAP. Her research interests sit at the intersection of environmental planning and urban politics. Currently, she is working with Professor Mildred Warner on a U.S. national sustainability survey to explore the incentives and barriers of local governments' sustainability actions.


Scholars of policy process have long argued the distinctions between policy adoption and policy implementation. Although much has been discussed about the interests and information involved in these two stages, there is little discussion on the connections and rationale that bridge the two. Previous scholarship gives insufficient attention to how the specific characteristics of the policy add more complexity to this policy process. To address these gaps, Liao's research takes four issues — waste management, water conservation, energy conservation within governments, and energy conservation at the community level — and groups them according to their levels of complexity and innovation. The research empirically explores factors that influence the adoption and implementation of these four policies. Data came from a national survey Liao's team conducted with the International City/County Management Association of all municipalities and counties in the U.S. in 2015. The survey measured the adoption of sustainability actions in water, energy, and waste, as well as the performance of these actions evaluated by respondents. Responses were received from 1,899 counties and municipalities.

Liao conducted a logistic regression model controlling for the state fixed effects to examine the research questions. The preliminary results show that:

  • Factors that influence sustainability policy adoption are more related to agency characteristics such as agency goals, sustainability staffing, and local government fiscal capacity, while the implementation of the policy is more of a political process that involves voices of different stakeholders including pressure from residents, pressure from advocacy groups and pressure from business.
  • While the adoption of more complex issues is driven by the capacity of the agent itself, the adoption of easier policy actions is more likely to be influenced by local voices.
  • Local governments with goals on sustainability are more likely to take actions in areas that require more innovation, while performance measures influence policy adoption in more traditional areas. The study bridges the gap between policy adoption and policy implementation and enhances scholarly understanding by providing further empirical information on the patterns of policy process as it relates to local sustainability policy.