Achieving Goal Congruence in Complex Environments: The Case of Welfare Reform

Marcia K. Meyers, Norma M. Riccucci, Irene Lurie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Public management and implementation scholars suggest that congruence between the formal goals of policy officials and the operative goals of implementing agencies may be a prerequisite for the achievement of policy objectives. Substantial research also suggests that the achievement of goal congruence can be difficult in complex implementation contexts. In this article, we compare aspects of the governance and management of organizations delivering welfare reforms at the local level in three states. Sites were purposively selected to illustrate implementation contexts that vary in policy and institutional complexity. We ask whether and how local welfare organizations have been able to articulate and operationalize goals that are consistent with the substantive policy goals of state officials. Across the three sites, we find varying levels of congruence between formal policy goals, agency priorities, and the operative goals of agency managers and front line staff. Goal congruence appears to be more problematic either when policy goals are complex or when organizational systems are complex; when both are complex, substantial uncoupling of formal and operational goals is observed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-201
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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